STUDY SURVIVAL GUIDE
SURVIVAL LESSON NO.1 - TIME MANAGEMENT SKILLS
Managing a hectic university lifestyle essentially wraps around the struggle of balancing academics, work, extra-curricular activities, social life and personal relaxation time. Losing control of time forces students into a cycle of overwhelming deadlines, drifting motivation and diminishing academic performance. Proper time management skills, thus, becoming crucial in gaining control over time allocation which requires discipline and persistence to incorporate into a daily routine. Effective time management assists individuals to advance as a more focussed and productive learner. By allocating time to honour appointments and meet deadlines, students will build their reputation as a potential employee and as a reliable individual. With the benefits of better academic performance and lower levels of anxiety, organising time is pivotal in becoming successful and pursuing goals while maintaining sanity! With time being a finite resource, the following time management strategies will be useful, regardless of the course enrolled.
1. Start early
Considering time management strategies as a desperate effort is a common mistake by university students. Some initiate organizing efforts when they are already falling behind their assignments, thus forcing students to develop unrealistic plans. By attempting to cram excessive workload over an insufficient period with chances of success only by consistently performing at an optimum level, a path to failing time management system has been created. To avoid such errors, students should plan their assessments, readings, activities and goals as soon as possible.
2. Time Track
An efficient method to identify time wasters and develop a conscious mind over actions would be the exercise of time tracking. Time tracking involves individuals recording on how they spent their time in hourly or half-hourly intervals on an average working day. Importantly, students are encouraged to be as accurate and honest as possible. By producing an objectively written information on their original time allocating habits, an opportunity of self-reflection highlights unintentional and unproductive time consumption such as frequent social media checking or bingeing Netflix. The documentation enables students to make adjustments to their schedules and develop new practices.
3. Create a Schedule
The combination of a monthly calendar, weekly planner and if necessary, a daily 'to-do' list is a perfect time management system. Filling a schedule with priorities (e.g. lectures, tutorials, meetings, work and assignments) will serve as a reminder of upcoming deadlines, possible free periods for personal relaxation and intense phase of the term. Students have to be realistic in allocating hours into studying/researching - time tracking exercise provides a rough estimation on the time required for individuals. By placing the completed schedule in an easily accessible and prominent location such as a study desk, calendar, mirror or even on laptops, it ensures that students are aware of their next action and keeps them prepared.
Prioritisation, the finalising stage of constructing a productive schedule, includes the constant adaptation of new updates as students undergo the trimesters. When assessing the responsibilities at hand, instinctively, individuals may prefer to provide priority for convenient tasks. However, prioritising based on the importance of the assignments will be more beneficial. Criteria like urgency, weightage and estimated duration are essential in ranking workload. By tackling important workload early, students resort to reducing minor, often unnecessary, tasks and consider dropping excessive commitments.
Bonus: Students are encouraged to ensure non-urgent yet important activities to be given significance such as sleeping, resting and exercising.
5. Determine the best studying environment
Every learner possesses a set of optimum studying conditions, where specific situations/surroundings hold positive influences on an individual's performance. Ideally, study preferences should induce alertness in most human senses. Identifying a suitable time, location and environment can be a complicated mission. Questioning oneself of the following questions will assist in sensing their preferences.
Do you prefer silence or background noise/music?
Do you prefer to work early in the morning or late at night?
Does a pleasant smell boost your productivity? (e.g. candles)
Are you surrounded by possible distractions? (e.g. television, friends)
Students must remain dedicated to function under preferred conditions as it prevents wasting time on searching for new options. An occasional location change would serve as a motivation boost.
SURVIVAL LESSON NO.2 - WHAT TO AVOID?
Generally, being a perfectionist is a favourable trait unless taken to extremes. In the endless chase of unrealistic goals, students can fall into the vicious cycle of paralysis. At times, perfectionists preoccupy themselves with minor details and neglect major aspects, resulting in submitting a rushed work. For example, excessively focussing on perfecting the 'introduction' section of an essay and being forced to allocate less time on the arguments of the essay. For students prone to negative perfectionism, the following methods to counter this instinct may be beneficial.
Begin anyway: Get started against your instincts. If you're stuck, continue with the next component. Once you're done, allow yourself to work through the assignment and perfect it.
Set limits: Restricting yourself to allotted time to tackle a task may create a sense of urgency. If incompleted, force yourself to move onto another task.
Constantly remind yourself of the bigger workload ahead and reflect on the severity of the issue.
Increasingly, research shows that multitasking, or formally known as ‘rapid task-switching’, negatively affects the ability to recall information and reduces productivity. Multitasking refers to the action of focusing on multiple tasks at one time, and it may seem as though concentrating on more tasks results in more workload completed. However, the brain can only execute one function at any given moment. Dividing attention across several tasks wastes time on shifting thought processes from one activity to another, and it also exhausts students excessively.
To avoid counter-productivity, direct concentration to one assignment at a time regardless of scale while prioritizing relevant tasks. Create awareness of personal time utilization by calculating duration used to accomplish a list of tasks with both approaches and compare. By practising mindfulness in task execution, students will benefit from effective learning.
However, it is necessary to acknowledge that multitasking can be useful for effortless/subconscious tasks such as listening to music while running. Individuals have to identify situations when multitasking works or do not works and practice discipline accordingly.
Procrastination is the tendency to postpone more urgent tasks and execute minor, often unnecessary, tasks instead which delays performance, and overwhelms one's state of mind. Every individual experience some form of procrastination, however, the difference lies in the ability to overcome and achieve. Unhealthy extents of procrastination trap students in a vicious cycle of emotional distress such as postponing work due to the fear of failure but feeling frustrated and guilty for not taking action earlier, as the deadline approaches. The act of managing time effectively induces a sense of control, boost confidence and productivity, and reduces the inclination to procrastinate. The following counter-procrastination strategies can help students.
Identify the root cause:
Ask yourself why do you procrastinate on tasks that potentially have a direct impact on your goals. Becoming aware and acknowledging the existence of a procrastination issue is the first step to overcoming.
Common reasons include:
Distancing from stressful activities
Unsure of the details of the tasks
Fear of failure
Relying on a productive day to magically appear
Aware that task will eventually get completed regardless
Swiss Cheese method: When you sense that you're avoiding work, try breaking down huge assignments into smaller tasks and attempt to do one at a time.
Getting Started: When you are concerned with perfection, assure yourself to produce imperfect work. Allow yourself to start on basic steps for a short period, for example, sketch the outline of the essay argument for 30 minutes.
5-minute rule: Start working on an assignment for 5 minutes with your full attention. The idea is that 5 minute is sufficient to get motivated.
Simple tasks first: If larger assignments overwhelm you, begin warming up with easier tasks first.
Remove distractions: You are more likely to procrastinate when sources of distractions are readily available. Try leaving your phones or other forms of distractions far from your working space.
Succeeding the mental battle:
It is important to replace negative thoughts with positive ones to boost productivity. Remind yourself of the benefits of completing assignments at the moment.
Imagine the positive feeling of completing the assignments early and having some social time or personal time.
By putting consistent and concentrated effort, the more likely you will score better.
Remember the previous outcomes of procrastination and motivate yourself that you will not allow repeating.
SURVIVAL LESSON NO.3 - ORGANISATION SKILLS
Maintaining an organised lifestyle, for some, is an innate part of their personality, while for others, a procrastination tactic from getting the next assignment done. Regardless of individuals' affinity with organizational practices, students are encouraged to adopt such attitudes. Mentally recording and tracking deadlines, lectures, seminars, work schedules and study notes create an unnecessary burden to bear. Staying organized facilitates time management, reduces stress levels and builds mental space to focus solely on educational goals. With the purpose of guiding students, the following are tips on how and what to organize to unlock higher levels of efficiency.
1. Schedule Arrangement
The Term Planner
The introductory phase of developing a functional time management system would be setting up a combination of a term planner, weekly planner and a daily 'to-do' list. By adopting a calendar/planner covering the targetted term, the method of overseeing exam dates, deadlines and appointments become simplified. A comprehensive planner highlights the upcoming peak periods, potential opening for other activities and the status of the individual's advancement throughout the term. When designing a schedule, students should begin with recording sections in a prioritizing order of exam dates, assignment deadlines, events, and incorporate a revision plan based on the available hours. Devising minor target dates assists individuals in holding themselves accountable during revision.
A Weekly Planner
Integrating a weekly planner into a personal management system is crucial as it encourages users to focus on smaller tasks and short-term educational goals. Starting from the basics, students should pick a day in a week as the weekly planning day, which enables them to reflect on the previous week's plan and adjust accordingly for subsequent weeks. Designating a day establishes a rhythm with prospects of transforming into a habit. An ideal weekly planner considers the user's preferences with suitable time blocks - 30mins, 60mins or 90mins. During the structuring process, compulsory and fixed commitments such as lectures, tutorials and work should be organised before other dedications like study hours. Study hours include preparation work and assessment tasks, reasonably spread across the week to avoid cramming. A feasible plan includes leisure activities as a form of 'reward' and manages a balanced lifestyle.
Planners should be placed in a readily accessible location.
Adding some flexibility to a schedule allows leeway for emergencies or unpredictable circumstances.
Avoid planning with the assumption of performing at an optimum level which can lead to unrealistic work hours.
2. Organising Information
A foundational technique to an organised semester requires thorough material sorting structure. From the commencement of the term, accumulating relevant course details (e.g. course outlines, assessment rubrics, examination information), familiarising with the technicalities and storing on an easily navigatable folder system in online desktop is essential. Saving documents like lecture notes, slides and reading notes on a weekly or content basis is standard practice. Students can create a separate digital file for each subject with subfolders for weekly notes, self-revision notes and assignments.
3. Study Network
Consulting study groups as a strategy for exam preparation is a prevailing misconception upheld by university students. As examinations approach, generally, students arrange study groups in a pressured and compressed manner. By establishing a study gathering from the early stages of the semester, more concentration catered to each theme/course. Working collaboratively presents exposure to diverse approaches to thinking - an opportunity to exchange information and fill gaps in learning. With the right selection of competent learners, study groups serve as a safe space to develop self-confidence and a source of motivation. Searching for suitable members can be a challenging mission. Observing tutorials and lectures for determined students based on the criteria of compatibility and manageability and approaching them, is an effective method to gather people. Other considerations include maintaining a small group size, selecting a non-distracting study zone and working during functional hours.
4. Study Space
Creating a functional workspace is a top priority as the energy radiated can affect an individual's motivation. If the mind associates a certain location with leisure activities, it is an unideal study area. A dedicated study space enables one to be more focused on learning and less likely to be distracted. An appropriate location depends on the individual's preferences and circumstances - noise level, convenience, surrounding distractions etc. Understanding personal studying conditions requires time, patience and flexibility. Regardless of situations, an ideal space must have easy accessibility to academic materials and resources. For students at home, regularly ensuring the cleanliness and orderliness of the space is optimal. With necessary documents conveniently available, this can save useless movements and distractions. For students working beyond the home, have a checklist of all materials and tools required.
SURVIVAL LESSON NO.4 - EXAM PREPARATION
An overview of relevant examination details indicates future required actions, the direction of goal-settings and imparts a sense of control to students. Information includes topics covered, the type of exam (e.g. Open book, Essay and Multiple Choice Questions), weightage and duration of the exam. With an outline, assess high-priority concepts and obtain tips/advice from tutors or lecturers on the significance of core topics.
The first step to exam success involves a well-planned revision schedule and effective revision techniques. Optimally, revision preparation initiates four weeks prior to the commencement of any examinations/tests. Transferring accumulated knowledge from short-term to long-term is the central objective of revision, accordingly, the effort dedicated shifts beyond note-taking and critically analysing the subject as a whole with overall concepts and arguments. The tendency to perfect notes compilation is prevalent, however, mindlessly writing notes towards the end of the semester is an unproductive move. Instead, active note-making using different combinations of techniques - mindmaps, case studies, memory aids, quick summaries and audio recording - produces higher knowledge retention levels.
Reaching out for Help
Issues with academic understanding or materials can be clarified with fellow coursemates, tutors and lecturers. The help-seeking process can be daunting for some, however, students need to be assured that the learning is a communal endeavour. Avoid hesitance in requesting assistance when required, especially when it involves an individual's goals. For further assistance, the university provides various mentoring/support programmes - a platform to network and receive guidance on academics - which includes UNSW CrimSoc's Mentoring programme for Criminology students.
SURVIVAL LESSON NO.5 - EXAM STRATEGIES
Short Answer and Essay Questions
Students' knowledge depth, ability to synthesize and integrate information and skills to express their thoughts in organised written manner are tested. The following tips will prepare students for such papers.
Read instructions and questions carefully. Carefully analyse the essay questions and highlight relevant keywords. Familiarise yourself with UNSW terminologies in exam papers here.
Plan your time. Allocate time for outlining your essay and proofreading, according to the question's worth. Ideally, 5-10 minutes for organising the structure of the essay and 5 minutes for a final check. Adjust time allocation according to your preferences, for example, if English is not your first language, you may require more time.
Construct an outline of your essay before beginning to write. The outline includes the topic, one line arguments and examples to be used for each paragraph. Cut down time wastage on ideas with the potential to divert away from the question.
Start with the easier question as a form of warm-up for tougher questions. It also secures marks at a shorter time and focuses the remaining time on difficult questions.
Constantly remind yourself that your answer has to be brief and precise.
Similar to other examination styles, skip questions that you're stuck at and remember to return to them at the end.
Conduct a final check for mistakes like grammar, spelling, punctuation and clarity.
Multiple Choice Questions
For a well-written multiple-choice examination, merely recognising concepts and low preparation will not suffice. Such questions demand students to possess in-depth knowledge and analyse answers swiftly with the limited time of 1-2 minutes for each question. The following strategies aim to assist students in obtaining the highest grade in a relatively simpler form of assessment.
Highlight each keyword as you tackle each question.
Cancel out any obviously wrong answers and focus your attention on the remaining options.
Assess questions with similar options carefully. When there are two related alternatives, often, one is more likely to be correct.
Upon selecting the correct answer, ensure that the other options are incorrect - to avoid a careless decision.
Be careful of special phrasing of questions:
Negative words: Choose the answer which DOES NOT indicate
- Multiple answers: Choose MORE than one
Subjective words: Choose the answer that BEST describes
Be alert and look out for sentences with absolute words (e.g. never, always and none)
Ignore outdated myths like 'If you change your answer, the more likely it is wrong', 'When in doubt, tick the longest or shortest answer'. An educated guess after careful consideration is still the best bet.
Avoid wasting a significant amount of time on a question if the question is confusing or you are unsure. Move on and return to it at the end.
For most exams, a wrong answer holds the same worth as an unanswered question. In such situations, it is best to guess instead of leaving a blank. Check the grading system of your exam before the examination.
WELL DONE, YOU HAVE MASTERED WHAT IT TAKES TO SURVIVE AND STRIVE AT UNIVERSITY! NOW, LET'S PUT THESE SKILLS INTO PRACTICE!