How to Succeed in University

I would consider my Winter 2008 Term a personal achievement. I have received all the grades for my courses this term and I’m very satisfied with the numbers. I took five courses:
ECON 220: Principles of Entrepreneurship (group work, assignments, project, 30% final)
PSYCH 261: Physiological Psychology (2 midterms, 50% final)
PSYCH 292: Basic Data Analysis (weekly assignments, 4 tests, 30% final)
PSYCH 339: Personnel Selection (2 assignments, 1 midterm, 40% final)
PSYCH 354: Interpersonal Relations (1 assignment, 3 midterms)

Dan StudyingEach course required at least a chapter of reading every week along with assignments. There was a lot to juggle around, but it was manageable. I was able to do all required readings for midterms, but I had three consecutive finals in the end. I didn’t touch the textbook for my last exam, PSYCH 339 because I simply didn’t have the time. I studied lecture notes instead, trying to pick out the important concepts. I didn’t do so well on my final for that course, but I had assignments and a good midterm to compensate.

Anyway, here’s how I did well this term. I try new things every term and I performed best this term thus far.

  • Know your learning style – Check with your school for questionnaires – Visit University of Waterloo – Career Services – Identifying Your Style – I’m mostly visual
  • Attend all lectures
  • Pay attention, no sleeping!
  • Attend all tutorials
  • Complete assigned work before tutorials and ask for help if needed
  • Review your lecture notes within 24 hours (at night or the next day) – I still have trouble doing this
  • Start assignments as soon as possible – week before
  • Build a schedule that works for you – I had 8:30am classes every day
  • Schedule in library/study time – My classes went from 8:30-12:30 on most days and I studied from 1pm-4:30pm
  • Treat a school day like a work day; no going home early, just occasional slacking/socializing – I take Fridays off sometimes
  • Don’t bring a laptop – It’s a huge distraction. If you have to use it, don’t connect to the internet unless absolutely necessary
  • Write down assignment due dates and exams on a large wall calendar using course syllabi – you’ll discover your busy weeks
  • Write down weekly tasks, such as what chapters to read and what assignments to hand in
  • Tackle assignments one by one
  • Rotate course readings every hour or so
  • Take 10 minute breaks every hour
  • Use coffee (stimulant) strategically – before exams or intense studying – not daily
  • Reward yourself – party on the weekend, buy yourself a nice dessert
  • Sleep – all that you can get – aim for 8 hours
  • Be consistent

The most important thing to do is study because that’s where the learning happens. Try to do your readings before lectures to get a glimpse of what you need to know because lectures usually move fast.

I’ve done many hours of studying and it gets exponentially more difficult to obtain a high mark. For example, if you don’t study for a course, you might get a 50, but if you study an hour a day for that course, you get an 80. If you study for 3 hours a day, you get 90 and if you study for 6 hours, you get 92. That’s an exaggeration, but that’s my point. Studying too much doesn’t make much difference in marks, but if you enjoy it, do it because you’ll be learning, which is what university is about. On the whole, the best thing that I did this term is to treat my school day like a work day where I’m in the library all afternoon. Then I go home at 4:30pm and do whatever. On occasion, I would do a little bit of overtime. It’s mostly time management. This way, I kept my evenings and weekends free. Try it for yourself and you won’t be disappointed.

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