There’s a lot of study skills advice out there. But there’s also many things I wish I knew before I started university.
We all need to experience challenges and failures to improve in life. But, there’s also value in learning from someone else's mistakes…so you don’t have to waste time making the same ones.
University is one of the most stressful experiences you can go through. My job is to ease this panic and overwhelm so you get through your studies calmly and confidently.
In this blog post, you’ll discover:
- It's normal when studying to feel like you want to laugh one minute and cry the next
- Why Hermione Granger should be your role model
- That you need to follow your own study path
- Why personal grooming isn’t always high on my priorities...
It took me a lot of time and stress to get organised with my studying. To make your path to epic productivity easier I’ve created some planners and printables for you so every study session can be super effective.
7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started University
1. You will experience a rollercoaster of emotions EVERY DAY
Does anyone else ever feel like this?
One minute you feel like you’ve got your shit together with your studying. You’re organised, productive and it feels like nothing can stop you.
Then a minute later a doubt enters your mind that you might not finish this essay in time. You suddenly want to curl up and quit because you’re so useless. There’s just no point trying.
But then that moment passes and you’re back to metaphorically strutting because you’re determined and know you can do this.
THIS. ROLLERCOASTER. IS. EXHAUSTING.
This is the main thing I wish I knew before I started university. I didn’t realise my emotions could be so fickle. It doesn’t make sense that one brain can feel 72 different emotions all at once!
I want to share this lesson with you because once you accept that studying is like a rollercoaster, it’s easier to deal with the twists, turns and loop the loops.
Remember that having a moment of feeling like you’re useless doesn’t mean that you are. The negative crap will pass and you’ll remember that you’re doing ok. You’re doing your best. Even when you’re not.
2. You need to do you
Some people are early morning learners whereas others feel more productive at night.
One student may prefer to take notes by hand but another swears by typing theirs instead.
Some students achieve more by studying little and often whereas others only really seem to get stuff done when they sit down to study for a good few hours at a time.
Every student prefers to learn in different ways. Add to this the differences in course subject, study goals and personal/work commitments and it becomes clear every student is unique.
I wish I knew this before I started university. I felt like I needed to take notes or write my essays in a certain way. I felt ashamed that I wasn’t a morning person so tried to fight it.
It took me a while to accept that I need to be me. I need to find the study methods that work for my situation. That’s how this blog and business started. I spent time researching and testing tons of study techniques and advice until I found what works. I then found a lot of it works for others students so I wanted to share what I’d learned. I never try to pigeon-hole you as my readers into one study method. Instead I share basic principles and lots of techniques so you can tailor them to fit you.
3. Respect yourself by respecting your time
Have you ever told yourself you’ll study all weekend, but then your friends or family invite you out?
So you ditch the studying.
Maybe you were able to catch up, but maybe you fell behind and then had to work yourself to the ground trying to get back on track.
I wish I’d realised before I started university that no one else is responsible for my life. If I choose to sleep in at the weekend or collapse on the sofa for the evening instead of studying…that’s my decision. And I have to live with the consequences.
It is up to you whether you succeed, in your degree and life in general. This is a terrifying but necessary realisation.
No one wants to be the boring person that locks themselves away all weekend studying, never accepting any fun plans. But, university IS a commitment. Sometimes it will feel like such a heavy weight on your shoulders, but the effort is worth it, I promise.
Your social life and ‘me time’ is going to take a hit when you’re studying. Accept this fact and it becomes a little easier to deal with the shift. And don’t forget that studying will be over at some point: your non-existent social life won’t last forever!
I got myself into some ridiculously stressful situations by making too many fun plans and not spending enough time studying. There’s nothing worse than the heart palpitations and night sweats of an impending deadline…except when you realise you brought this on yourself by spending too much time away from your studies.
Your friends and family may distract you, intentionally or unintentionally, but it’s your choice whether you allow yourself to be distracted. There’s always going to be more exciting things you can do than studying, but it doesn’t mean you should do them.
Get clear on what you need to get done each week in your studies. Plan in your study sessions and try to stick to them. Shit happens so you will have to be flexible, but respect yourself and respect your time by not ditching your study for something fun instead.
My studies went a lot smoother once I accepted the fact I needed to study every weekend. I still made plans but I always made a conscious effort to save time for studying. I might go out for some drinks on Friday and meet a friend for brunch on Sunday. Or spend the whole of Saturday with my family. Yet I’d always factor in a big block of time to study, so I stayed on track, and kept my sanity!
4. You have to believe you can improve
Some of you know my story and how I came to study at the Open University so I won’t go into too much detail. But, I almost dropped out of Sixth Form when I was 18 as I was failing my subjects. I didn’t think I was good enough to be there and I just wanted to give up. So when I did enrol in university after a few years, I was terrified.
I wish someone had told me about growth mindset before I started university. Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck explains those with a growth mindset believe that, with effort and perseverance, you can become more intelligent.
On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is unchangeable, that you’re either smart or you’re not.
When I started university I was definitely suffering from a fixed mindset. While I got over a lot of mindset crap before deciding to study again, I just couldn’t shake off those feelings of not being good enough to be there.
But I learned about growth mindset in my second year of university and it changed everything. Suddenly I realised I could increase my intelligence and become more successful if I put in the effort and believed I could improve. I started to embrace the challenges of studying and I worked hard to learn from all my mistakes rather than trying to pretend they hadn’t happened.
Believe you can become smarter, and you’re already part way there.
I’ve written a whole blog post on developing a growth mindset and you can grab a free worksheet below to help you transform your thoughts into ones that will help you achieve high grades.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Sometimes, asking for help seems like a weakness. It’s not great to feel like the only person in your class or online lecture who doesn’t understand the material.
I used to spend ages struggling with my essays as I didn’t understand what the question wanted from me. I felt like I shouldn’t ask for help as that would mean letting everyone know I wasn’t clever enough. I wish I’d learned the importance of asking for help before I started university. You should always try and solve a problem yourself first but it’s a waste of time, energy and stress to struggle on unnecessarily.
If you’re in class and you don’t understand a concept, ask your tutor for clarification before they move on. This will stop gaps in your knowledge from forming and you might help other students who are also stuck but are too afraid to raise their hand.
If you’re at home and you don’t understand a concept or don’t know how to answer your essay question – reach out to your tutor. Whether you’re studying on-campus or by distance learning, find a way to ask for help. I used to email and phone my tutor when I was stuck.
A few minutes of help can give you the answers to start making a lot of progress.
6. Personal grooming goes out the window
Ok so this is a slightly silly lesson…
When all you do is work, eat, study and sleep (not enough) there is little time for anything else. When you do have some time off you might spend it seeing friends or making the house resemble a home rather than a pigsty.
What you may not have time for is making yourself pretty and presentable. When I was deep in revision or essay-writing mode my hair stayed in a bun on my head for more days than I care to admit and my nails grew too long and were never painted. I would run out of pants regularly as I didn’t have much time for laundry and my eyebrows would slowly creep together without their regular tweezing.
I wish I’d known before I started university that ‘me time’ would be a little thin on the ground. At least then I could have accepted my cavewoman state during stressful times and not added guilt to the rollercoaster of emotions!
Hopefully I’m not completely alone in this…*cue awkward silence*
7. It’s ok to be the teacher’s pet
This is a BIG lesson I wish I’d learned before I started university. At school it was definitely considered lame to be a teacher’s pet. I was eager to learn as a child but by the time I was a teenager it was not the done thing to sit at the front, ask lots of questions and hand in assignments early.
I took this attitude into my first module of university until it hit me. Hang on a minute, I’m PAYING for this? Every minute I’m sat in a lecture or writing an essay is costing me money. And also, this is MY LIFE?! I’m not doing this for the sheer fun of it. I’m at university to further myself and to create opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise.
So, why should I be worried about what people think of me? Why should I be anything but an eager beaver/teacher’s pet?
So I’ve learned to embrace my inner Hermione Granger and I think you should too.
· Always sit at the front of your lectures so you can see and hear everything, and because you want your tutor to see you’re engaged
· For online lectures, log on early
· Answer your tutor’s questions in class. This keeps you engaged and requires you to test yourself actively rather than sit there passively listening
· Ask questions. Show you’re interested in the subject
· Let your tutor know your study goals and say you’re willing to work hard for them. Prove you’re dedicated and they may give you extra guidance to push you towards the higher grades.
RECAP! You should now know:
- What I wish I'd known before I started university. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes!
- Studying is a rollercoaster ride for your emotions – but we’re all riding it together!
- Every student is unique so you need to focus on you to find what works best.
- When I’m stressed with studying I may look like a cavewoman who lives in a pigsty...
If you’ve been studying for awhile I’d LOVE to hear from you in the comments.
What do you wish you knew before you started university or college?
And...don’t forget to grab your free productivity planners and printables.