Do you find yourself making these mistakes at the start of a new academic year?

Whether you’re a new student or a returning student partway through a course, the start of a new academic year can be a stressful and overwhelming time.

There’s a lot of expectations flying around – most of them of you from you!

I’m going to walk through three common mistakes that students make at the start of a new academic year. And because I’m not a sadist, I’ll also give you advice for how NOT to make these mistakes – and what you can do instead to start the new academic year feeling confident and focused

This post originated as a podcast episode which you can listen to below or search for episode 137 of the Chloe Made Me Study podcast. Or, if you're a more of a learn-by-reading student, carry on for the rough-and-ready blog version based on the script.

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3 common mistakes students make at the start of the academic year

1. Expecting to be epic straight away

There’s a common tendency of almost every student I meet – it’s this over glamourisation of motivation. We think that if we want something enough then we’ll make it happen. We think that reminding ourselves constantly of why we’ve returned to education is going to be enough to get us through. We think that the best time to study is when we feel motivated and that it’s really difficult or even impossible to study if we’re not feeling very motivated.

Yes…overarching motivation to further your education IS necessary. Otherwise you wouldn’t get started. And yes, it IS easier to get your butt to your desk on days where you’re feeling pretty buoyed up about studying.

But motivation isn’t that important overall. Way more important than motivation are discipline, self-awareness and patience.

Let’s talk about patience.

I’ve already heard from a number of students in the last week or so who’ve picked up their studying again after the summer break, and they’re frustrated with themselves. They’re talking of the bad habits they’ve picked up…or that they’ve lost all their motivation…or that they can no longer focus.

Well this makes sense, right? If you’ve taken any time off of studying, whether that’s a few weeks or a few months…it’s going to feel weird going back to it. When we’re trying to change our lives for the better we encounter a force called resistance. This is a negative force that tries with all its might to prevent you from doing the work.

We can and do overcome resistance, but we need to understand the situations where the resistance is stronger. And it’s definitely strong when you’re experiencing big change. Whether you’re a brand new student or a returning one…going from not studying at all to suddenly studying 10/20/30 hours per week requires a SIGNIFICANT amount of change to your routines.

Just think for a second. What changes when you go from not studying to studying? When you wake up? When you go to sleep? How much sleep you have? How much time you spend with friends or family? How much time you spend on hobbies? How much time you spend resting? How much energy you have for looking after yourself? The more significant the amount of change to your lifestyle the higher the feelings of resistance are going to be.

What you’re NOT going to do is give into the resistance. Believe that you’re just not capable. That you’ve either lost your studying mojo or you never had it in the first place. THIS is what the resistance wants. Instead you’re going to tell yourself that it’s normal to feel rusty or overwhelmed, that it’s normal to take some time to establish a good studying routine.

If you’re a brand new student, struggling in the first few weeks does NOT mean that you’ve made a bad decision. Or that you’re not motivated enough. Or that you’re not academic enough. It takes time to build new habits and routines so be kind to yourself!

If you’re a returning student – you might feel frustrated at times (“why can I not do this? I was managing my studying last year!”)…give yourself some time to get back into the flow and rhythm.

2. Being less than strategic about your study methods

There’s a few parts to this.

There is no RIGHT way of studying that works for all subjects, courses or students. There are tons of study methods out there that either will not work for you, or kinda will work but require way more time and energy than is necessary. There’s also definitely the best study methods out there for you too – you just need to find them.

So 2 reminders here…

a) Do not immediately employ the same ol’ study techniques you used in your last module

(or if you’re a new student, the last time you were studying). Your old study methods MAY also be the right ones for your current course and situation. But they may not. Your course may expect different skills from you or they’ve changed the way you’ll be assessed – which will all require different techniques. You may have more or less time than you did before, so you’ll need to organise your time and tasks differently. Your physical or mental health or your mindset may be different which means you’ll need to structure your studying in a new way. Your goals may be different. If you want to achieve higher grades then something’s got to change right?

So take a step back and think strategically about this next step in your studying journey. Get under the hood of your current module or class to understand the boxes you need to tick to do well. Think about your goals for this year and how studying needs to fit into the rest of your life. Only once you’ve asked yourself these questions can you work out the best study methods for you.

Related to this…

b) Do not blindly listen to random study advice

Yes, even mine. Again, as I said, there’s no RIGHT way of studying for everyone. So you need to think critically about the study advice you decide to follow. If something I suggest resonates with you and aligns with your goals and situation – great…go ahead. But if something I suggest doesn’t sound right and you can explain to yourself why that doesn’t align with your situation right now, then feel free to put that suggestion aside.

This is what I invite you to do with all the study advice floating around on the internet, or that you hear from other students…or even non-students! For example, Instagram. There are a lot of big study blogging accounts. Individuals who are sharing their studying journey and inviting others to follow along too. I think these accounts are great sources of inspiration and motivation. It can be so helpful to see others in a similar situation to you to know that you’re not alone. BUT…the thing that grates me is when students see these accounts and posts and put them on a pedestal as THE correct, best, right way of studying. The way that these students are studying may not even be the correct, best, right way of studying for them…so why would they be right for you?

A concrete example here is when students share their note taking practices. I’ve looked at these beautiful pages of notes with diagrams, fancy lettering and loads of colour and doodles…and I’ve wished I was that creative. But these notes may just be that – fancy, time consuming content for social media. 

When it comes to note taking there are some really important questions we need to ask ourselves. WHY am I taking notes? WHAT am I going to use them for after? DO I have exams or essays in my modules? HOW much time am I spending taking notes each week? COULD that time be better spent actually DOING something to increase my grades? AM I taking notes mindfully, identifying the key points and turning them into a useful summary…or am I slipping into mindless note taking…in effect copying the textbook word for word?

Note taking is just one area of study skills but can you see how easy it would be to just look at what others are doing, assume (rightly, or wrongly) that they look like they know what they’re doing, and then just copy them?

You’re better than that.

You’re smarter than that.

You can be more strategic than that.

3. Carrying baggage from your previous study into the new academic year

New students – you might have baggage from past education.

Returning students – you might have baggage from your last module/academic year.

Your potential is infinite. No one, not even you, can predict the changes you can make, the progress you can experience, the results you can achieve with effort, support, new strategies, time.

For example…in May this year I was NOT a runner. I hadn’t done more than run for the odd train in years and years. And then one day I decided to start, with literally 1 minute at a time in between walking. Fast forward 4 months and I’m less than 2 weeks away from running a half marathon. After my first run in May would anyone have predicted the half marathon? No. I dedicated the time and effort, bought the right kit, followed a plan – played with the variables and seriously transformed my results. The cool thing is that I don’t think I’ve ‘reached my limit’ or ‘fulfilled my potential’ or any of the other bleugh comments that people use when they talk about talent and potential. I’m super happy with my results but I wonder what could have happened if I’d realllllly pushed myself. If I’d put together a full training plan to include strength training and mobility. If I’d overhauled my nutrition. If I’d quit alcohol. If I’d invested in a running coach to improve my form and technique. Of course I’m VERY happy with my current level of results and I’m very grateful for the time and health to be able to run. But I ALSO love knowing that there’s this infinite, immeasurable swirl of potential possible to me IF I decide to lean into it. That there is no measurable limit to how far or how fast I can run.

OK…why on earth am I telling you about my running?! Well, because the same ideas apply to studying and learning. Your academic potential is infinite and immeasurable. There WILL be a limit…but it’s impossible for you or I to ever estimate what that is. This can be a hard idea to grasp because the entire education system is structured around trying to measure the potential of children. But we’re not going to play that game anymore cos it sucks and it’s wrong.

So…if you’re a new student…you may be carrying some baggage from previous education. Not doing so well, dropping out, failing, struggling. Being made to feel, or even directly told, that you’re not that smart or academic or that you’re not good enough. This stuff can really sting and I definitely don’t want to diminish the impact negative school experiences can have on us because I’ve got plenty. Instead, I want you to be on the lookout for times where they rear their head. Times when the doubts creep in. And I want you to talk back to those doubts. I want you to remember what I’d said here – that we can never know what’s possible for us…which can feel a bit scary but also can be so immensely exciting.

And if you’re a returning student starting the next stage of your course…you may have some baggage that you can still see if you look through your rearview mirror. Some struggles and challenges that feel really fresh. I want to share the same advice for you that you are not the you of back then. Even if only a few weeks or months have gone by, you are a different version of you which means you can think and act in different ways and achieve different results.

Your past results do NOT have to dictate your future ones.

Your academic success can grow and grow and grow…if you decide to invest time and energy into it.

If you decide to develop your study skills, find support, get great guidance, give yourself time, develop strong resilience and determination, well then you’ll be unstoppable.

Ways to listen:

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