There’s not one right way of studying.
What works for you might not work for another student. What works for one of your modules could be less effective in your next.
Every student’s university subjects, circumstances and learning habits combine to create unique situations that no one study method is perfect for.
Understand this and you’ll become a lot more strategic at deciding HOW to study. Rather than note taking, essay writing or revising like everyone else, you’ll work out what’s right for you.
In this blog post, you'll discover:
Keep reading to find out why there’s not one right way of studying. I dive into four key study skills areas and give you ways you can switch up your skillset and choose the right methods for you.
Because there are so many options, choosing a note taking method can be difficult. It could be easy to just use whatever method your friend uses but this may not be the best for you and your situation.
I’ve written a blog post you can read here that explains the pros and cons of both handwritten and typed notes. I’ve also written a second post where you can learn about the pros, cons and uses of four different note taking methods. Have a read of these to understand your options.
Then think about your situation and how you like to learn.
Are you a quick typist or slow hand writer?
Are your learning materials online or in physical books?
Do you find you understand material better when you handwrite or is your handwriting messy?
Lastly, think about what role note taking will play in each of your modules. Modules with exams may need different methods than those based mainly around essays.
Then you should be able to make an informed decision about which method(s) to try for each module.
Don’t be afraid to use multiple methods too. It’s tempting to want all your notes to look the same. I get that. For example, you may think it looks messy to handwrite one week then type the next. But remember that effective notes help you understand the material, select what’s important and create a permanent record of your learning for essay writing and exam revision.
Effective notes are better than pretty notes. Effective notes will get you through your essays and exams. So even if you’ve decided to handwrite using the Cornell method, feel free to add in some typed summaries or hand drawn mindmaps if they’ll aid your learning.
At the start of every module, evaluate your current note taking methods and see if changing to another method could be more effective and save you time.
Exam revision is part art and part science. While there are revision techniques backed up by scientific studies, there is not one universal method that every university student should use. Your friend in a different course or even the same course may revise differently to you. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one of you is revising in the wrong way.
First you need to understand the basics of exam revision i.e. active revision techniques must be used instead of passive techniques. Then you need to experiment with what works for you, and you must consider the needs of each particular exam.
The various revision methods are not interchangeable as they each have specific uses and value. There are lots of active revision methods but the below diagram demonstrates the difference in depth that four revision methods provide.
For exams with essay-based questions it’s important to know the details but it’s even more important to be able to apply your knowledge, so practicing with past papers is key. But, for short-answer or multiple choice exams, it may be more important to understand and recall lots of details. Here, flashcards and quizzes are valuable.
This doesn’t mean to say you should only use one revision method. Ideally you would use various methods across the range of detail-focused to in-depth knowledge. Don’t be afraid to try new methods if you’re not satisfied with what you’ve been using.
Essay writing is a difficult and often unique process for every student. Our brains process information, make links and form ideas at different speeds and in different ways. If you talk to another student you’ll probably find you both have different methods for, and place different importance upon, planning, writing and editing your essays.
I want to explain to you there isn’t one ‘right’ way of approaching an essay. Some students spend a long time planning their essay then don’t have to spend so long editing. Others take a more ‘kitchen sink’ approach, writing all their ideas down first. The writing happens quicker in the ‘kitchen sink’ approach but more time is needed to edit to ensure the essay is on topic.
You may recognise your method in these two or yours could be completely different. It is possible to write a high grade essay with any of these approaches.
When you’re writing your next essay, think about whether your approach is effective and if you’re making the most of your time.
For example, you might feel like you often waste time staring at the blank page or writing down irrelevant stuff you need to cut out later. So a plan may help.
Or you might feel like your mind races ahead while you’re planning and you often get distracted or forget good ideas. Here you might find being less strict with your planning allows your ideas and creativity to flow better.
Reflect on the effectiveness of your essay writing to create a combination of methods unique to you.
Unfortunately there isn’t a magic productivity method that will transform every procrastinating student into a productive superhero. Every student is different. Try out different productivity techniques until you find what works for you.
Here’s four ways you can switch up your studying to try to improve your productivity (and reduce your procrastination).
Study in Different Places
While I think it’s important to have a dedicated study space in your home, studying in new surroundings can improve our focus. You could try a new study space within your house e.g. on the sofa, at the kitchen table, in the garden or even on the floor. Or you could try studying at your local library, café or at a nearby park.
Study at Different Times
Some students feel the most alert and productive in the morning and for others it’s later in the day. Try studying at different times so you can learn to recognise and exploit these productive times.
You may also find new pockets of time where you can fit some studying in.
- As soon as you wake up, before work or your family wake
- Get to work early and fit in 30-60 minutes of studying before everyone else arrives
- Your work lunchbreak or child’s nap time
- Straight after work before you get a chance to collapse on the sofa
- In the few hours before bed or after your child’s gone to sleep.
Test Different Lengths of Study
Some people prefer to study little and often so they study for 30-60 minutes most days. This means they often don’t have to study for hours at a time unless they’re working on an essay or revising.
But others, like me, feel they’re the most productive when they sit down to study for a few hours. A good block of time allows them to get into the flow and attack their task list.
For a week or two, try both of these methods and see which you prefer. Even if you think you’re firmly in one group or the other, have a go as you may find a new option or happy medium that boosts your productivity.
Test Out Different Work/Break Ratios
For those of you that have read my blog for a while, you’ll know how obsessed I am with the pomodoro technique. It really can work for everybody as breaks are non-negotiable for highly productive students.
The traditional pomodoro ratio is 25 minutes of uninterrupted, focused work followed by a 5 minute break. After 3 pomodoros you can take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
But try mixing up this ratio if you feel your focus waning or that you feel you could carry on past the break and stay productive. You could try 45 minutes of work with a 10-15 minute break. Or 90 minutes of work with a 30 minute break. You might find one ratio works well for note taking, another for essay writing and another for revision.
I hope this post has helped you evaluate your note taking, exam revision, essay writing and productivity methods.
"What got you here won’t get you there" – Marshall Goldsmith.
If you want to increase your productivity and get higher essay and exam grades… you HAVE to be willing to try new study techniques.