This post is way overdue I have been busy with job hunting and my sinuses have been acting up. This post is a bit different from my regular stuff since it deals with studying. I spent a year in Germany to study towards a second Masters in Development studies. My blog, Instagram feed and Facebook blog make it look like I never studied at all. Social media tends to be like that. I wouldn’t post a late night study session or how I studied whilst sitting on the bus to Italy reading my notes. It’s boring and doesn’t make for great visual content. After every trip, I got asked by my fellow students and friends how I managed to keep up with studying and travelling as much as I did. If you are a student these tips will hopefully help you and make your studies less stressful. I have updated this article to add links to resources that I have found useful. May you pass with flying colours.
Be prepared for class
As a graduate student, you are often expected to complete readings and actively participate in class discussions. The reality is that you won’t always be prepared or feel comfortable with commenting. Don’t let this aspect slide though. Read the readings before the time even if it’s on the bus or train on your way to class. I made sure that I read what I needed to. This goes for having your notebook, pens, laptop….. Be prepared it matters.
Simple right well not for everyone you really do need to attend class it’s important. At post-graduate level, it is obvious when you aren’t there this leaves a bad impression. You don’t want to piss off your lecturers so attend every class. It helps when you didn’t focus on a few readings too when writing exams you can still think back to your lectures but if you never attended there’s nothing to fall back on.
You need to take good notes that are legible and which make sense to you. My notes tend to be very colourful. I use a highlighter and coloured pens often. I also use my own set of made up abbreviations which I understand. My notes would look like some kind of alien writing to others to me it makes perfect sense. You can alternatively record your lectures although writing notes, in my opinion, is better. The more senses you use whilst learning and studying the better you will remember. Hearing the lecturer and physically writing down notes reinforce what has been said and helps you comprehend and remember the content.
Read your lecture notes after class. I did this after my classes usually on the bus or train on my way back to my apartment. Then try to skim through everything on Fridays that way the weeks’ work will stick with you. If this method isn’t possible for you to cram it in somehow it is important to revise regularly that way you don’t have to start from scratch when studying for your exam.
You can read almost everywhere and travelling means you need to sit in a car, bus, train or plane, spaceship just kidding. You do need to actually use transport and this takes time use that free bits of time to read your notes. I took earphones with me listened to music and read my notes. Reading my notes and textbooks like they are a novel is something I did even during my undergraduate years. For me reading whilst travelling tricks my mind into thinking that it’s not tiresome study content that I’m reading. The reality is that sometimes readings are dull and reading to kill your travel time will help distract you.
If you are lucky like me you can schedule your classes in a way which will help you travel and study. I had Fridays off and Mondays usually. This allowed me to have an extra long weekend every week and I used these days to travel. By Sunday afternoon or evening I was back home resting. Then Monday I would start hitting the books again. A month before my thesis was due I stopped travelling to complete it. I managed to finish my 50-page thesis and pass it with a B average. After I submitted I immediately packed and travelled to Leipzig and Berlin with my two close friends and spent my last weekend in Germany making wonderful memories. So yes schedule well and you will be able to pull it off.
Cut out things
You need to plan effectively time management is crucial when you are juggling tasks. Track how you spend your time every hour write down what you spent your time on. Then cut out unnecessary things. This won’t work if you lie to yourself and it won’t work if you don’t stick to your own study timetable. Doing this takes willpower and you need to be frank. I watched movies but, didn’t watch many series since I knew that I binge watch series and that would open up Pandora’s Box for me. So instead I would complete my study work. Then I would watch a movie after I was done.
Now you might be wondering what does studying have to do with eating right and exercise well a lot actually. Your body needs to be healthy in order to concentrate, and exercise releases endorphins which allow you to relax and feel happy. Exercise can therefore, help with study stress. Living healthy prevents illness and everyone knows studying becomes so much harder when you are sick. I hate exercising in a gym so I went for hikes and walks instead. I also ate a lot of vegetables and fruit. I tried my best to eat well.
Part of live healthy yes it does, however, matter a lot. You see water provides oxygen to your brain and this helps with concentration. So before studying drink water, the irritating thing about water is that it makes you pee which in turn keeps you awake this way you can’t just sleep whilst you should be studying.
I often juggled work, studies and volunteering whilst studying. I slowed that down when I got to Germany instead I chose to travel and study. It was a first for me. I realized early on that I wouldn’t pass if I took on more things so I kept it minimal.
Know what works
You need to find out what kind of learner you are. So what teaching method allows you to absorb information the best? I’m an audio-visual learner so bright colours, mind maps and recordings of lectures help me remember and understand things. There are many online tests to determine what kind of learner a person is. Once you know what kind of learner you can use techniques that fit you. Know what time is the best time for you to study if you are a morning person or a night owl. It’s always better for me to work at night so I tend to do a lot of study work when I am studying at night. Some people require total silence when studying others prefers to blast Metallica whilst revising whatever fits is what you should do. Try different techniques and see what works, trial by error will help you figure out what’s effective.
I ended up doing this with one of my exams and got an A for that module go figure. It added to my stress levels in a horrible nightmarish way after that I chose to study in advance. Like I said revise often and do intense studying for an exam way before the time. Telling yourself that you work better under pressure is just a way to fuel your procrastination most times don’t do it.
Talk it out
Talk to your classmates about lectures and to your friends. You don’t need to give people an entire lecture avoid going on and on. It is good to talk about what you have learnt since if you can explain it to someone else then you definitely have a good grip on what you were taught. If you don’t understand things ask questions in your lectures and tutorials. Go to consultation meetings and address your concerns don’t stay quiet and if you are uncomfortable ask your classmates. I often help classmates and did so Germany to because explaining to someone else will only make you remember better and will help strengthen your own understanding.
Forming a study group can really help you stay motivated. I tend to work alone when it comes to studying. In Germany we did, however, have a Dropbox account where everyone added their notes of the classes and the old exam papers. These notes along with my own really helped a lot so the online study group was tremendously helpful.
Focus on yourself
Don’t compare your grades. Stay focused make yourself the target to beat. Improve your own standards constantly and don’t judge yourself by comparing. Competing with classmates is silly it is also a time waster. People are different and no one has time for that kind of negativity. Focus on your own study goals rather.
There are a lot of online aids which can help you with your studies. I use Grammarly to help edit my essays and assignments it is an effective tool for spelling and grammar checking. You can also use RefWorks to help track your references and after you completed your work it can automatically generate a reference list for you. Other tools such as Mendeley also provide this kind of help. It’s also good to rope in a human helper, I usually ask my sister to read my thesis and she provides feedback. It is very easy to miss writing mistakes when you have made them yourself.
Most studies can be rooted in the real world some way or another. Use news events and things you know about the world and link them back to your studies. I remember that we were talking in my Democracy and Governance lecture about why South Africa has adopted the federal state system and countries like the USA and Nigeria are federal states too. I answered that because of apartheid different provinces needed to able to make their own laws to allow cohesion. Some level of independence was also needed since apartheid South Africa was so regionally fractured. I never forgot this example it stuck with me because it dealt with my home country.
Back things up
There’s nothing worse than completing an assignment and losing it. Use Google Drive or Dropbox to back up everything. The cool thing about this is that you can read through your work online whilst travelling, which brings me to my next point.
Have the tools
You need to have the tools to study remotely if you are travelling. I have word and adobe on my phone that way I can edit and read things even when I don’t have access to my laptop. You also have to have a good USB charger with a high wattage to keep all your devices running. And make sure you have a cellphone plan that includes international roaming. This way you can read articles related to your studies and keep up to date with important information.
When you are editing your own work read it slowly. Read it more than once. And also take time to edit. I wrote my essays in the week and then I edited them on my way to my travel destinations. You should edit a day after writing your article and then edit because mistakes don’t pop up easily often, especially when you are editing your own writing.
Determine your study style by answering 30 easy questions at: https://www.how-to-study.com/learning-style-assessment/
Mendeley is an excellent research network and citation management tool: https://www.mendeley.com/
Another citation tool is RefWorks: https://www.refworks.com
More study tips can be found at The Princeton Review: https://www.princetonreview.com/college-advice/back-to-school-study-tips
For tips on how to improve your memory for studying look at: https://www.goconqr.com/en/examtime/blog/study-hacks/
How to stay healthy whilst studying: https://www.masterstudies.com/article/Staying-Fit-While-Studying-Six-Tips/
Find a few thesis tips here: https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/developing-thesis
I use the Cornell and Sentence note-taking method, more methods can be found at: https://www.oxfordlearning.com/5-effective-note-taking-methods/
This article explains how I read when I’m studying: https://www.cornellcollege.edu/academic-support-and-advising/study-tips/reading-textbooks.shtml
For more on the in’s and out’s on study groups: https://www.educationcorner.com/studing-groups.html
P.S If you have anything to add let me know. What works for you? And do you study and travel? I really appreciate your comments and all comments make my day. Thank you so much for reading my blog.
Good luck with your studies!