Our Getting Off To A Good Start Guide is a collection of tips and advice for new or returning students who want to start the year as best they can. Originally a print guide, it is now a series of interlinked blog posts that you can bookmark and return to at any point and resume reading. Living online, the guide is constantly updated. This section deals with good study practices to develop early.
The first couple of weeks of uni are a bit of a whirlwind, especially if you engage fully with Orientation. There is a party-like atmosphere with an emphasis on fun, involvement and connection with others. It is a nice way to start especially if you are used to school or work years that start with little fanfare.
But very quickly it is down to business.
Where possible, you want to get started early and quickly with your readings, lecture notes, checking out your assignments, scheduling your week etc. Any existing student or staff member can tell you that the academic year goes by really quickly and it is easy to fall behind. Getting some early momentum is very beneficial.
So, what does that involve?
Know what is involved in being a successful student
I mentioned this in the previous section of the guide, but colleagues of mine have created an amazing online topic called ‘Finding Your Way At Flinders” which is there to help you:
- get familiar with Flinders and how university works
- explore some of the skills you will need to develop
- become aware of some common barriers that can arise
- show you what Flinders has available to help
- and provide you with useful Student Hacks (tricks or shortcuts that increases your efficiency).
I very strongly recommend you take some time to work through the content on that FLO topic. By the end of that topic, you’ll not only be feeling a lot more confident in FLO (the online learning systems where you will find your topics), but you’ll have a greater sense of what life as a student is going to be like.
Allocate an appropriate amount of time to your studies
Regardless of your topic or study load (full or part-time), I encourage students to think about their studies like a job. When you have a job, you are required (by your employer) to be at a certain place at a certain time, doing what it is they need you to do. This means not allocating that time to other activities. For example, if your boss expected you to be at work from 9am to 5pm each day, but instead you spent that time with friends, you would quickly find you no longer have a job.
If you are doing a full-time degree (usually 36 units), then expect, as a default, that you’ll need to spend at least 36 hours per week focused on your studies (1 hour per unit). This is roughly the equivalent of a full-time job, namely Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. If you are studying part-time, you can adjust this pro-rata. For example, a ½ load would be ~ 20 hours, ¼ load 10 hours and so on.
Where many students fall into a trap is that they aren’t required to be on-campus for that full 36 hours, because their lectures/ tutorials/ labs might only take up half that time (e.g. 18 hours) or be available online. The problem is, they then allocate that remaining 18 hours to other things: socialising, work, Netflix, sleeping in, etc. Doing this can quickly lead to you falling behind on readings, assignments, reports and exam preparation.
Early in the year, grab a diary and set up a schedule that includes your actual contact hours (time when you need to be at university or attending online lectures), as well as additional study time to meet the required amount (i.e. 36 hours total for a full-time degree, 18 for a ½ time etc etc). Then and only then, can you start allocating the remaining time to other aspects of your life. Don’t worry though – a full-time study load still gives you time for other stuff. This is a great graphic that a previous colleague made to help students think about how to allocate their time.
In the early days if it feels like there is not enough work to fill the allocated time, focus on mapping out the year ahead and getting familiar with when everything is due. You can also get ahead on readings.
Use evidence-based study techniques
Most students, whether they are coming straight from high school, or returning to education after a hiatus, find university-level study to be more challenging and difficult than what they have done previously. This is the result of a few things:
- The work is generally harder than what you’ve done before
- You are expected to deliver better quality work than what you have done before
- There is often less direct support from teachers/ lecturers than what you might be used to from school
- You are responsible for how you use your time, rather than the stricter time management enforced on you at high school
- If you are returning to study from a hiatus, you may have simply forgot what it is like to do formal study and how to go about it
On the surface this might sound a little intimidating, but it is actually a good thing. University will push you to be the best version of yourself that you can be and that means working hard. Working hard however doesn’t mean you can’t also work smart.
Working smart means familiarising yourself with study strategies that have been shown to be effective in helping people learn. Thankfully, cognitive science (a field dedicated to understanding how we think and how our brains work), has great insights into the best ways to learn.
For example, did you know that just reading, taking notes and highlighting is not the most effective way to learn content? Instead, you have to repeatedly test yourself on your ability to recall the information you’ve read to put it into long-term memory.
Teach yourself evidence-based study strategies by familiarising yourself with our resource ‘Evidence-Based study, writing and exam preparation tips’. This is a document in which I have been collecting evidence-based effective study and writing strategies. It covers quite a bit.
- preparing yourself for success, that is, what conditions do you need to get in place in order to be a good student
- how to make the most out of lectures and tutorials
- how to get all that information into your head
- how to get all that information out of your head
- strategies that don’t work that we all still use anyway
- embracing the social side of study
- how to find the fun in study
- common writing traps and how to deal with them
- finding balance between studies and the rest of your life
- what to do when things don’t go so well
- further reading
Use available services for study tips, writing and assignments
I found that the quality of writing expected from me at University was much higher than that expected of me at high school. I was lucky however that my mum was an ex-English teacher who was able to help me improve my writing (I’m having flashbacks of a lot of red pen!).
You might not have people in your life that can help you improve your writing, however the Uni has got you covered there also.
The Student Learning Support Service (SLSS) provides a range of resources to help students with the academic side of university.
- Access one-to-one study support with a Learning advisor through the Learning Lounge on campus or online through Studiosity
- Access their Learning Toolkit that provides ‘study resources across the preparing, doing and progressing stages of assessment to smash your assignment goals!’
- A library of online study guides and resources, videos and modules to help you develop the academic skills needed to be successful at university.
- Study Skill Workshops run throughout the year to help you develop the skills needed to be successful in your assessments.
- Referencing support – an essential academic skill that can be learned effectively through referencing study guides.
- Ready2Go online modules addressing common questions students have about the academic side of university.
- Information on your responsibilities with regards to Academic Integrity.
Utilising these resources can help you:
- Understand your assignment requirements
- Structure your assignment
- Express your ideas more clearly
- Enhance your academic writing style
- Understand referencing conventions
- Improve your understanding and application of grammar rules
- Improve your self-editing skills
- Update your basic maths skills
Links to all these resources, services, workshops and modules can be found at:
Similarly, the Library offers a range of direct services to students that can help with their assignments and navigating the information environment at a university.
- Learn how your FAN and Student ID give you access to library resources including spaces and facilities you can book
- Access the readings set for your topics
- Find quick links to subject specific search tools and databases
- Access self-help tools that teach you how to find and use credible information for your assignments and research
- Access guides on using FLO and online learning platforms
- You can access resources like ‘Library World’ that teach you how to best interact with academic, scholarly information
- You can access past exams to help with your revision efforts
- Students with disabilities can access specialised equipment (e.g. magnifiers, screen-reading software, height adjustable tables) to make engaging with library resources easier
- Read the latest news and events from the Library
Tackle Procrastination Directly
Procrastination is putting off something that needs to be done until later. We all do it, so don’t freak out if you find yourself doing it.
There are a few basic principles that can help you understand why you procrastinate and how to tackle it.
Humans manage anxiety and discomfort with avoidance
Study can be hard. As a result, it can feel challenging or difficult at times. Our first reaction, when confronted by something that makes us feel uncomfortable is to avoid it. This makes sense but isn’t the most useful response when trying to get a degree.
Tackling procrastination includes pushing yourself beyond that initial discomfort and realising that the discomfort lessens and sometimes disappears once you are engaged and working on the task you’ve been avoiding.
It is often when a student sits down to start an assignment or start learning for exams, that they get a bit overwhelmed by the size or the difficulty of the task ahead of them. This is the point when they tell themselves ‘I can start this later’ or think of something else ‘really important’ that they need to do.
A key component to overcoming procrastination is repeatedly identifying and resisting those desires to avoid the task and instead breaking the task into little manageable pieces and getting started on them as soon as possible.
There is an ongoing conflict between our future self and our current self
Your future self would really like you to have a degree, so you can head out into the world, make money and do something worthwhile/make a contribution. Your current self however is more interested in feeling as good as they can in the moment (which often means doing something other than study).
Tackling procrastination means connecting more closely to the needs of your future self rather than your current self. This applies in other areas of life like nutrition or exercise. Some discomfort or inconvenience in the present moment is critical to ensure better health and wellbeing in the future.
We use our emotional states as an indicator of our willingness and ability to work
We tend to get trapped into thinking that we can only do good work when we are feeling inspired, motivated, creative and happy. So, we wait until we are ‘feeling right’ before starting our work.
The problem is that when we are working on something that is really important to us (e.g. a degree), the emotions attached to that will not always be positive. In fact, the more important something is to you, the more likely you’ll feel nervous or apprehensive or doubtful as you approach it. They’re actually signs that it is important to you.
Tackling procrastination means learning that, in fact, feelings of motivation, inspiration and creativity emerge from hard work and meeting our goals, not the other way around.
We tend to make a similar mistake when it comes to ability. We take our nervousness or apprehension or confusion as a sign that we don’t have the necessary skills, but often it is simply the case that learning something new is always accompanied by those feelings.
We all have unhelpful beliefs about getting work done
We all develop unhelpful or irrational beliefs about getting work done.
Common ones include ‘it must be perfect’, ‘this assignment is stupid so I am not going to try’, ‘I work much better under pressure’, and ‘I’m a morning person, so now it is the afternoon I may as well do something else’. Many of these beliefs contribute to our ongoing procrastination by providing a form of justification for our avoidance.
Tackling procrastination means identifying what beliefs you hold about getting work done and asking yourself whether some of them might be unhelpful.
If you struggle with procrastination, consider getting hold of our ‘Put Off Procrastinating’ workbook. It guides you through the process of understand how your beliefs might be shaping your avoidance. You might also find our small-group procrastination-busting program called Studyology helpful. It teaches you therapy techniques for tackling avoidance.
Know your advocates
When things go wrong with your studies, it can feel like you are on your own. But you’re not.
The Flinders University Student Association (FUSA) has ‘Student Advocacy Officers’ who can help you navigate your way through a whole range of study-related issues:
- Re-marks and resubmissions
- Appeals against final grades
- Academic integrity issues (plagiarism, collusion, etc.)
- Placement difficulties
- “At risk” and “show cause” procedures
- Issues with University staff
- Remission of student fees
- Assistance dealing with a complaint or grievance related to your studies
- Advice and support with regard to an appeal process
- Advice on Flinders University policies and procedures and how they relate to you as a student
Visit the FUSA website, have a look around, and sign-up to receive their email updates. Alternatively, follow them on one of their social media channels – Facebook or Instagram. To find the stuff specifically on academic advocacy click here.
Section reflection 🤔
When you’ve studied in the past, what has been helpful? What study techniques have you found have worked best?
Sections of the guide 📘
- Know your way around
- Getting off to a good start with your studies
- Know what is involved in being a successful student
- Allocate an appropriate amount of time to your studies
- Use evidence-based study techniques
- Use available services for study tips, writing and assignments
- Tackle procrastination directly
- Know your advocates
- Get off to a good start by looking after yourself
- Engage in self-care
- Ensure any known health or mental health conditions are being well managed
- Try not to isolate yourself
- Familiarise yourself with the support environment
- Further reading
- Final words