We asked some students what they wish they’d known about studying – and surviving and thriving – in their first year. These are some of their top tips.
Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise!
There’s a lot going on at university, and it’s tempting to try to do it all, but you’ve got to prioritise. Focus on the things that are really important to you, and fill in your calendar at the beginning of every term with assignments, tests and exams. Work out how much time you need for each, then stay organised, manage your time and stick to the plan!
Limit your time online
The internet has made many things easier, but it’s also a major distraction. Stay off the internet – especially social media sites – during class and study time. Only browse socially when all your work is done. It’s the best way to avoid wasting time online.
Learn how to take good notes
Write down only the key points of the lecture. If you write too much, you risk missing other important information. So, read the material your lecturers set for you and then listen for understanding (not just hearing). Review your notes as soon as possible after taking them to fill in extra details. Typing them up is a good way to go.
Find your zone
Everyone studies in different ways and in different places. For some it’s the quiet of their bedroom, for others it’s a busy coffee shop. Some like to play music, and some need complete silence. Try a few different things and stick with what works for you. And remember why you’re doing this – think about what you’re going to do when you realise your ambitions. Keep the dream alive!
Don’t cut classes (or tuts or pracs) ever
Most tutorials and practicals are compulsory. If you don’t attend, you won’t qualify for your DP (duly performed) and won’t be able to write exams. By attending all lectures, you’ll be prepared for tuts and pracs, and there will be less chance of falling behind in any work. It’ll pay off in the long run!
Look after your health
Take regular breaks while you study; get enough sleep; exercise; eat healthy, regular meals; spend time relaxing with friends; and ask for help if you need it. If you ever feel overwhelmed or anxious, don’t think of it as a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of healthy self-awareness. Get in touch with people who can help.
Ask for help
Don’t struggle alone. If you’re worried about your studies, ask for help ASAP. Speak to your lecturers or tutors or someone at the First-Year Experience or the UCT Writing Centre. And think about joining (or starting) a study group.
Find a balance
“During my first year, I threw myself at every social opportunity that came my way. I never said ‘no’ to any invitations. It didn’t take me long to get behind with my work and then panic set in. I wish I’d known how important it is to manage your time and get the work–fun balance right from the beginning. It would have saved me a lot of stress around exams.” – Neo, third-year BA
Find your way around
“I wish I’d known how helpful it would be to immediately study the maps of campus and identify the buildings that I needed to be at during my first days at university. It would have saved me a lot of confusion and embarrassment.” – Colin, BSc Marine Biology Honours
Show up, take notes and persevere
“It seems obvious, but what I wish I had known as a first-year is how important it is to go to all lectures and take good notes. Also, I wish I’d realised that it’s not the end of the world when you fail a test, exam or subject. It happens. The important thing is to immediately pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do better next time.” – Claude, BSc Environmental Science and Applied Biology
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