Users-41    How to use this guide

Tertiary study can be a daunting prospect! This guide will expose you to some simple strategies that will help you study in an organised, efficient and effective way. These ideas are based on experience gained from many hours of working with students. Of course, this guide is just one of a number of different approaches to studying and writing, but it is one that many students have found useful.

As you use this guide, consider and trial the suggested strategies and weigh them up against what you already do, then develop a plan that willl be achievable for you.  It is important that you at least trial these strategies so that you can make an informed decision about whether they will work for you or not. Strategic learners have a number of different strategies to choose from and they consciously choose appropriate strategies from this range for particular tasks. To become a strategic student, you need both to learn some new strategies and you also need to make conscious plans about which ones you will use in any given situation. By the time you have worked through some of the ideas in this guide, you should find that you have developed a strategic approach that will provide you with an excellent basis for academic study.

Visual thinking

This guide favours a visual thinking approach and uses concept maps extensively to help understand readings, to plan assignments and to organise study notes.  The major advantage of visual thinking, and concept mapping in particular, is that it enables you to quickly put a coherent overview of your ideas on paper, so you can ‘see’ what you think and then work on your thinking.  Our thinking is often fuzzy, because we lack clarity about exactly what we think and how our thinking fits together. Concept maps force you to ask questions which organise your learning and because of this they help with both the “what” and the “how”.  “What” questions help you to identify and categorise ideas, while “how” questions help you to think about the relationships between ideas.

Challenges and expectations of university students

While there are differences in expectations from different units and courses of study and different lecturers, there are some common principles that can be applied to most forms of academic study and writing.  Once you have used this book, you will have some ideas about these general principles and more importantly, you will have some ideas about the types of questions to ask your lecturers and tutors that will help you to more fully understand their specific tasks and requirements.

As a tertiary student, your major tasks will be reading widely and in depth, writing a range of assignment tasks and preparing for exams by understanding and remembering significant amounts of information in coherent patterns.  Each of these components will be dealt with in detail in this guide.

Writing academically

One of the most challenging aspects of tertiary study is learning to write academically. While it is not difficult to produce a response to a question, an excellent academic  response needs to be well structured and concise.  To produce an excellent response, you need to be aware that the quality of your reading, and the quality of your thinking about your reading, will affect the quality of your writing.  Being able to express yourself creatively in writing will not necessarily ensure your success as an academic writer.  As an academic writer you need to spend significant amounts of time thinking, reading and planning so that you are clear about what you want to say before you start to write.

The importance of time management

Another important part of being a student is how you use your time. Beginning students sometimes spend time only on assignments and if there are no assignments due, they believe they have nothing to do. This may be because the major task at school was simply to work on assignments and hand them in on time. Pre-reading before class, extra reading and revision after class was not necessarily required by teachers.  Frequently revision for tests was done a few days prior to the test and this was adequate.  However, at university there is so much information to cover that it is almost impossible to process and remember the information without making time for weekly pre-reading and revision (see more about this in the time management section).

Different expectations

Thus, it is important to realise that study at university requires you to go beyond completing assignments and cramming just before the test or exam.  At university, the teacher requirements are significantly fewer, while the amount of information that has to be processed is far greater (for example, a school term’s work can easily be covered in a week at university).  These two factors in combination can make the university experience very different from school. Many university courses list required or suggested readings each week, but it is highly unlikely that lecturers or tutors will check that students have done the readings (unlike school where teachers do check homework). Similarly, school teachers often allow students time in class to work on assignments, whereas this is almost unheard of at university, and certainly university staff will rarely remind students of the need to get started on assignments. Most lecturers will simply present the information on the topic and mostly leave the learning process up to the student. Because of this, you will need to become a planner and take charge of the learning process for yourself.

Being involved

As well as studying, university offers a multitude of opportunities for growth.  There are clubs, societies, sports, social events, work experience and study exchange possibilities that can enrich your experience significantly.  Do take advantage of this rich life, but be sure that you keep balance and ensure that you are spending most time on the elements of your life that are most important to you at the time (presumably your studies are important to you, otherwise you would probably not have enrolled in a degree).  If doing well is really important, then you would want to be spending a large part of your time on study, however if something else is really more important to you, for example, to represent a state or country sporting team, you would probably be prepared to spend significant amounts of time on this and perhaps a little less on study.

Exam preparation

The third major dimension of tertiary study is exam preparation.  This will be dealt with in detail later, however at this point it is important to note that weekly revision starting from week one in the semester will make a significant difference in terms of the amount you can remember and apply at exam time.  Adopting a regular revision schedule builds up a coherent overview of the expanding volume of material, which will reduce stress at exam time. Regular revision will also increase the likelihood that you will be able to retain the large amounts of information you are expected to learn.

Reflection and conclusion

Budgeting your time

The major tasks ahead of you include significant, in depth and wide reading; remembering and retaining significant amounts of information; and writing well structured assignments. It is important that you plan your time carefully to take charge of all of these elements of learning.

Think about how much time you are prepared to devote to these tasks each week and how you will divide your time between your subjects.


Use visual thinking strategies

Thinking, questioning and planning are at the core of a strategic approach to tertiary study. Visual thinking strategies such as concept mapping help capture and organise your thinking.

Think about how you could use concept mapping to help your learning. If you are unfamiliar with the process, you can learn about it here.

Balancing study and life

University is not just about studying. You should consider participating in other activities like clubs and societies, sports, and social events organised by your union or student groups. Decide how much time you will allocate to these activities and be sure to keep it in balance with your studies.

Think about some of the interests and activities you might pursue and how much time you want to give them.