How to set yourself up for academic success
The start of a new term means a new start to unlearn some not-so-proactive habits – but how?
What does it really mean to ‘apply yourself’ – and is it really possible to stop procrastinating? As a 4th-year student with too many all-nighters and exam seasons under my belt, I hope I’ve learned the hard way so you don’t have to. Here are some tips to help you start your academic year on the right foot.
Curb your procrastination
Ah, the common plight of every student: procrastination. Because why do it now when you can do it tomorrow?
Limiting your distractions while you’re studying can make a huge impact on how well and how long you can focus. Put your phone on airplane mode, use app blockers or install web extensions like Stay Focused that limit how much time you spend on time-wasting websites.
Cold Turkey Writer is a free text-editor app that blocks out all distractions from your computer – literally. This program will not let you exit until you’ve hit that custom word count or time limit.
Revamp how you notetake
Early on, I fell into the habit of taking down every word the professor was saying. But only when exam season came did I realize how disordered and long my notes were – and how illegible my writing was. This is what I’ve learned:
Paraphrase – note key points and concepts
Record the lecture to review
Use diagrams or mind-map
When it comes time to review your notes, don’t just read them. Try summarizing, linking concepts, and explaining the material to your peers and quizzing each other. There are many different note-taking methods – figure out what works for you!
Engage in class and think critically
We're all guilty of scrolling through Facebook during a dense lecture – but it's an easier habit than you think to break. Take the little steps to becoming an active learner – ask questions, play devil's advocate, and challenge your material. Engage in your studies as if you were learning for the purpose of teaching someone else.
Go to those dreaded 9:00 am classes and participate in tutorials because, frankly, unlike high school, you’re paying for this!
Study actively – literally
Incorporate ways to stay active into your study life.
Not only is it a great way to de-stress and stay healthy, but researchers have shown that regular exercise improves your verbal memory and thinking skills. If you can’t find time to hit the gym, here are some tips to help you move.
Give yourself short-term goals
When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I find breaking down and mapping out what I need to do makes tackling them less intimidating.
Approach bigger assignments with longer deadlines with a visual checklist and tangible tasks. For example: if you’re tackling a 10-page research paper, set a goal of finishing the thesis or outline by the end of the day, or hit a certain word count by the end of the week.
Just be realistic about how much you want to accomplish and keep it to 5-7 checkpoints a day – you’re only human.
Stay organized and develop a routine
Motivation might be a great way to get yourself started, but most of us know it doesn't have the best stamina. Sticking to a routine means you’ll develop productive habits that last over the long term.
Keep a planner or a wall calendar to keep track of deadlines and reminders. Develop a weekly routine that schedules time for your studies, work or volunteering, and time to just unwind. This structure helps ground you when school or work become overwhelming.
Take what you're learning beyond the classroom
I realized this fairly late in my academic career: learn for the sake of learning – not for the letter grade.
As controversial as this sounds, it changed the way I approached my subjects. A lot of the times, the stress of wanting to ace that exam is rather counterproductive. Obviously, strive to do well, but instead of getting caught up in test results, find value in what you're learning both personally and in a broader or long-term context – your grades do not indefinitely define who you are or will become.
This shift in thinking made my courses more rewarding, and ironically, improved my grades.
Go to office hours and use UBC resources
Take advantage of office hours – your professor or TA is surprisingly approachable! Use the vast resources UBC has to offer, like:
- The Chapman Learning Commons, on the 3rd floor of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, offers tutoring and other resources to help your writing.
Take care of yourself
Don’t burn yourself out! Schedule in 15-minute breaks during those long-haul study sessions. Relax with your friends and reward your hard work. Veg out with a YouTube video or go for a walk – do at least one thing a day that brings you joy.
Remember to build in time for yourself to disconnect from your academics, to take care of your mental health - and never underestimate the effect of a good night’s rest.
Read more simple, healthy habits to keep you going throughout the year.
Figure out what works for you
There is no secret shortcut for how to ace that exam - it all comes down to finding out what works for you.