three female students studying outdoors
September 7, 2018
4 mins read

How to set yourself up for academic success

The start of a new school year can feel like you’ve forgotten how to learn. 

The residual grog of summer mixed with the anticipation of university academics can seem like an uneasy cocktail to begin the year with. But I assure you, even after 4 years, the back-to-school jitters are still a thing. 

Luckily, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks over the years to curb those academic anxieties, and lucky for you, the sooner you pick up these habits, the better—much better. Here are some ways to help you start your school year on the right foot:

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.

Manage your time by developing a daily or weekly routine that schedules time for your studies, work or volunteering, and time to just unwind. Use an app or planner to keep track of your priorities—figuring out which tasks take precedence is the first step in getting that productivity ball rolling. 

Revamp how you take notes

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 unhelpful my rambling, disorganized (and illegible) notes were. This is what I’ve learned:

  • Paraphrase—note key points and concepts

  • Record the lecture to review

  • Use diagrams or mind maps 

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!

student studying on laptop

Engage in class and think critically

I'm definitely guilty of scrolling through Facebook during a dense lecture—but it's an easier habit than you think to break. Take little steps to become an active learner: ask questions, discuss with your classmates, 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!

Give yourself short-term goals

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I find breaking down what I need to do makes tackling them less intimidating.

Approach bigger assignments that have farther 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.

students studying together

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 classes. 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. 

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 like Forest, or install web extensions like StayFocusd 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—and I mean all. This program will not let you exit until you’ve hit your custom word count or time limit.

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 while you study.

Go to office hours and use UBC resources

Take advantage of office hours to go over course assignments or material—and do this early on in the term. Professors and TAs are approachable (truly) and are there to help you succeed! Use the many resources UBC has to offer, such as the following:

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.

Figure out what works for you

Ultimately, there is no secret shortcut for how to ace that assignment or exam—it all comes down to finding out what works for you.