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How to study with less stress and better results - Part 1

Updated on April 22, 2013
Stay organized from day 1, otherwise you will have a lot to sort out later on!
Stay organized from day 1, otherwise you will have a lot to sort out later on!

Get organized from day 1

Are you studying in university or school and are constantly under pressure to mug huge quantities of content in no time and then reproduce these in exams? Are you struggling with writing such exams in a vast variety of subjects in a very short span of time, hardly being able to prep yourself only half as good as you would like? And last but not least, do you have difficulty passing your exams or are regularly disappointed with the results you get?

If you could answer any of these questions with yes, this article most likely will be able to help you. Due to the article’s lengths I divided its content into three different hubs, which best are read together, but will also improve your situation if taken by themselves: Get organized from day 1, Know yourself and keep yourself motivated, Exam time – better grades and less work!

If you want to know the background of this article read on right here, otherwise immediately jump forward to the Studying strategies section.

With a few simple studying techniques I managed to turn from being a struggling student with mediocre grades into a topper, holding a full student grant and finishing university in the least amount of time. In this article I will not help you to learn properly, but simply share my studying strategies to get through university. Modern time universities in many countries have vastly turned into huge mugging factories that try to mass produce human resources fresh from the assembly line. I am not suggesting that this is a good development at all, but as a student of these times it is certainly necessary to learn the new meaning of how to study successfully and thus acquire a new set of methods of organizing oneself, learning and memorizing.

Most of us enter university with a huge amount of idealism, expecting an inspiring and stimulating environment to further our interests and develop us as thinking minds. I know that there are for a fact such universities and the circumstances also widely depend on your subject and country, but the vast majority of us will find themselves in the above mentioned learning factories, facing an anonymized atmosphere, an extreme workload and a mountain of exams that seem to want you to memorize whole telephone books in a week’s time. At least that was very true for me, studying a nature science related subject in a European university. Of course you might ask now – if it is so bad, why would you continue studying? The simple answer is – it gets much much better later on! Most universities nowadays are putting their students through a “natural selection” process in the first few years (and yes, school already does that, too), so that supposedly only the great minds stay behind to take the advanced courses or head for their promotions (for which as we all know are only very few positions available). The sad truth is that I have seen many great minds, sometimes I would even say the students with the deepest interest in their subject, dropping out during this time of extreme pressure. If Albert Einstein would have studied my course with me, he would have been one of the firsts to leave, probably now being some frustrated pizza delivery boy conducting crazy experiments in his kitchen after work.

This brings me to the point that success in university nowadays is simply measured as success in exams under extreme pressure. That has nothing to do with your intelligence or your abilities and the outcome is vastly dependant on your learning style. I started being a successful student when I stopped being a good one. So stop beating yourself for bad exams and instead try to find out what is going wrong and why – assuming that it is maybe not you, but the whole set-up you are in! If you can let go of your idealism for a while and thus pass through these tough years of selection pressure you will come out at the end of the tunnel rewarded with the sort of studies you’ve always dreamt of – inspiring, mind-provoking, creative and flexible! You just need to get through this rough passage!

Don't lose the overview
Don't lose the overview

Since you have been reading this article so far, most likely you are one of us many struggling students, wondering how to study and scope with the extremely frustrating amount of mugging, lacking adequate methods of learning. If you are ready to drop your idealism and just make the choice to become successful for the time being the following studying strategies and learning methods might make all the difference.

Studying Strategies


1. Get the overview immediately (or: But next semester I will really get organized…)

Right at the beginning of each semester take a very careful look at your schedule and put all important dates such as exam dates, tests, presentations et al. into a calendar. In my country you usually have the freedom to choose between a first exam date at the end of the semester and a second exam date at the end of the semester break. Alternatively you can postpone an exam indefinitely and do it sometime later – don’t even think about it, you will forever regret! But it might be very helpful to stretch your exams over the semester breaks to get that additional time to mug away. But that will be only necessary if you are planning to get top grades – to simply pass everything it is more than sufficient just to stay on the ball from the beginning.

2. Form groups with some of your inmates (or: Shared work is half work)

It is incredibly important to team up with at least 1-3 more students right from the beginning. Make sure your team players are having the same objective as you – studying successful in the least amount of time. Follow number 3. and get together after about 2 weeks to make a plan on how to share the workload.

3. Attend everything in the first few weeks and assess it (or: Since you taught me to rationalize everything…)

In the first 2-3 weeks it is very advisable to attend all your lectures and assess if attending them will be useful to you. Many a lecture I visited was a monotone speech accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation that would be available in an online learning platform later. Why should you go there and waste your time? If there is neither much scope for interaction nor hardly any additional information to the one in the presentation, it is much more efficient to work through the material on your own during the same time. Now there are certain lecturer’s that have such bad lectures that students naturally stop coming, but who have an ego problem admitting their own fault and thus try to force the students to attend by making the content of the lecture unavailable for those who are not present – putting only graphics without explanation on their presentations, using stone-age methods such as overhead projectors or directly just using a blackboard. This is the time your team gets important! Divide these lectures amongst each other and record them as well as you can – by taking notes, photos (best hidden) or a speech recording. Bring that material into a comprehensive and compressed form at home. Meet once a week and exchange your materials. Additionally some lectures now have lists in which you need to sign your presence – either make sure that each week a couple of these lists disappear so that soon they will be abolished altogether, or always have one team member signing you all in.

But if you come across a good lecture, make sure you never miss it! Nothing is as helpful as having heard things being explained to you in an understandable or entertaining manner and having taken your own notes.

If you can, already in this stage you should try to accomplish no. 11. Analyse the psyche of your exam – that gives you another clue on how useful a certain lecture will be for you!

So by the end of latest 3 weeks you should know all important dates for the semester, have a source in every subject to get all your materials from and have a team of at least 1-3 people.

Continue this article on my other HubPages:

Know yourself and keep yourself motivated, Exam time – better grades and less work!


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