Common-sense study advice that you know but don’t follow

By: Maggie Shui Thursday 21 February 2019

Common-sense study advice that you know but don’t follow

Plan ahead, start early, drink water - you’ve heard study advice like this before. It’s common sense. You have this information stored in your brain… but do you know it in your heart? In your soul?

Sometimes, you can only learn these common sense lessons through experience. You need to fall a few times for the lesson to sink deep enough and inspire you to change your behaviour.

In our MyTuition community, we have 500+ tutors who have taken a few falls in high school. They knew they should be doing practice questions, or that cramming during exam season doesn’t work. And yet, it can be hard to put that knowledge into practice. 

Today, two of our tutors share the mistakes they made in high school, and the common sense lessons they learned because of it. 

Sam: Study smarter, not harder


Sam Hoyle, Tutor Team Lead

The maxim ‘study smarter, not harder’ is so often repeated to students that it’s nearing cliche status. But, like most cliches, it’s often repeated because it’s based in truth.

In Year 11, Sam was not studying smart. Her only study method was to take notes. Nevertheless, she was spending a good amount of time on each subject, and gave the appearance of working hard to her parents.

When it came time to scroll through her exam grades, however, she was left feeling a bit surprised. Although she’d put a lot of time into studying, the results were lower than what she expected.

Sam realised that the time she’d put into studying wasn’t used effectively. She’d spent her time just writing out notes, so she wasn’t prepared to go in depth with her exam answers. She was disheartened to see her work produce disappointing results.

She used this disappointment as motivation. In Year 12, she gave her study techniques a boost. She did way more past papers and, when she did make notes, they were adapted from answers to exam-style questions. When it came to sitting her exams, she was able to answer a lot more questions. When she saw a problem she hadn’t seen before, she still felt confident in writing an answer.

This is because her studying involved practicing skills and absorbing knowledge to a level of depth that allowed her to apply it in different situations - rather than just copying and memorising.

Sam had truly learned what “studying smarter” means. Studying smart does not involve spending lots of time on topics you’re already confident in just because it’s easy. Studying smart also does not involve memorising knowledge without putting it into practice.

To study smart, you need to:

  • Know what your weaknesses and strengths are. To do this, you need to test your knowledge by doing practice questions and exams.
  • Work on your weaknesses until they become your strengths. If there’s a type of practice question that stumps you, identify the concepts and skills involved in that question. Then, use your resources (e.g. class notes, internet, exam answer schedule, teacher, tutor) to improve your understanding of those concepts and skills.
  • Do lots of practice - especially on the concepts you find tricky.

Sam’s improved study techniques paid off, and she attained those higher marks she wanted. “I felt like my time was validated this time round. I put the same amount of time in, but actually got the results I wanted this time.”

Raymond: Don’t underestimate the work to be done

Raymond Yu, Tutor Team Lead

In Year 12, Raymond underestimated the amount of work required to achieve his academic goals. He was taking Scholarship Calculus in Year 12, which everyone knows is no easy feat. Even so, it was hard for Raymond to have anything more than a vague idea of how difficult it would be. He crammed his studying at the end of the year and, as it turns out, that “didn’t really work.”

So how do you gain an accurate picture of how much work a subject requires? Start doing the work. Raymond says, “it’s only once you start doing actual exam-style problems that you start to see how difficult it is. And often, students don’t start doing questions like that until it’s quite close to exams.”

Raymond says there’s also the trap of doing simplified versions of exam questions throughout the year, and getting stumped with more complex versions at exam time. Often, higher level questions require a combination of several different concepts within a subject. However, throughout the year, you might be working on problems that involve only one concept at a time. Again, this makes it difficult to realise the level of performance required to achieve the grade you want.

The next year, Raymond upped the stakes even more and began Year 13 with the goal of attaining four NZQA scholarships. This time, he recognised from the start that it would take a lot of work to reach his goals.

He began work on exam-style problems, both easy and advanced, near the start of the year. By doing this, he was able to tell himself, “these are my strengths, these are my weaknesses, so these are the tasks I should work on week for week to improve my weaknesses and consolidate my strengths.” Laying out in the open all the work to be done meant Raymond had a defined “pathway to those scholarships.”

So was his work plan a success? Well, if you call attaining scholarships for chemistry, calculus and statistics, and an ‘Outstanding grade’ scholarship for economics a success, then yes.

What other advice would you like to hear from our tutors?

Being part of the MyTuition community means you have over 500 caring, high-achieving mentors to gain knowledge from. Send an email to and tell us what you want to know!

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