Two inconvenient truths you learn when starting university: Studying

By: Jason Chan Tuesday 1 March 2016



First year university student meme

There can be quite of a jump between high school and University – things get harder, the workload gets tougher, and what you may have come to rely on in high school might not necessarily work anymore. At University, you take responsibility for your own learning. You can go through all the motions of learning and studying, but unless you’re actually putting effort in then you’re not going to get much out of it.

During my transition into higher education, I realised some inconvenient truths about studying at University...


Learning by Osmosis Isn’t Real

Being in the classroom won't improve your performance. While the two may be positively correlated, you’ll find that this isn’t always the case. The misconception lies in idea that you’ll pay more attention when a teacher is present but in reality, slacking in class is impossible for them to police.

Watching anime in a lecture

One of the biggest wastes of time I observed among others and experienced first-hand at university was showing up to class, failing to pay attention and ultimately having that hour wasted. No matter how you look at it, catch up or not, that time could have been used more efficiently. Whether it’s due to the class being too early in the morning, having a lecturer that goes too fast or one that goes too slow, you’ll find that physically being in class may actually hinder your performance. This is why I recommend being selective with the classes you attend instead of blindly showing up.

Technology has given universities the ability to record lectures which can be accessed online. I found that a sizeable portion of the high performers actually opted to study from home. This is because those who are disciplined can study in a way the best suits them opposed to methods geared for the masses. While self-study certainly isn’t suitable for everyone, it’s important to be aware that there are different approaches to how you go about your learning.

At the end of the day what it comes down to is putting in an honest attempt. Mindlessly throwing a basketball at a hoop won’t make you any better at basketball in the same way showing up to class and not listening won’t improve your grades. It’s not about the physical act of doing something but rather making a conscious effort. The other moral of the story here is to do what works best for you – not what works best for the smartest guy in the class or what your parents consider the best way to study.

When it came to studying outside class, I never liked studying from home as the comfort made it impossible for me to concentrate. My preference was always computer labs and libraries. The environments were quiet yet populated – such that I wouldn’t be able to do something stupid without people noticing thus forcing me to “behave”. I liked sitting at a spacious desk with a computer since it gave me access to the aforementioned lecture recordings and other learning tools and had sufficient space for notetaking. Most importantly, I’d have access to Facebook and Youtube for that hard earned one hour break after 15 minutes of study!


Consistency Over Comebacks Every Time

In high school, consistency (while a factor) was not a requirement for being successful. You had the option to mount a comeback before each set of exams (especially for students studying Cambridge). The playing field changes at university as the increase in content, workload and speed make successful cramming less feasible, especially as the topics and courses become increasingly challenging.

Lying in a pool of books

During my time in high school, I felt that there was a system you could, for lack of a better word, "exploit", meaning those who understood what examiners were looking for could put in less effort, while those who were hardworking but not as effortlessly study-smart would often hit a glass ceiling. University courses in many ways are less standardised than high school classes and due to the fewer amount of resources (past papers, study guides, etc.), the system is a lot harder to take advantage of. What this means is students who aren’t afraid of burning the midnight oil to truly understand a topic will often reap the rewards of their labour, while those who choose to continue to rely on their natural intelligence may be in for a rude awakening.

Keeping up with the assignments and content covered in class is hands down the most reliable way to get good grades. In Uni, pretty much everything counts towards your final grade. Once you fall behind, you’ll realise how difficult it is to catch up for one class on top of studying for all your others courses, meeting deadlines and everything in between. This is precisely the reason I’d advise against dropping everything until the final exam.

It’s important to use all the resources available to you. Just because recommended exercises and tutorials are optional does not mean you should not do them. In my experience, these were just as, if not more useful than lectures for preparing for the finals. Lecturers and teaching assistants will also advertise their office hours, which is a great chance to pick their brains and get help with assignments (hint, hint). If you’re uncomfortable with face-to-face meetings or they don’t fit in with your schedule, you can always email them. Remember, you’ll never receive if you don’t ask first!


Figure out what works for you

University is all about learning how to learn, not pretending to learn. If you got used to bad study habits in high school, they will really show through in uni. Nobody else cares if you’re falling behind, so it’s all up to you to exercise your newfound independence and figure out what works best for you.

If you choose to coast along, you can expect to walk away with average grades and a degree. However, if you choose to go out of your way and make the most of the opportunities you have to learn, you’ll be walking away with a set of skills that goes far beyond what your degree is all about.

Got questions? We'd love to hear from you at community@mytuition.nz

Photo of Jason Chan

Article by Jason Chan

Jason is a tutor at MyTuition. MyTuition helps high school students in Auckland succeed by connecting them with the right tutors and guiding them through the year. Think you'd make a good tutor? Apply now

Apply to be a tutor