How to Study at University

Practical tips and general thoughts on how to study at a Western university

Ben’s Way

Point: Learn to write well by imitating the best If my father found some emails I’d written to a friend, read them, and criticised my writing style – said it wasn’t elegant or clear, that my line of reasoning was weak, and that my friend wrote better – I wouldn’t be very happy. I’d probably say something like, “What? […]

When students know better

Point: You can solve problems, like how to take lecture notes, yourself We don’t know everything. We, in this case, being tutors, lecturers, professors, and all other kinds of teacher. You don’t know everything either but then you’re a student. You are defined by not knowing things; we are defined by knowing things. I was reminded of […]

Don’t think. Just habit!

Point: Get into the habit of using a note-taking system In another post I said that good habits are absolutely necessary at university. They are necessary because good habits let you avoid thinking. And, of course, you don’t want to think at university, do you? No, you don’t. Not just think, anyway. You can just think […]

Make a habit of habits

Point: Form good study habits An important part of becoming a good student is to form good habits. Good habits for a student are things like – planning your exam essay before starting to write it; – noting down the full reference details of each source you read; – doing your required reading well in […]

Draw the undrawable

Point: Draw ideas to help you understand them better Which makes a deeper impression on you; a poem about love, or a picture about love? For me, I think I’d rather read a poem than look at a picture. You might be different. I am a word person. I’m not very visual. I get lost easily. I have no […]

Hurry up, slow down!

Point: Read slowly for detail; read your notes for ideas People read at different speeds. My mother, for example, reads very fast, while I read slowly. (She still loves me, though.) It tends to be easier to follow a story if you read quickly. In fact, one of the benefits of reading easy texts is […]

Do the dirty work

Point: Use notes to prepare for exams Outside my office window a new building is being built. Right now they are bedding in the foundations. It’s taken a several months of continuous work just to get to this stage. When I look at building foundations and think about using them to advise students, my first thought […]

Summarise in grunts

Point: Focus on what is important when you summarise You’ve read the article or chapter. It seems relevant to your essay topic. You think, “I want to make a summary of this.” (Or maybe you don’t want to but your tutor tells you to.) You look at the article, all 2,376 words of it, and […]

If Yao Ming took lecture notes

Point: Know what not to write down in lectures The next time you see a top sportsperson play for more than just a few minutes, watch how relaxed they seem. Yao Ming, for example, moves up and down the basketball court without any apparent tension in his body. Roger Federer moves about the tennis court […]

Jumping inside

Point: Memorise numbers for the exam Do you know that moment in an exam when you read a question and your brain jumps so high it hits the top of your head? I hope you do, because it’s the moment when you see a question you know the answer to. It’s a good feeling. Jumping inside […]

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