Study Methods 3: Study life

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You can easily be led to believe that you have to be really intelligent to be successful in your education programme. But, fortunately, that is not the case. If you find that you are comparing yourself to other students, try to be curious about their habits. The key to becoming a good student is to practise good study habits. With good planning, active participation in your studies and in your study group and by taking responsibility for your own learning, you are already halfway to your goal. Studying well is like anything else that can be learned. Don’t expect to be able to study perfectly from the get-go. But thankfully, you will get better and better the more you do it.

As a new student, you can have many different expectations for both your study and yourself. However, it is not certain that reality can live up to those expectations, and what do you do then? Whether you are a new or seasoned student, it can be rewarding to reflect on how you experience your studies and your study habits.

Start by answering these reflection questions:

Questions
What expectations did you have for yourself when you began your studies?
Have you learnt any new sides of yourself through your studies?
Is your education programme what you expected it to be?
What gives you energy in your study life?
What puts pressure on you in your study life?
What is your aim in doing your education programme? 
What can you yourself do to get the most out of your study time?

Use your answers to think about whether your study habits could be improved, so you will be happier about studying and get more out of your studying and time at VIA.

Remember: there is no such thing as the perfect education programme and neither is there such a thing as the perfect student. But you can help shape your study life so it becomes the best possible education time for you.

Good study habits

Structuring your time

If you would like to develop better study habits, the best place to start is to plan your time. As a student, you have a lot of balls in the air, and there must be time for studies, friends, family, hobbies and relaxation. Many students feel guilty about not achieving everything they feel they should.

This means that your studies start to take over your free time too, so you never really take time off. A guilty conscience can come from not getting enough done in your allotted study time, either because you have unrealistic expectations of what you can achieve or because you are unable to concentrate without being distracted.

Plan your time
An easy first step is to make a weekly plan with an overview of your various activities – both study and leisure. It needs to be detailed plan, so that time is set aside for lessons, preparation and group work separately. Remember that things like sleep, meals, transportation, exercise and work also take time, and that there must be time for those, too.

Once you have planned your week, spend 5 minutes every morning looking through your calendar and planning your specific tasks: what needs to be read, what needs to be handed in and when you will do the different things? This planning releases mental energy that you can then spend on other things.


Here is an example of a week plan:

In addition to planning your time, it is also important to be able to prioritise your assignments. Assess which assignments need to be prioritised here and now and which ones need to be planned for a later time. You can also consider which assignments you most want to tackle right now.

It’s important to find a balance between letting desire drive your work and knowing that sometimes there are no shortcuts, you just have to sit down and get the work done, even if the assignment is heavy and tedious.

Good study habits are a matter of good habits in general. Once good habits are established, we don’t have to keep thinking about how to do things or persuade ourselves to start something. This releases mental and physical energy.

Good advice for good study habits:

  • Take time off when you have free time! Just as you need to set aside time to study, remember to set aside time where you don’t have to think about studying
  • Be realistic. You can’t always achieve everything and you won’t achieve more from having a guilty conscience
  • Incorporate routines around your study to suit you and your everyday life, e.g., so you study at the time when you are at your best
  • Prioritise your time. Say yes to things that give you energy, and no to unnecessary things that drain you
  • Set realistic schedules and deadlines for yourself
  • Complete one assignment at a time so you don’t have too many loose ends
  • Look after yourself: eat healthily, get your sleep and move every day. Don’t neglect your general well-being when studying.

Did you know?

Research shows that students who are good at managing their time get better grades and are generally more satisfied with their lives.

Macan, T. H., Shahani, C., Dipboye, R. L., & Phillips, A. P. (1990). College students’ time management: Correlations with academic performance and stress. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(4), 760–768. 

Motivation

You are responsible for your own learning, and ultimately your studying depends on your own self-discipline.

Therefore, it is important that you can motivate yourself to make an effort when studying.

If you have difficulty getting started with your studying, these tips may help you: 

  • Start by doing a single task, preferably one that is easy and straightforward. It can motivate you to start another task afterwards
  • Reach out to your fellow students. It’s easier to get started if you’ve agreed on it with other people
  • Illustrate your progress and results, e.g., with Post-its that can be moved from one category to another or with the chain method where you draw a red cross in the calendar for each day that you maintained a new study habit. It could, for example. be speaking aloud to yourself for 5 minutes after your study reading.

Here are more ways to motivate yourself: 
 

Set concrete goals for yourself 
A good goal can motivate you and is different from person to person. A good goal is both realistic and ambitious and should preferably have a clear time limit. Make it concrete, e.g. to write 1 page of an assignment in 1.5 hours, rather than thinking: “to do as much as I can today”. Write down your goals and adjust them along the way.


Give yourself rewards    
Then you have something to look forward to when you finish reading or doing an assignment. It could be anything from a walk with a friend or an episode of a series to a cup of hot chocolate.

Believe in yourself 
Believe in yourself and your abilities. You are in the middle of a developmental process and you are learning more day after day. Think well of yourself and the work you are putting in.

Have fun while you study 
Think positively about your studies instead of seeing them as a tiresome duty. Your attitude matters to your experience of your studies. Feel free to study with others and create a positive atmosphere.

The advice on motivation is based on p. 149-167 in the book: Schewe, O. (2017). Superstudent: Lær mere effektivt, og få bedre karakterer. Dansk Psykologisk Forlag.

Did you know?

Research shows that students’ work and motivation can be influenced by reflecting on why they study. If you can find a justification in the desire to learn, love of the subject or the hope of getting better, it will affect the effort put in and improve the experience of studying.
Davies, R. S. & Osguthorpe, R. T. (2003). Reflecting on learner intent. Reflective Practice, 4(3), 303–315.

Active learning

We learn best when we are active and invested in our own learning. We remember less of the things we learned through passive forms of learning, e.g., by listening or reading, and more through the active forms of learning, where we work actively with assignments, presentations or practical exercises.

Active forms of learning are most often characterised by being learning in interaction with others. So, use your fellow students to learn better! Read more about aligning expectations and working in study groups here.

The following principles for active learning are concrete ways you can optimise your learning:

Concentrate

Don’t try to multitask. Concentrate on what you are doing. If you don’t stay focused, the learning won’t stick either. This applies to when you study by yourself as well as in lessons. Pay particular attention to the digital distractions from phones and social media.

Check your understanding

Ask yourself: Did I understand that? You learn and remember better when you have a good understanding of the subject.

Find an interesting angle

Find an angle where you can link the topic to something that interests you, either personally or professionally. Interest is the best driver of learning.

Make associations to your prior knowledge

Start your reading or group work by thinking about what you already know.

If you can find your prior knowledge on the subject, you are off to a better start for remembering and understanding your new knowledge.

Use self-interrogation

Self-interrogation is a very effective learning technique where you read first and then put the book away. Then you talk out loud to yourself and list everything you can remember. Use chapter or section headings as a starting point. You can also do this with a reading companion.

Repeat

The more often you repeat your learning, the easier it will be to retrieve your knowledge again. Even when you have learned something well, it makes sense to keep repeating it as it strengthens your long-term memory and storage of the material.

These principles are based on p. 38-45 in the book: Schewe, O. (2017). Superstudent: Lær mere effektivt, og få bedre karakterer. Dansk Psykologisk Forlag. 

Procrastination

You are not the only one who suddenly realises how very attractive cleaning can be when you are about to study.

It’s easy to shift your focus away from what is cognitively demanding, and instead spend your time on something that might be easier and nicer to do. Teaching yourself to focus more intensively takes training, and even though it’s not always fun, it is an important skill in the long run.

A simple trick when it comes to procrastination is to write down all your thoughts and whims on a piece of paper instead of acting on them right away. This means that you write down every time you want to visit a website, do the dishes or sort your books by colour and so on, and then continue with your studies. When you have finished reading, you can take the list and see which of the things you still want to do.

Digital temptations/distractions

One of the greatest time wasters are digital temptations. Social media is designed to disturb you and capture your attention (Mehlsen & Hendricks, 2019, p. 97). The most effective way to deal with this is definitely to remove the smartphone or computer completely so you can concentrate on, e.g., a physical book and notes on paper. However, several study assignments are done on the computer, where you need access to the internet, so you have to come up with other solutions.

There are many different add-ons and apps that can help you manage your internet usage:

  • Productivity Owl – a program that can be used to block various internet sites and give access to others for a limited amount of time. 
  • News Feed Eradication – a program that removes your newsfeed from, e.g., Facebook and Instagram, so there is nothing to scroll through. 
  • Forest – Stay focused – an app that lets you plant a tree on your smartphone that only grows as long as you don’t use the phone for anything. 

There are also apps that remind you to stand up and move your body or that will give you encouragement so you can stay motivated. If you try some different apps and programs, you might find one that can help you handle your digital procrastinations.

Did you know?

Research shows that students generally experience greater wellbeing when they manage to exercise self-discipline and reduce their procrastination.

Balkis, M., & Duru, E. (2016). Procrastination, self-regulation failure, academic life satisfaction, and affective well-being: Underregulation or misregulation form. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 31(3), 439–459. 

Good study habit in study groups

A study group or a reading buddy is a good opportunity to improve your learning. In the study group, you have the opportunity to explain and discuss academic texts and topics, and new perspectives and nuances may emerge. At the same time, a study group is one of the places where new social relationships can emerge and where you can develop your ability to collaborate and work with others.

Aligning expectations 
Study groups function in many ways and on many levels. Some people like to meet many times, others only a few. Some prefer long meetings, while others do not. Some like lots of fun in their study group, others prefer to stick to the academic.

It will be a great advantage if you can find people who are at roughly the same level as you in terms of both having fun vs. the academic side of things, as well as in relation to how often you have to meet in the group. It is actually less important whether you are at the same academic level in the study group. Even if you are at a slightly higher academic level than your fellow students, you can still learn a lot from explaining and putting the material into perspective for them.

Use the questions below to align expectations:

  • How often are you going to meet in the study group, at what time of the day and for how long at a time?
  • Are there conditions you are going to pay special attention to, e.g., work, family or hobbies?
  • Do you tell only one person or everyone in the study group if you are taking a sick day?
  • How will you ensure that everyone gets to speak and gets something out of the work in the study group?
  • What is your level of ambition in the group?
  • How will you ensure a good tone in the group?

The points are based on the book: Andersen, M. L., & Overvad, E. T. (2020). Kunsten at studere til pædagog: Din guide til en god studietid. Akademisk Forlag. s.172

Group work

In order for the study group to become more than just a “chat club”, it is important that there is someone who takes responsibility at each meeting for:

  • Preparing the agenda for the meeting
  • Helping the group get started
  • Guiding the group’s conversations and work
  • Writing down decisions and agreements
  • Ensuring time management and a proper closing

(Sørensen, K. A., & Petersen, E. B. (2019). Projektgruppen—Hvordan gør vi?. Samfundslitteratur. s. 65)

This applies both when you use each other as a reading group and when you have to write an assignment together.

The group must agree on who will take this responsibility from meeting to meeting or for shorter periods at a time. It is important that the responsibility goes in turn, so everyone get a chance to experience what it means to ensure progress and structure at the meetings.

When you are facing a written assignment, it’s important that you plan the assignment in detail in relation to what the different sections should contain and how they should relate to each other.

After that, it can be a good idea to divide the sections between you. Make sure to regularly discuss and give feedback on each other’s sections and produced material. This way you learn more about giving and accepting feedback and collaboration and it results in better and more coherent assignments.

Here are some activities that can help you structure reading for study in the group:

Talk rounds

  • Each group member is given a certain number of minutes to express their perspective on a given text. Only when everyone has spoken in the agreed time can it be discussed freely (Larsen, M. E., Matthiassen, J., Ørnbøll, J. K., Forchammer, J. B., & Refsgård, R. C. B. (2020). Skriv opgaver på socialrådgiveruddannelsen. Samfundslitteratur)

Discussion rounds

You can discuss a text based on:

  • What other texts have you read today or last time, and how do the texts complement/contrast/work together?
  • What role could the text play in the exam?
  • What do you think your teacher would say about the text and why?
  • What concepts and themes do you need to remember from the text?
  • What notes have you each taken on the text?

(Rienecker, L., & Jørgensen, P. S. (2018). Studiehåndbogen: For studiestartere på videregående uddannelser (3. udgave). Samfundslitteratur. s. 157)

Share notes    

  • Share the responsibility for taking notes for different texts between you
  • Share the finished notes and present the contents to each other
  • However, it is a good idea for all group members to read or skim all the texts.

Make presentations to each other

  • Take turns giving presentations to each other in the study group. This will force you all to familiarise yourselves a little more thoroughly with selected material. 

             See more about remembering what you read in a study group here

Did you know?

Research shows that studying with others makes it easier to understand and remember academic material.

Tomes, J. L., Wasylkiw, L., & Mockler, B. (2011). Studying for success: Diaries of students’ study behaviours. Educational Research and Evaluation, 17(1), 1–12.

Feedback

An important part of working in a study group is giving and receiving feedback. Often it is written presentations that you need to get feedback on, and here the focus can be on both the form (the way the assignment is structured) and content (whether the assignment’s academic and professional points appear clear and well-founded).

Studies show that you learn more by getting feedback during the writing process, rather than on the finished assignment. When you get feedback on an assignment you are working on, you can relate to the feedback and incorporate it into the assignment. If you only get the feedback when the assignment is ready for or almost ready for submission, it can be difficult to take on the feedback and see changes other than putting an extra comma in here and there. (Andersen, M. L., & Overvad, E. T. (2020). Kunsten at studere til pædagog: Din guide til en god studietid. Akademisk Forlag. s. 197)

If it feels vulnerable for you to show off your unstructured notes and half-finished exercises and assignments, keep in mind that your fellow students probably feel the same way – and even if it’s hard, you learn more by putting yourself out there a little and showing off your semi-finished work.

It can also be helpful to think about the text as a product that is separate from you as a person. It is the text that is getting the feedback not you.

Good advice for when giving feedback:

When giving feedback make sure to be:

  • Nice – point out the positive
  • Concrete – the more specifically you can point to examples of what you are saying, the easier it is for the recipient to use it
  • Constructive – it’s better to give suggestions for changes instead of just pointing out weaknesses.

Good advice for when receiving feedback:

  • Present the topic of your assignment
  • Specify what you need feedback on
  • Explain where you are in your process
  • Try to stay quiet when you are receiving the feedback. You will probably often feel like commenting or defending yourself, but this can result in you not getting all of the points in the feedback
  • Conclude by asking clarifying questions and discussing different points of view.

von Müllen, R. (2018). Få og giv feedback. I L. Rienecker & P. S. Jørgensen (Red.), Studiehåndbogen: For studiestartere på videregående uddannelser (3. udgave, s. 161–165). Samfundslitteratur.

If it feels difficult to get started giving each other feedback, you can start by pointing out three things that work well in the text and three things that could be improved.

Dealing with conflicts

All study groups experience conflicts during their collaboration, and it is not a bad thing. The important thing is how you handle them. A study group often goes through four phases, from the time it is established until it is functioning optimally. It can be useful to know these phases so you understand the challenges and conflicts that you often run into in a study group – and to understand that if the challenges are handled constructively, the study group can come out of the conflict stronger.

The Forming phasebegins when the group starts to take shape. Perhaps there are some people in the group who need to stand out and others who withdraw a little. This is where the first work patterns and structures are established, but they are often based on slightly too idealistic notions about the collaboration in the study group.

The Storming phase is the conflict-filled phase. This is where hidden agendas and personal ambitions suddenly become to light. If the conflicts in this phase are handled constructively, there is a basis for a strong and fruitful group structure.

The Norming phase is when the different roles and responsibilities within the group are clarified, and the group becomes strong enough to experiment with different forms of collaboration.

The Performing phase is when the group has achieved a common identity, you are satisfied with how you work together and can set common goals in the group. Tuckman gengivet i: Andersen, M. L., & Overvad, E. T. (2020). Kunsten at studere til pædagog: Din guide til en god studietid. Akademisk Forlag s. 166-167

(Tuckman’s group model is taken from: https://elkan.dk/projektguiden/tuckmans-teamgrupper/) 

Good advice for dealing with conflicts and nipping them in the bud:

  • Agree that everyone has a responsibility to speak up if they don’t think the group work is working optimally
  • Take regular wellbeing rounds in the group, where everyone has the opportunity to say how they think it is going
  • Seek help if you can’t handle the conflict yourself. Reach out to your student counsellor or teacher. It can help to have an impartial person as a mediator.

Good advice for group members:

  • Take responsibility. It is your responsibility too that things get done and the collaboration works
  • Say no when your boundaries are crossed or there are things you don’t think work in the group
  • Be constructive in your criticism. Always focus on the matter at hand and never on the person
  • Practise seeing things from your fellow students’ points of view and try to accommodate people’s differences.

Your wellbeing as a student

Being a student is a multifaceted experience, and during your studies, you will go through the entire emotional register and experience joy, pride and happiness, but also frustration, periods of pressure and being overwhelmed by all the sensory input. Having a good student life is not only about passing exams and graduating, but also about thriving while you are studying.

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your study time.

Get involved
It is a good idea to get involved in your studies. First and foremost, it’s about showing up and attending classes and events.

Take the initiative, or say yes when others do, and help create a good study environment where the social side goes hand in hand with the academic. For example, organising social events for your class, starting a cake rota or some other common tradition.

You could also participate in the student policy work or work voluntarily on the various committees and associations on your campus. Your study time is a great period to expand your social network, and the social aspect has a huge impact on how well you will thrive during your study time.

The pressure to perform and achieve

Many students experience the pressure to perform and achieve during their studies in one way or another. Some feel pressured by the expectations of their teachers, families or fellow students, but most often, they feel most pressured by their own expectations.

We can’t help but compare ourselves to others, but it is not constructive, as we don’t know what baggage other people are carrying or dealing with or what else they are struggling with. If you have very high expectations of yourself and demand that all aspects of your study be perfect, you may well become overwhelmed, stressed and upset.

Instead try to focus on:

  • Having realistic expectations of yourself
  • Planning your time so there is also room for fun
  • Spending your energy on the part of your studies that you are truly passionate about
  • Not being afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Be good to yourself and remember to exercise self-care. Use nature to refuel, participate in social communities and take care of yourself and your physical and mental health.

Did you know?

Research shows that the fear of failure can lead to poor wellbeing and that you can counteract this by striving for success on a basis of optimism and belief in your own worth instead.

Martin, A. J., & Marsh, H. W. (2003). Fear of Failure: Friend or Foe? Australian Psychologist, 38(1), 31–38.

You are not alone

If you feel overwhelmed during your study time, reach out:

  • Talk to your teacher about how to prioritise so you manage to do the most important things first
  • Talk to your fellow students – they are in the same boat as you and can support and help you
  • Talk to your student counsellor, who can advise and refer you to other options
  • Talk to student organisations, helplines, and student counselling. Most study cities offer different services.

Use your network to help you through your studies. You don’t have to do it all on your own.

Udarbejdet af:VIA Bibliotek, VIA University College

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