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Eight simple pieces of advice: How to study smartly

You can secure your dream job by completing a course of study with good grades. Here you will learn how to work efficiently and wisely during your course.

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The initial days and weeks of a new course of study are often a little bit freer and less organised than normal, as students need to have the opportunity to get to know both the place of study and each other. But this is the time to start putting in the effort. It might even be the time to make your best investment during your period of study. You should make sure to use the first part of the academic year smartly.

The first three points are particularly important if you are coming straight from upper secondary school. As a student, you need to assume greater responsibility for your own learning.

1. Find your bearings

Attend information meetings, check that you are registered for everything you need to be registered for and that your usernames and passwords are in order. When all of the practicalities are ready, you will be prepared for the course to begin in earnest.

2. Prepare yourself

Read the reading lists, acquire books, compendiums and more. Read the table of contents and the back cover of the books. This allows you to understand the syllabus you need to complete.

It may take some time before you gain a full understanding of what the course is all about. It is therefore a good idea to read through the schedules, lecture overviews and course plans. This will provide you with a good idea of what will be happening and will help you on your way academically.

3. Create a plan for the academic year

One error many students make is to start with light sessions and then increase and intensify them as they approach examinations. It is possible to pass examinations using this method, but you will often forget most of what you learned within a few weeks. This would be a problem. You not only want to pass your examinations, you also want to be able to apply the knowledge in a work context, perhaps even several years later.

It is a good idea to create an overview of the semester and enter the deadlines and submissions you have coming up, as well as what you should read before each lecture, sorted by subject and the associated part of the syllabus.

Try to estimate how much time you need to spend on your course work and how much time you have available for other things. Remember that breaks and other activities are also important aspects of student life and need to be included in your calculations. You might not always be able to follow the plan, but you will still get closer to the target with a plan than you would without one.

It is hard to estimate how much time you need to spend reading. The scope of the syllabus can be found in the course description. Remember to take into account that some things may be hard to access, often available only in English and that you will need to learn, remember and reflect upon what you have read. Make sure to include some leeway. You could fall ill. We all experience days that are less productive than normal.

4. Get an overview of the course

Look at the course plan. Are there any subjects that are highlighted and covered in multiple lectures? This could indicate that the lecturer considers the subjects to be key. Is there any correlation between any of the subjects? Start creating your own correlations by structuring and splitting the subjects into batches. Feel free to visualise this using arrows and different colour codes.

5. Participate and stay active

Prioritise attending lectures and participating in colloquiums, either physically or digitally. Supplement this with academic discussions with fellow students via telephone, video calls and social media.

Remember that you do not only attend lectures or colloquiums to gain knowledge, but also to contribute your opinions and counter-arguments. This is how you become part of the academic community.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the teacher. Especially critical questions. That is greatly appreciated,” says Associate Professor Dag Husebø from the University of Stavanger. Husebø is the head of Uniped, which works to achieve high-quality teaching.

Participating and being active are also important for obtaining and demonstrating understanding of the ways of thinking, behaviours and forms of expression that are applicable to the programme of study and business sector you are entering.

“The first time you use your voice academically and notice that your academic statements matter, you will gain an important experience that will provide you with confidence and motivation and that will help define you. You will also develop the preparedness to do the same when you are entering working life,” Husebø says.

6.  How to read the syllabus

Firstly: You do not need to remember everything the syllabus says. The syllabus will provide you with insight into and an overview of the course.

Start with the course description. Here you will find the learning outcomes, what you need to know when the course is completed. The course descriptions also provide the basis for the examinations you will sit. Taking the learning outcomes as a basis, you will read strategically and may not even need to read all of the books and everything on the reading list.

Review the syllabus literature with the aim of finding answers to the learning outcomes. Look at the table of contents. Which chapters appear to be of particular relevance in terms of the learning outcomes? Feel free to also read any supplementary literature. It can be a good idea to team up with others, distribute the learning outcomes between you and then together review what each of you is responsible for. Teach each other.

7. Reflect upon the materials

Be critical when reading the syllabus. When you read academically, you engage in dialogue with the text. Ask yourself: Are there any other ways in which this could be viewed? What would the difference be? What do I think? If you discuss the text with yourself in this way, you will also be better equipped to remember it.

When getting started with a book from the reading list, start with the basics: Who authored the book? What is the author’s background? This helps create an understanding of the author’s perspective. Check the reference list. It could contain tips for other sources you could read up on.

Also keep in mind that the syllabus is a minimum. You should read more and find other ways of obtaining information than through the syllabus alone. This can be done in several ways.

8. Accelerate your learning and enjoy yourself at the same time

Jo Røislien is a Professor in Medical Statistics at the University of Stavanger.

“We know from neuroscience that the brain doesn’t work as well when it is unilaterally exposed to the same thing. When the brain is presented with something familiar, it stops taking in information,” Røislien says and recommends supplementing the reading list with other things:

“Fiction and films are often based on real challenges and experiences from various fields of study. In addition to giving yourself a break, such options could also provide you with another approach to your field of study,” he says.

There will be times throughout your course when you find that you have become stuck, academically. In order to get unstuck again, it can be a good idea to visit websites such as Store norske leksikon or Wikipedia to see what those sites have to say about the course or subject. Or watch video clips of people explaining it on YouTube. Perhaps there are also researchers that blog about the exact matter you are wondering about.

“If you switch between specialist literature and simpler materials related to the subject, you will find that your brain takes in more than if you simply sit and plough your way through the specialist literature,” Røislien says.

“The brain is not always operating at maximum capacity either. But you can also learn when you are not at your sharpest: Listen to a podcast while cooking dinner. The podcast doesn’t have to be precisely about what you will be learning about. It is sufficient for it to be related and about the same overall subject,” the professor suggests.

You can find more study tips in the Akademisk skriving (Academic Writing) podcast. The podcast is a collaboration between the libraries at the University of Stavanger, Østfold University College and Nord University. The project is also backed by the National Library of Norway.

Text: Elin Nyberg

This article has also been published at forskning.no.

References:

Veronika Diaz Abrahan, et al: Novelty exposure modulates visual and verbal emotional memory: An experimental design with adults. Acta Psychologica, 2020. (Summary) Doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2020.103029

Leyla Bagheri & Marina Milyavskaya: Novelty–variety as a candidate basic psychological need: New evidence across three studies. Motivation and Emotion, 2020. (Summary) Doi.org/10.1007/s11031-019-09807-4

Richárd Reichardt, et al: Novelty Manipulations, Memory Performance, and Predictive Coding: the Role of UnexpectednessFrontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2020. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2020.00152

Denise C. Park & Patricia Reuter-Lorenz: The Adaptive Brain: Aging and Neurocognitive ScaffoldingAnnual Review of Psychology, 2008. Doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093656

Anja K Leist: Social Media Use of Older Adults: A Mini-ReviewGerontology, 2013. Doi.org/10.1159/000346818