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University life can seem unstructured in comparison to school or the paid workforce. There may seem to be a lot of 'free' time. However, university students are expected to spend time in independent study and devote an average of ten hours a week to each unit (subject) they are undertaking. Structuring your time effectively is vital to success.
You have a whole day ahead of you. Your assignment is due in two days but you'll spend the whole day working on it. It'll be fine. You sit at your desk, pull out your books, sort a few things, wander about a bit, make a phone call, read the question again, make a few notes, have lunch, send an email, have another coffee, start reading a chapter and ... suddenly the day is gone and you've got that meeting tonight and no assignment. But you've been studying all day?
Wrong! You need to learn and use organising and time management skills. Rule number one: Be honest with yourself!
Planning and efficiency are extremely important and they do not come naturally to all of us. Timetabling is the place to start.
To help you plan your time efficiently, you will need three kinds of timetables:
A trimester planner is vital! Enter in all study periods, exams, assignment deadlines and other important dates (including major tasks and family/social commitments). Put this up above your study desk. It gives you an overall view of the extra busy times, so you can organise around them.
You need copies of a blank weekly timetable in one-hour blocks. Each week fill in:
Divide the rest of your time into subject study blocks. Some subjects may need more time than others. Even a half-hour block is valuable, though you will need some longer ones (1½ - 2 hours) for each subject too. What you do in these blocks should largely be determined by assignment demands and be made specific in the TTD list.
The 'things to do'or TTD list is an important daily list. It should be included in a diary so you can carry it with you and shuffle things around when necessary. Remember, you should never start a study block without a clear idea of what you are going to achieve. Each night you need to make yourself a list of what to do the next day, for example:
Work out the order of importance (prioritise) and think about the most efficient way to fit them in (i.e. if two items are library-based, can they both be done in the one trip?). If you do not get through all the tasks you will have to fit in extra time the next day. But be careful! You cannot keep moving things forward without getting overloaded.
Beware a whole day set aside for study. This can be difficult to use effectively. Draw up a timetable for such a day and keep to it.
Try to study three different subjects per day, or at least engage in three distinct tasks. Changing tasks produces a new energy surge. People tend to wind down if they work on the same thing for too long.
Work in short intensive blocks with short regular breaks. Up to two hours on one subject is usually enough. An intensive two-hour work session can cover as much ground as a whole day of half-hearted shuffling about.
Schedule adequate computer time. It always takes longer than you think. Have a plan of action in case of technological hitches. 'The computer was down' is no excuse!
Think about when your brain works best. This could be in the morning, at night or in the middle of the afternoon. Plan your TTD list accordingly. If you are going to read a difficult article for the first time do not start at 10.00pm unless you are a natural night owl. Do something less demanding in the low times - organise your notes, or write the next day's TTD list.
Get out of the house. Work in a library (or other suitable space), as there are fewer distractions.
Do pre-lecture/tutorial reading. You get a lot more out of a lecture/tute if you are already familiar with many of the terms and ideas.
Review lecture notes on the same day of the lecture. After that time your ability to 'reconstruct' the lecture, and consequently commit any new ideas to memory, reduces rapidly.
Structure your time to keep up with your weekly reading. This is particularly important for off-campus students.
Re-read all your notes for each subject every week. (Build this time into your timetable.) Obviously, it will take more time each week as your notes pile up but it will dramatically reduce your exam study time at the end of the trimester and make you confident that you know your subject.
Talk in tutorials. Talking about your subject, even if only to ask questions, is a way to test your understanding. Pre-reading will help you in this. Off-campus students and students studying an online subject can 'talk' with their lecturers, tutors and fellow students through CloudDeakin.
Use library time effectively. Do not borrow huge piles of books. Use over viewing techniques to decide which books are really useful.
Do not photocopy huge numbers of pages. This is a waste of time and money. Take notes on the spot rather than postponing the task. Take down all bibliographic details and page numbers so you have quick access to all your references.
Organise your notes and do not borrow notes from others. Keep all your notes in labelled files in chronological order. If you have missed or know you are going to miss a lecture or tutorial, see the lecturer or tutor. Other people's notes are not very helpful - they reflect someone else's interpretation, often in a way that will not make sense to you.
Be honest with yourself. Deep down you know whether you have put in the time and really engaged with your study material or not.