5 Top Tips for Succeeding at University

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chrisAbout the Author: Chris Drew holds a PhD in education and is a university teacher and study skills expert.

Hey there!

I want to share with you some insights about university success that took me far too long to figure out myself.

  • Some of them, I figured out in my undergrad.
  • Others I figured out when I was doing my PhD.
  • The best ones I figured out when I became a professor and got to look at a lot of students’ papers and learn from them.

 I want to fast-track your success by giving them to you now.

1. You Belong at University.

TL;DR: Students think they’re going to be found out to be imposters and not good enough. That’s not true. University is for everyone.

The big sandstone buildings and busy-looking students shuffling around make universities make university seem more intimidating than it should be.

In reality, most of the students around you are average performers. They don’t really know how to write a good essay, either. They’re as confused and muddling through it as you.

That is to say – most of the students who come into my office worried that they’re no good at university aren’t as far behind as they think they are.

I’m telling you this for a reason:

The imposter syndrome is not helpful. You’re not an imposter. You – the struggling, often befuddled, self-conscious student – belong at university.

All the other students are just as self-conscious as you.

2. An Early and Consistent Routine is Key.

TL;DR: Start studying right at the start of the semester and study consistently every week to stay on top of your studies and avoid burnout.

There’s a cliche for this point: “slow and steady wins the race”.

This cliche doesn’t mean relax and take your time.

In fact, it means the opposite:

  • The Stressed 80%: 80% of students start the semester too relaxed, putting off the work until later on in the semester. Those students spend the last month of their semester frazzled, anxious, and full of regrets.
  • The Relaxed 20%: The SMART students start the semester with a good consistent study routine that’s not overwhelming. It’s a routine that they can sustain all semester. They end the semester not by ramping-up their study routine after realizing exams are upon them all too fast. Instead, they keep calm and carry on. They’ve distributed their study time effectively across the semester. They don’t need to cram in the final month.

3. Time Block

TL;DR: Set aside study time where you won’t have any distractions at all. Treat it like going to the cinema: you’re not going to be interrupted for at least 90 minutes.

Building on the previous point, you need to come up with blocks of time when you can focus on study – nothing else.

This means:

  • Your phone’s not in the room.
  • No contact from your children (except emergencies).
  • No social media distractions.

I look at a study session like going to the cinema. Before you go into the cinema, you make sure you won’t be distracted for the next 90 minutes or so. You go to the bathroom beforehand, turn off your phone, go into a dedicated room for that one task.

That’s just how studying should happen, too!

4. Ask (Lots of) Questions.

TL;DR: Don’t be afraid to approach your teacher for advice. They’re paid to do it!

I have a confession: my students are scared of me!

I don’t know why. I think I’m super helpful. In fact, I’ve even marketed myself as “The Helpful Professor”. Nonetheless, far too many students are scared to ask questions.

Ask. Your. Professor. Questions.

  • Don’t know what the expectations are? Ask a question.
  • Don’t know if you wrote your essay well enough? Ask.
  • Don’t understand a word? Ask.

Being shy or scared to ask means you won’t learn. Asking for help is important for your learning journey.

(Note: I understand many teachers at university are dismissive when you ask questions. If you’re on my newsletter list, I share a ton of tips on how to handle dismissive teachers teachers all the time – sign up!)

5. Use your Feedback!

TL;DR: Too many students don’t bother to seriously look at the feedback when they receive their grades. Don’t just look at the grade you got. Also look at the feedback use it to improve next time.

I’ve graded (probably) over 50,000 essays.

I’ve gotten (probably) less than 100 students approach me asking for further insights and support related to the feedback I’ve provided for them.

The rest of the students usually just look at the top-line grade, then move on with their lives.

These students aren’t learning!

Look at your feedback, take notes on your strengths and weaknesses, and create goals for your next exam/essay based upon the feedback you received on your current work. This is essential for learning!

The tips provided in this article are just a sample of the longer, more detailed study advice I provide in my study skills newsletter. If you’re not already signed up, join us by clicking here.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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