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Study Tips for Succeeding at University

Starting University can be an exciting time.  It is often accompanied by many lifestyle changes such as new routines, meeting new people, making new friends, and generally adjusting to campus life.  In the midst of all of this, students are expected to develop effective study skills in an environment that may be very different to the one they were used to in school.

Below are some tips to help you manage your time and your work load, cope with the stress of study and hopefully have you well on the way to academic success in your chosen field!

ESTABLISH A TIMETABLE:  Schedule fixed commitments (e.g. lectures, tutorials, sports training).  Also schedule in due dates for assignments, projects and presentations etc. It is useful to bring these dates forward by a few days to give you extra time, which can provide you with an opportunity to reflect and can also compensate for the unexpected (e.g. illnesses). Decide how you can best use the remaining time, recognising the importance of allocating time for recreation, socialising, family, and yourself.  Establishing study/life balance through effective time management is one of the most important study skills you can develop.

PLAN YOUR DAY:  Begin each day with a list of things you both “have to” and “want to” accomplish.  It is better to have more items on your list than less.  A task will tend to expand with the time allocated for it. If you have one or two items on your list it is likely to take all day to do them.  However if you have ten items on your list you may not complete all ten but you are likely to have completed seven or eight during the same allocation of time.

PRIORITISE THE LIST:  This is about knowing what is important.  Rate the tasks in order of priority, and tackle them in order of importance doing the most important first.

ORGANISE YOUR PLACE OF WORK:  Ensure that your study area is a pleasant environment.  Organise your books, papers etc. so that they are easily accessed. Searching for things is a big time- waster.  Have a tidy desk.

KNOW YOUR PEAK TIMES:  Decide when you have the most energy as this corresponds with when you are most able to focus and concentrate.   Schedule your most demanding work for these times and less demanding work for other times when energy is not as high.

STUDY BREAKS:  Study for about an hour at a time then have a short break.  This is an efficient study method because while you are taking a break the brain is still processing the information.  Breaks between study blocks also ensure that your levels of concentration are more likely to be maintained.  Ensure that you have time off from study each day and that you have some period of holiday time in semester/mid-semester breaks.  Non-study time is essential to effective study as it allows you to refresh, manage stress and provide a balance that will enable you to sustain your efforts over your whole degree.  It is also important to make sure that you don’t over commit yourself with extra curricular activities to the point that it starts to negatively impact on your allocated study time.  See our pamphlet “Managing stress and being a successful student” for more information on this.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER:  A large assignment or project may appear overwhelming however it becomes manageable and achievable when broken down into several smaller parts.   Set realistic, achievable goals and complete one part at a time.

ALLOCATE THINKING AND REFLECTION TIME:  After having completed a piece of writing it can be very useful to leave it for a day or two and then to return to it with new ideas and enthusiasm.  Effective time management can allow you the space to do this.

AVOID PROCRASTINATION:  Develop strategies that help you resist being hindered by procrastination.  Make decisions that are valuing of you and undermining of procrastination. It can be useful to start early in the day.  Completing one small task soon after waking up is very empowering and can reduce the risk of procrastination.  Reward yourself when you have successfully resisted procrastination and completed your tasks. See our pamphlet ‘The Perfect Procrastinator’ for further details on how to overcome procrastination.

LEARN HOW TO DEAL WITH INTERRUPTIONS:  Let the person interrupting you know that you are studying and that you really need to continue.  Effective time-management allows you free time, so learn how to politely and assertively invite people to phone or visit you during these specific, non-study times.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF:  Make sure you are attending to the three basics for health and well-being, which are sleep, nutrition, and physical activity.

Healthy Eating

Ensure that your diet is nutritional and that you eat regularly.  The brain is not able to convert stored energy (fat) into energy it can use and requires energy directly from food.  Keep your blood sugar levels consistent by eating regular, nutritional food (whole grain breads and cereals, lean protein, fruits and vegetables).  This will ‘feed’ your brain and will assist you to be able to concentrate.

Getting enough sleep

If you are not getting enough sleep you will not be able to concentrate or focus at your optimum level.  Try to establish a sleep routine that allows for about 7- 9 hours of sleep per night.  Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine that will allow you to unwind and “send a signal” to your brain that it is time to sleep.  See our pamphlet “Increasing your zzz’s” for more information on getting a good night sleep.

Regular Exercise

Exercise daily – physical activity helps to manage stress, lifts your mood and improves concentration.  Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day.   This can be an organised sport of just going for a brisk walk.    .

TIME FOR A SOCIAL LIFE:  Ensure that you schedule time for socialising, catching up with friends, seeing a movie, visiting family members etc. This contributes to achieving balance in your life which is beneficial to effective study.

STUDY WITH FRIENDS: Sometimes it can be hard to get motivated to study.  Feeling deprived, lonely and bored can make the prospect of study almost impossible. It may be worthwhile trialling a study arrangement with a friend.  It doesn't need to be with someone doing the same subject or even the same course.  Ideally it is with someone you enjoy spending time with.  Some students find this invaluable.  It's a bit like joining a gym - you are more likely to keep going if you go with someone else.  Given a choice we usually prefer to work alongside others to reassure ourselves that we are not alone in the world when it comes to effort and hard work.

If you try it, there are some pretty important things to think about.  Studying with a friend (or group of friends) can't be an excuse for a chat.  It is a mutual commitment to encourage and support each other, not distract and sabotage.


If you want further support or information around any of these ideas then you can talk with a counsellor at the University Counselling Service.  Phone 8303 5663 to make an appointment or drop in to the centre.



Counselling Service
Ground Floor, Horace Lamb Building
North Terrace Campus

T: +61 8 8313 5663
F: +61 8 8313 6463