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Study tips for students in New Zealand

James Davis

Careers Commentator
Whether you’re about to graduate or at the beginning, developing productive habits can improve your academic experience in universities around NZ.

No matter how prodigious you were during high school, you likely encountered a little more resistance at university. You’re not alone in this. Many students find the transition difficult. Even those who’ve been around the block for three or four years still struggle to manage their time and extraneous obligations. University is more than just the sum of your assignments, after all. You’ve got to go to work on time, make time for clubs and student societies, exercise and visit family. In this article, we’ll go over a few study tips you can use to stretch your time most efficiently and make your university experience that much more productive and enjoyable.

Study with your peers, particularly those you aren’t good friends with

It’s easy to get swept up in a singular group of friends at university. After all, it’s the comfortable thing to do. Meeting new people can be difficult, particularly if you’d rather be at home studying, playing a game or watching Netflix. The great thing about studying with acquaintances rather than good friends is fewer opportunities to become distracted. Having a great rapport with someone is nice, but it can get in the way of getting things done. Studying with someone in this ‘goldilocks’ zone of productivity helps you urge each other on, while also not being entirely uncomfortable with each other.

So where does one draw from this mystical well of ‘acquaintances’? Tutorials and seminars are your best bet, or even associates from any student societies you may be part of. The former is the best of these, as they’re likely to be studying the exact same material. Don’t be afraid to break the ice, either. No need to open with, “please study with me”, of course. Just get into the habit of introducing yourself to a few classmates here and there. It’s really easy to drift through uni without speaking to anyone, so getting into this habit is not only a great way to build strong studying relationships, but it’s also a useful life skill. You won’t regret it.

Ask more good questions in class

Whatever you have to say, it’s likely you aren’t the only one wondering. Asking clarifying and insightful questions can enrich any discussion during a tutorial, and given the chance, even lectures too. You don’t need to feel self-conscious about it as many students do either. You’re there to learn, after all. Whether it’s during the body of the class itself, or even after class, just coming to class with questions is a fantastic exercise in and of itself, as it requires you to engage wholeheartedly with the material. Moreover, you engage to such an extent that any holes in your knowledge are blindingly apparent.

So what exactly does a ‘good’ question entail? Generally, you want to use the ‘ASC’ method.

  • Actionable. Form your question such that the answer will be of practical use to you.
  • Specific. Narrow down the topic of your question to something that can be engaged with, rather than vague and unengaging.
  • Concise. Try to cut any unnecessary context or detail.

Let’s say we wanted to understand whether or not a flerblesnout, a fictional word with no meaning, was beneficial to a particular demographic.

Example of a bad question:

Given the undercurrents of today’s world, why is the flerblesnout a good thing?

This isn’t a good question for a few reasons. First, that dependent clause isn’t useful because it’s non-specific. Second, we’re begging the question by looking for a particular answer affirming the worth of the flerblesnout. This doesn’t give the interlocutor much room to breathe. If your professor’s having to waste time explaining why you’ve asked a loaded question, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Even if the question was simply, “is the flerblesnout a good thing”, it doesn’t leave much room to answer all that insightfully. Third, we’ve not been specific enough; there doesn’t seem to be a goal in mind for this question, so there’s a higher chance the knowledge we need isn’t going to be in the answer.

Example of a good question:

To what extent was the flerblesnout economically beneficial to Russian Jews in the context of the 1905 Revolution?

This gives the prof some real space. You’re not assuming anything by asking for extent, while also giving them the opportunity to really dive deeply into arguments for and against the flerblesnout. Plug in a word that’s actually real and think about how you’d answer the question to see what we mean. Whatever their desired response, you’ve given them a way to answer however they see fit. To top it all off, the specificity will likely yield an actionable answer.

Take more handwritten notes

Handwriting forces you to parse and condense large quantities of information on the fly. Given the discrepancy between how fast lecturers change slides (light speed) and how fast you can write, the act of rummaging through them for key details helps cement them in memory. Typing is nowhere near as effective to this end, as it’s possible to type everything verbatim without taking anything in. This can be circumvented by looking over your notes later, but understanding them in the moment as well as reviewing them later is a more time-effective strategy. Feel free to type them up for posterity of course, but consider the act of handwriting to be a form of study in and of itself. You might be surprised at what you can retain.

Take the student-run catch up sessions

Doesn’t matter if you’re the hippity hoppity hottest kid in class. These sessions are run by successful students who’ve done the course no less than a semester ago. They sometimes know more than what a lecturer or book can teach. They’ll know the curriculum and marking criteria in addition to course knowledge. Most universities around New Zealand run these sessions across pretty much every discipline in courses with high student volumes, such as first year commerce/ accounting/ computer science units. It’s also a lot easier to speak with students slightly ahead of you in their degree than it is a professor or lecturer. After all, if you feel like derailing the session with a meme or two, you won’t be looked down upon. Just remember to keep up.

Similar rules apply to this as for asking questions in class. You want to come prepared with something to ask, and definitely want to bring in some course material if you’re a first year. This can mean elements of an assignment you’re stuck on, or even just a handful of tutorial questions you need to prep. The way these tend to work is student tutors will roam around the room taking questions over the period of a few hours. Stay for as long as you like, but the longer you stay, the more you’ll get out of it. Bonus points for inviting a few of those magic acquaintances along.

You should now have a much better idea of what you can do to boost your study time at uni. Learning to study with the right people and know who you’re productive around, asking good questions inside and outside class, as well as taking plenty of handwritten notes can all boost your grades. As a general and all-too-bemoaned rule, what you put in is what you’re getting out. Yeah, you can try to coast by on turning up to your tutes and leaving, but that’s not getting you prepared for a grad job. Applying yourself to study is learning to apply yourself to a full time job. If you can do that, you’ve got a bright future. Good luck!