The transition from high school to university is a tough one, especially academically. With larger classes, a more intense workload, and the permanent general confusion that comes with being a university student (not to mention the temptation of the Strip), it is easy to fall behind. However it is not inevitable. Keeping your head above water is possible with consistency and a few general guidelines: prepare for class, stay engaged and stay organised.
Preparing for class
Read your Study Guides. Each module should have a study guide that outlines the general structure of that module. The study guide often contains the scope and dates for semester tests, lists contact details for lecturers, and outlines guidelines and procedures that may be relevant. Add all your test dates onto a calendar (digital calendars like Google Calendar have the added bonus of notifications and are easy to edit), and familiarise yourself with the overview of the content the module will cover.
This may be another cliché, but do your readings and skim through the content of what will be covered in your lecture beforehand. It is easier to retain information if you already an existing framework to fit it into. Of course, it is difficult to retain large, daunting blocks of academic texts or understand new concepts, so it can help to explore various methods for reading such as the SQ3R (survey, question, read, recite, and review) or PRR (Preview, Read actively, Review) method.
More simply, as a basic guide to read and retain information more effectively, start by scanning the headings and subheadings to build a mental framework. Rather than trying to read the entire text comprehensively, scan the text then read the introduction and conclusion before skimming over the text once more, while taking note of the main points in each paragraph. Take note of any questions you may have. This way your readings are quicker and more efficient. Completing your assigned readings also prevents you from being lost and confused in class, allowing you to engage and cut down on time spent trying to cram information in the week of exams.
Attend your lectures. The temptation to log into your lecture on Blackboard and promptly get back into bed and fall asleep is a real one, but classes are integral to furthering and solidifying your understanding, as well as to interact with other students. So as a starting point, it helps to attend your lectures. Even then, passively sitting in class may not be the way to bag those distinctions. Try to take notes during class, alongside the notes you made beforehand, and highlight any gaps in understanding that you may have.
Often lecturers use class as an opportunity to discuss or apply the concepts you should have covered in your assigned reading; in which case it helps to ask questions and participate in discussions.
Large classes and intimidating lecturers can make it difficult to ask for help, but asking for help is better than being confused forthe duration of the semester. Take note of the lecturer’s consultation hours and make use of them or email your module tutors with any questions – they’re more than happy to help as long as the answer is not already in the study guide. If that prospect is too daunting, make use of module group chats on WhatsApp – not only will you find help, you will also find solidarity and great stickers. Make friends in your classes and form study groups that meet on campus or on a Discord server. Study groups help you understand concepts in ways you may not have thought about or help lighten the load of note making.
All the preparation and engagement in the world won’t be of any use if you miss your test date. At the beginning of the semester, take note of all due dates and set reminders. Do the same for your class and study schedules. You can make your class schedule manually, or if you are an Android user utilise TuksTimetable to automatically generate one.
To help stay organised, there are many online resources and apps to make use of, which include Evernote, Notion, and Google Workspace. Find which works for you and make the most of it.
Academics is not the only aspect of university life – join a gym, find extracurriculars that interest you, meet new people, and take a nap on the Aula grass. At the end of the day, you can’t chow course if you are not making yourself and your holistic wellbeing a priority.
Images: Masehle Mailula and Madeeha Hazarvi