Learning How To Learn – University Secrets

For many of my lovely readers this is the month where you disappear off to university for the first time. I’m a bit teary! Some of you have gone off already and some are still frantically panicking, but whatever stage you’re at remember to have fun and enjoy the new experience. But I do want to talk about one last thing before you go. You see everyone will have been telling you about all the changes and challenges of university, but they will have missed one out. They always do. You see, university learning is not like school. There will be no classes to go to every single day, no teaching you the answers to the exam questions and nothing else, and certainly no skipping homework days! The style in which you will be expected to work and learn at university level is a completely different ball game to sixth form and college level learning.

University Is About Independent Learning

When you’re at university, you will be expected to do a lot of the legwork and learning by yourself. Depending on your subject you may end up having full days of lectures most days of the week, or just a few hours a week, with the rest of your time allocated for independent work. Whatever your schedule, all university students are expected to think, purse and understand their studies on their own. Rather than relying on your lecturers to take you through everything, you will need to make a point of learning by yourself.

A lot of first year students will take this time to enjoy their new found freedom, make friends and experience life on their own for the first time – which you absolutely should! But it’s important not to neglect your studies even in first year, as it’s going to take a big adjustment to learn in such an unstructured way. You will need to be able to do your own research and learning around the topics instead of expecting teachers to give you all of the background information, and instead use the teaching materials as a platform for your own learning. If you can master this skill in your first year, it will make the next few years much easier.

So How Do I Learn Independently?

Going from college into uni is a big change in a lot of ways, but schools and parents often don’t prepare you for the change in learning style and environment. Here are a few tips to help you get started on the independent learning road.

  • Read Actively– Even if you’re not much of a reader, you will need to learn how to read a lot and read actively, no matter what you’re studying. This means paying close attention to the words you are reading and their meaning.
  • Skim Read – Learn how to speed or skim read materials before reading them in depth. This will help you understand the text better the second time and proves a valuable skill if you forgot to read the section for your next lecture!
  • Go Solo – Rather than relying on a teacher or adult to supervise your working, practice working alone for long periods of time without adult supervision. Understand your preferred working style and try to do as much work as you can alone, or with others instead of in the classroom. 
  • Research – Instead of just sticking to the reading list and source material, given (which is what everyone does in first year) go out and find different sources. Read around the area you are studying to develop a deeper understanding of the subject. Pick out as many books and papers as you can, experience as much as possible and try to understand the subject on a deeper level.
  • Be Persistent – If a task or topic is particularly challenging, don’t give up at the first hurdle. University is meant to be difficult, and persistence is the key to understanding. Keep going and approaching the problem from different angles – you’ll get it eventually.
  • Ask For Help If Needed – That said, if you are hopelessly stuck, it’s ok to ask for help. That’s what your lecturers are there for. Book appointments with them to discuss your subject and work on improving your assignments. They are wells of knowledge that a lot of students don’t bother to tap into, and they want to help you.
  • Engage in Discussions – If you want to expand an argument but are stuck for ideas, get a debate going with some friends or other people on the course. Hearing other people’s points of view and having to defend your own can help you think about topics in a different way or understand them more clearly.
  • Set Goals – Don’t just drift along, set yourself goals to keep your motivation up. Think of what you want to get out of your work and what steps you need to take to achieve it. Think about why you are at uni in the first place and how that will help you achieve your life goals. Inspiration boards are a great way to remind yourself of this if you’re flagging.
  • Manage Your Time – Unlike at home, at university your time is all your own, so you need to learn to manage it. You will have a whole new array of things to do and learning to juggle it all takes time. Break down your topics into relevant tasks, prioritise what needs to be done when and don’t forget about the personal things like shopping and cooking!

If you’re a bit nervous about going to university and everything that goes with it (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), I can help you plan and prioritise, or just chat about what you can expect from the experience. I have helped a lot of students over the years to tackle and master independent learning so that they can get the most out of their time at uni, so if you would like some help with that just get in touch to find out more.


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