I’m one of those people who kind of gets consumed by things. I’m not the greatest multi-tasker. So when a load of deadlines hit me over April and May, I freaked out, stressed out and let a lot of other things slide, like this blog for one. I basically became a hermit, lost in books and word counts with the deadlines stomping towards me like big angry T-Rexes. Somehow though, I survived. I made it out the other side, and although I’m not totally done yet (I have the summer to complete my dissertation), I feel I can look back over the experience and take stock.


So, without further ado, here are my 12 tips for succeeding at student life.


1. Prepare early


I was unfortunate in that I enrolled on my Masters pretty late in the game, and so I when I was given a reading list, I had to start reading sharpish. This mainly applies to literature students I suppose, but I imagine other subjects have a reading list too, although in literature you’re sometimes expected to read three novels in a week, and some of these are hefty, slow going books. So if you can, pester your tutor for a reading list early on and get cracking.


2. Make Notes


In the first semester, I made the mistake of thinking I was clever for downloading a lot of the texts I needed for free on Kindle, however, this, for me, was a mistake. I realised that for study, I much prefer physical books. For one, you can underline, and decorate the book with pretty fringing – post-it notes. Also, when you are in class and your professor asks you to skip between page 60 and 245, it is much easier to skim real pages. Oh and of course the beauty of real books is that they never run out of batteries! I know, I know, buying an actual book when you can get it for free seems nonsensical, but if you are studying classic literature, you can often find them for cheap at charity shops.


3. Read around the book


This may or may not be obvious, but if you are studying a text, you need to read about the writer. Context. What circumstances led this writer to write this book? What influences were there? What was going on socially and politically at that time, in that country? It may be tempting to just google a book and find a Cliff’s Notes summery, but if you read deeper, you’ll understand a lot more, and that will stop you feeling dumb in class. I speak from personal experience. Sitting in class while everyone discusses a theory or symbolism and you have no idea what they are talking about is hell. It reminds me of that episode of ‘My So-Called Life’ when Angela tucks her head into her jumper and tries to hide.


4. Ask for help


This leads me to my next point; don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid of sounding stupid. I was always relieved if someone else in class asked for clarification, because it meant I wasn’t the only one. And some people asked about points I thought were really obvious, but I didn’t think any less of them because of it. I had an essay assignment and I was having serious doubts about my question choice, so I emailed my tutor and he emailed me back such helpful advice, because that’s what tutors are meant to do!


5. Prep early


You might think you have three weeks until that essay deadline, but it soon creeps up on you, take it from me. Don’t be complacent! Prep as much as you can early on. If you are reading a text which interests you, and which you think you might want to write about, then read up on it, and ask your tutor if you are on the right track. They’ll probably be impressed you’re so organised.


6. Schedule


Being a full time student often means having a lie-in, watching daytime TV and indulging in major procrastination, all the while rocking your pjs and guzzling vast amounts of coffee. Procrastination is your worst enemy though, and excess sleep and television are not going to get you good grades. Save that for the weekend, when you can really appreciate it, and feel like you deserve it too. If you have deadlines and classes with reading lists all set, then schedule. Work out when you need your reading done by, pencil in library times to grab the books you need. Decide when you want your first draft done by and try and stick to it.


7. Have a ritual


I have a little ritual I do before I sit down to study; I set up my desk with everything I’ll need that day, make myself a big mug of coffee or tea (or hot chocolate), light a scented candle, put on some relaxing music which won’t distract me and I’ll wear something comfortable and warm (I get cold really easily). I’m a bit of a stationery junkie, so I like to have cute notepads and pens to use, and I often pop a crystal or two on the desk too.


8. Take breaks


Make sure you take breaks away from your computer every now and then. There are some great apps such as Rest that alert you for breaks, but you could easily just set an alarm. Try and eat away from your desk, stretch and get some fresh air. Being a slave to your computer, or even to books will cause eye strain and possibly headaches. Not good.


9. Don’t hog library books


I’m one of those super-organised people who blags all the decent books early on, but then I leave them in a pile and pretty much forget about them until essay panic forces me to skim read them for the good stuff. This works out okay most of the time, but every once in a while you’ll get the dreaded email, subject; ‘book recall’. This happened to me this week. A pretty in depth and complicated theory book was requested back by the library, and now I have a few days to read that book, get everything I could possibly need from it and get the reference correct. That would be fine if I didn’t have other plans on for this weekend. So again, don’t be complacent. Other students need those books too. Try and get your notes down early, just in case!


10. Start your bibliography early


Picture the scene, you are sitting at your desk. It is 10:30pm and your deadline is midnight. You’ve written the bulk of your essay but you have to edit and you’ve overwritten by 1000 words. It’s ok, you think, you have time. But what if you haven’t even started your bibliography yet? What if you haven’t added in the footnotes or referencing you need, and what if your notes are all jumbled and you can’t even remember which quote you used from which book, let alone the page number. Yes, I am talking from personal experience. Doing a last minute panic job on an essay is in no way ideal, but if you have to do it, knowing you need to sort your referencing too might just make you pull out your hair and cry. As soon as you start note-taking, write down the author, book and page. Keep your notes organised and start a hanging bibliography where you list the books you are working from in the correct referencing system (popular styles are Chicago and Harvard, but check early on with your university which citation style they require).


11. Write up your class notes


My class notes were always really messy. I’d start off with my own observations and ideas on the text we were studying, then add more from class which became more and more like scribbles, plus random words dotted around the page and the odd doodle of a unicorn or star for good measure. When I came to look back over these notes, I might as well have been reading Russian. It made no sense. Try and type up or at least make sense of your notes while they are still fresh in your head.


12. Read Feedback


When you get your grades back, read the comments your tutors have made and make note of them – they are there to help you, not to make you feel bad about yourself.


13. Present Presentations well


Some people dread presentations. I know in High School I’d get all red faced and nervous but it’s really not that bad. Prepare your slides and notes in advance, practice, time yourself, record yourself if that helps, make eye contact with your audience and don’t rush. Just breathe and take it easy, everyone else is in the same boat.


And lastly, enjoy your time as a student. As long as you are prepared, student life is great fun and lot more than just reading books and writing essays.


Pin It on Pinterest