Simple study skills for the overly stressed student

Going from being the best pupil in school to being average at university is not always easy. The drop in your marks may however have nothing to do with intelligence. University is difficult; the volume of work at university might have doubled or even tripled from the work you were used to at school. Doing well at university has a lot more to do with how you study and how well you understand the work, than with how well you memorise facts and detail. You need to work smarter, not harder.

Here are five things NOT to do…

  1. Summarise your textbook word for word. You simply do not have the time.
  2. Assume your slides are summaries.
  3. Listen to your friends about how to pass a course and create preconceived ideas about a course.
  4. Think that you can start learning a day or two before an exam.
  5. Think that working two hours a day is enough.

The normal rules of studying still apply at university, but here are five effective methods on how to work smarter.

  1. Textbooks: When reading your textbook for the first time, underline in pencil. You will notice that you underline almost everything. Once you have finished the chapter, take a break and then only re-read underlined sections, but now underline using a highlighter. Only highlight the important sections of work. When doing revision you only have to read the highlighted sections. Also make summaries on the side of each page.
  2. Lecture slides: Read your slides the morning before class in order to get a holistic view of the work to be done in class. The work will also seem more familiar when hearing it for the first time during class. Teach yourself to make summaries on your slides, rather than on separate pieces of paper.
  3. Friend: Form a study team with a friend who attends all your classes. Both of you must take notes during a lecture. At the end of each day, swop your lecture slides and supplement and update each other’s slides with things that were missed. Discuss complicated concepts.
  4. Tutorials: Always attempt to do at least two-thirds of your tutorials during the week. Once you have completed the tutorials you must be able to answer the following questions about the tutorial.
  • What was being asked?
  • What is the easiest approach to doing the question?
  • What are the easy marks?  Are there marks that you can always get?
  • What did I not understand?

5. Lecturers: Ask for help and remember that lecturers are people too. If you go to a consultation with a lecturer prepared with specific questions, they will always be willing to help. They want you to pass.

Tips on improving your study skills:

  • Have a short-term and long-term goal and reward yourself when you achieve these goals.
  • Have a dedicated study area that is cleared from clutter and distraction.
  • Do not study continuously without regular hourly breaks.
  • Practice to recall what you have learnt at the end of each study session.
  • Live a balanced life; eat healthily, drink fluids, take vitamins and exercise regularly.
  • Revise the work for the day before going to bed.
  • Prepare short notes and summaries only outlining key concepts and draw pictures. Use different colours. Using more than one stimuli will help you remember the work better
  • Never study on your bed.
  • Make a timetable for the year, showing work, study and revision periods, and start studying long in advance.
  • Try to get previous examination- and test papers.


Mr Rudman is a senior lecturer in Stellenbosch University’s Department of Accounting.
Wilmarie Grobbelaar is a language specialist in Stellenbosch University’s Department of Accounting.

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Profile photo of Riaan Rudman
Riaan Rudman
Mr Rudman is a senior lecturer in Stellenbosch University’s Department of Accounting.

4 Responses to “Simple study skills for the overly stressed student”

  1. Profile photo of NATs


    University and college, only tests your logic and understanding, you don’t have time to study you must have the capacity to grasp knowledge with one breath, on school work was dragged out from the day you stepped into pre-school after all that years there’s nothing new anyone can tell you , its how you perceive something you’ve never seen or heard before , so if you THINK slow you won’t succeed even if you study it to the bone.

  2. Profile photo of Daniella Star

    Daniella Star

    @NATs well it depends on the course you are taking>>>Just Saying

  3. Profile photo of JANINE


    Thank you. This really helps especially for myself that is a first year student 🙂 .

  4. Profile photo of Candonica


    Currently taking a gap year and find this information extremely helpful. It will definitely contribute towards my preparation for the following year 🙂

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