Dr. Kevin Bonner, director of Student Services, has taught study skills courses at UNB Saint John for 10 years. He is familiar with student’s anxieties about studying and seeks ways to help them manage the stress. He emphasizes that there is no magic key to success, but offers helpful tips to make it much easier, “It’s like driving a car, swimming or playing hockey; it comes with particulars that can make you improve,” says Bonner.
With 13 weeks into the semester, students need to evaluate how much material they know when preparing for exams. It is important to acknowledge that you will be tested on everything learned from September to December, so manage your time accordingly.
First year Bachelor of Arts student, Jessica Frigault,is eager to learn how studying can be made easier. Frigault admits the amount of the workload causes new university students to worry. “I just get overwhelmed by the information,” she says.
While studying in the same place every time isn’t crucial to success, Bonner believes that it is necessary to have a reliable place that allows for effective studying. It is equally important to plan for your academic life as it is your social life. According to Bonner, “it all comes down to input and output”.
The best place to study is somewhere with good lighting, adequate space and the free from distractions such as televisions, radios and cell phones. Group studying can also be distracting so make sure you pair yourself up with likeminded classmates.
The likelihood of succeeding depends on organization. Doing well on tests does not necessarily measure how smart someone is, but instead how organized. It is important to focus on your toughest subjects first and focus on the easier ones near the end. Avoid marathon studying and instead start looking at material early on.
Cramming is detrimental to students and can hinder the likelihood of success. Although it is hard to break this habit, students actually retain less when they are anxious. Crammers are often putting themselves at a disadvantage as they show up on exam mornings looking like hell, full of booster juice. Periodically reviewing the material after each class will limit the amount of time you need to spend on it closer to the exam.
When preparing to study, ask yourself what is going to be on the exam. You should start from the general and work towards the specific. Checklists are often helpful as they allow you to effectively organize the material and measure your progress.
Pay attention to hints about the exam from your instructor. The use of repetition, excitement level and verbal cues can all indicate what will be covered. “If an instructor spends time on a subject,” says Bonner “you can guarantee there’s a good chance it will be on the exam”
The use of acronyms, rhymes and songs are also useful in helping students to remember material. Flashcards can help with names, dates, vocabulary, definitions and theories. They can help summarize sections and making links between certain concepts. It is also useful to do practice questions that will be on the test and make an outline rather than spending the added effort writing out full complete answers. Focusing on the big picture is key.
As your exam draws near, it is important to pull yourself away from the stress of others. Instead, find yourself a quiet spot alone and don’t partake in the anxiousness of your classmates. Remember that you are ultimately in charge of your fate and that grades do not define you.
Students in attendance at Bonners study skills course found it to be very beneficial. “Having to take five courses per semester does feel challenging,” says first year nursing student Meredith Mallette, “But I did learn some interesting study techniques.”
The Student Services team will be offering similar courses throughout the year led by Ken Craft, the employment counselor and Meredith Henry, the personal counsellor. In addition, the department offers one-on-one appointments with students needing that extra support.
Bonner believes that although students have the potential to improve their study skills, he urges them not to become obsessed. “Having the highest mark possible does not define your life,” he says, “do the best you can and try to take the stress off yourself.”