Helpful suggestions to boost your studies

Explore our advice on critical thinking, time management, effective reading and note making to help get the most out of your university study.

CRITICAL THINKING

Did you know that critical thinking is not synonymous with being negative and critical?

Critical thinking could involve criticising an argument, but it’s more than that. It’s thoughtfully reasoned consideration.

This YouTube video on critical thinking by the Center for Innovation in Legal Education provides a useful, everyday definition of critical thinking and shows its purpose and value.

Critical thinking can be defined as examining your own ideas, and those of others; assessing and synthesising these different ideas and arguments; and applying ideas in different contexts.

You will need to think critically when reading, note taking, doing assignments, preparing for exams, organising your time, and attending lectures and tutorials.

Critical thinking involves seven steps. Let’s say, for example, you had to make a decision about which university to attend. You would ultimately do the following:

  1. Analyse and interpret the question. For example, ask: ‘Which university should I attend?’
  2. Immerse yourself in the topic. For example, seek information about different universities.
  3. Ask questions. For example, ask questions about university services, programs of study, and potential career paths.
  4. Make links. For example, make a link between Griffith University and its impact on a future career in education.
  5. Understand the different perspectives. For example, synthesise information from a range of sources, such as university open days, guidance counsellors, current students and professionals in the field.
  6. Understand the theoretical frameworks. For example, familiarise yourself with terminology and concepts relevant to universities, such as undergraduate, postgraduate, entry requirements and prerequisites.
  7. Develop a position and arguments to support it. For example, make an informed decision about which university to attend. It was Griffith University, right?

For more help, check out this YouTube video on five tips to improve your critical thinking by Samantha Agoos.

Time management

A good time management plan helps you to achieve what you set out to do.

Being able to organise your time effectively ensures you have a balance between your study, family and leisure commitments.

There is no single time management plan for everyone. Your time management plan will be based on your personality, goals, workload and other commitments.

Four steps to organise your time

A yearly planner helps you understand the big picture. You can pick a yearly wall planner up from the university book shop or you can find a free one online.

Mark down the busiest times in your year. These may include holidays, work commitments, family celebrations or sporting competitions. And let’s not forget university assessment periods.

For example, you may be incredibly busy with exams towards the end of each trimester. If you block this time out on your yearly wall planner, you won’t accidently schedule a camping trip during finals week.

At the beginning of each trimester, you are given all your assessment details. From assignments and class presentations to mid-semester exams and projects, all the key dates can be found in your course outline. Add these assessment deadlines to your wall planner.

Now, break down each assessment item into tasks, and estimate the time needed to complete it. For example, how much time will you need to research, write, revise and edit each assignment. Add these task deadlines to your wall planner.

Okay, so your yearly planner may be crammed with activities at this point. But you aren’t done planning yet. It’s time to get a weekly planner to block in:

  • all your classes, lectures and tutorials
  • periods of study at your high-energy times
  • lower priority activities such as housework and watching TV at your lower-energy times
  • assessment tasks (see your yearly wall planner)
  • some fun! Reward yourself for putting in the hard work.

Check out this handy time management calculator to assist your weekly planning:

Time management calculator

Write a to-do list each day. It can be satisfying crossing things off your list.

This can also help you stop procrastinating. Just pick a task and get on with it! Do you have a moment’s spare time? Complete one of the smaller tasks on your list.

Make sure you set goals that are challenging but achievable, and study regularly for short periods of time rather than tire yourself out.

How can a tomato help you stop procrastinating?

EFFECTIVE READING

Reading at university can be an overwhelming and time-consuming task. There are required course readings, recommended course readings, textbooks, lecture notes, tutorial notes, and let’s not forget all the research you’ve acquired for your assignment.

With this amount of material, you may feel that you need to learn to read faster. But what you actually need to do is read smarter.

The first step to reading smarter is to understand how you are going to read the content.

Would you read an academic article, a Facebook post and a bus timetable in the same way? No. We read different types of texts in different ways. It’s not always necessary to understand every word or to read the text from beginning to end.

The way you read something will depend on:

  • The type of material you are reading. Is it a textbook, novel or journal article?
  • Your purpose for reading it. Are you reading it for enjoyment or for an assignment?
  • The structure of the material. How is it set out?

Once you understand these elements, you’ll know whether to skim through the text, read a key section, or to read the entire thing. This is potentially the difference in time it takes to read a book or a book chapter.

Follow the SQ3R process for effective reading:

  1. Skim. Skim quickly through the text to get an overall impression. Look at the abstract, conclusions and the format of the paper
  2. Question. Ask questions of the text: Who? What? Where? When? How?
  3. Read. Read the text in a focused and fairly speedy way.
  4. Remember. Test your memory. How has it answered your questions?
  5. Review. Read the text in more detail, taking notes. Use your own words.

Making effective notes

It’s easy to take notes. But figuring out how to make them a useful tool for study or assignment writing can be a whole other thing.

It’s important to ensure your notes are systematic, organised and can help you effectively recall, understand and apply information.

Below are some tips to help you improve your note-making skills.

Note-making tips

Know what you need the notes for and how you plan to use them.

If you are making notes from texts (such as course readings, journal articles or books), you will need to understand the purpose of your notes. Are they notes for an assignment? If so, make sure you have read through the assessment task. That way, you know what kind of information to watch out for. It’s also a perfect time to employ your critical thinking skills.

Taking notes in a lecture? The purpose of your notes is to help you recall key points and relevant details about the lecture (usually for an exam). If the information in the lecture is not available elsewhere (for example, it’s not in the PowerPoint slides or course readings), then your notes will need to be as detailed as possible. However, if the information is available then you will need to focus on the points or issues highlighted by the lecturer.

There are many different note-taking techniques you can use. Find one that works for you!

Underlining and highlighting are two well-known techniques. Use them to draw attention to the main points or helpful examples in a text. You could use them to stress unfamiliar words or definitions that you want to follow up on later.

But don’t overdo it. If everything is emphasised, nothing will stand out.

Review and improve your notes so they are ready to use when studying or writing your assignment.

Check the information is relevant and useful for its intended purpose. Think about how your notes fit in with other information you have on the topic. Does it build on, support or extend your ideas and knowledge?

Reflect on the reading or lecture. Do you need to consider other perspectives or find more information?

Use a visual tool to organise your notes. Visual tools can help you summarise information, find links and gaps, think critically and understand the content.

Here are three visual tools that you may find useful:

  • Concept maps, which can help you brainstorm, connect, communicate and expand on ideas.
  • Tables, which can help you track ideas and determine how they are related.
  • Timelines, which help you see when key events happened. This allows you to link ideas and connect events.

Go further

See tips for referencing, exams, assignments and more