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Wise advice for 1st Year Students?

A photo of Rancy Rancy
Preparation for an event is one of the keys to success.
What advice do you have for 1st year students?

Perhaps advice revolving around:
- Organization of course material
- What to bring everyday, or to certain classes
- A real textbook vs an Ebook
- Financial budgetting
- Managing course load and/or work load, with a part time job, or with a volunteering schedule, or with other activities
- Usage of spare time
- Importance of not procrastinating
- How to study for exams
- Who can edit your assignemnts properly

.. And any other advices you can think of!

Thank you for your help!
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21 replies
 
A photo of inthemaking inthemaking
Don't skip lectures.

Buy used textbooks (from previous students, the bookstore will most likely be ripping you off) or find it online for free (Google Scholar, torrents, etc).

Try not to schedule 1 h breaks in between classes (too little time to go home but not enough time to actually do anything productive unless it's for a lunch break). Better to get them done all at once (but not more than 3-4 consecutive classes) or have bigger breaks in between.

Don't overcommit in 1st year, start with school and a couple ECs. Add more if you have the time for it but don't start September with school, 10 ECs and a job.

As soon as you feel yourself falling behind, do something about it immediately. Reread lecture notes, ask a friend, read the textbook, do extra practice, go to office hours/tutorials etc. Don't wait till right before the midterm/exam to deal with it.

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A photo of jplank jplank
If you don't understand something after a lecture, it's ok to say "maybe it just need some time to sink in before it clicks". If it's not making sense a few weeks later, it's time to get help. Ask a fellow classmate, look online for more information, read more about it in the textbook, talk to the prof during their office hours or email a T.A. There are lots of ways to get help. Do not wait too long or else your problems will snowball and you'll soon be in too deep.
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A photo of ktel ktel
Don't skip lectures is too much of a blanket statement. More like learn which lectures you can afford to skip. I had a professor who posted all his notes online, so I would copy them in 20 minutes, instead of spending an hour and twenty minutes in class. Still received an excellent mark, and funny enough he still knew who I was.

Wait at least a week or two before buying the textbook. Sometimes you can get by without a required text.

Get to know yourself. I could afford to be busy during university, because I work better/smarter when I'm busier. Some people also take a lot more time to study/do homework than I do, so they therefore can't spend that much time on other things.

Always give yourself a break. During finals, even if I have another final coming up in a few days, I always give myself a break after each exam.

Try your best to meet your professors. My fourth year was the most fun/enriching year of my degree, largely because I knew so many professors and got to do a lot of cool projects with them advising me. They always sort of knew who I was (only blond girl in Mech Eng), but now they all know who I am, which has been great. I'm doing research on campus this summer and I love it when one of my old profs e-mails me to stop by and we have a quick chat. They also give me some really helpful advice about everything.
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A photo of sllencer sllencer
I don't think I can add much to what people said before, except there will be small things you might have to experience in order to know what's best ( such as how and how much to study etc etc).

But I do have to reiterate, don't skip lectures AT ALL. Perhaps if you have a good feel for the class you can... Back in high school you were skipping on taxpayer's money, now you're skipping on your own money.
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A photo of superstar2011 superstar2011
Most lectures are video recorded and are available on the Internet. Take advantage, and listen a few times on your spare time if you feel the need. Remember, though, that it is still best to actually pay attention to the lecture the first time, and looking at what is displayed on the screens, etc. Videos have a number of limitations; sound and camera quality, the location being displayed in the video (as in it might not always move to where you would want it to), and anything that may be cut off in the recording.
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A photo of jplank jplank

@superstar2011 wrote
Most lectures are video recorded and are available on the Internet.



This probably depends a lot on what university you attend. At least for the University of Western Ontario, I can say that this is not true at all.
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A photo of Quiz Quiz

@ktel wrote
Don't skip lectures is too much of a blanket statement. More like learn which lectures you can afford to skip. I had a professor who posted all his notes online, so I would copy them in 20 minutes, instead of spending an hour and twenty minutes in class. Still received an excellent mark, and funny enough he still knew who I was.

Wait at least a week or two before buying the textbook. Sometimes you can get by without a required text.

Get to know yourself. I could afford to be busy during university, because I work better/smarter when I'm busier. Some people also take a lot more time to study/do homework than I do, so they therefore can't spend that much time on other things.

Always give yourself a break. During finals, even if I have another final coming up in a few days, I always give myself a break after each exam.

Try your best to meet your professors. My fourth year was the most fun/enriching year of my degree, largely because I knew so many professors and got to do a lot of cool projects with them advising me. They always sort of knew who I was (only blond girl in Mech Eng), but now they all know who I am, which has been great. I'm doing research on campus this summer and I love it when one of my old profs e-mails me to stop by and we have a quick chat. They also give me some really helpful advice about everything.


To add, try to take an interest in the lecture material rather than trying to cram it in the week before a midterm or final. Join a study group, get involved in discussions, do some extra readings/research on the side to supplement the class material. Know what to generally expect in lecture by reading ahead.
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A photo of Anonymous Anonymous
Always keep in mind the big picture: what you do want to get out of your degree? You may think the answer is obvious now, but you will be surprised by the things you'll learn in the next four years. Be open to and ready for new opportunities. It is also never too early to plan your career -- take advantage of any work experience you can get, even if it might not be paid.
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A photo of ktel ktel

@superstar2011 wrote
Most lectures are video recorded and are available on the Internet. Take advantage, and listen a few times on your spare time if you feel the need. Remember, though, that it is still best to actually pay attention to the lecture the first time, and looking at what is displayed on the screens, etc. Videos have a number of limitations; sound and camera quality, the location being displayed in the video (as in it might not always move to where you would want it to), and anything that may be cut off in the recording.



Not a single lecture at my university is video recorded.

Are you even in university yet?
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A photo of jplank jplank
Some more stuff to add:

This applies mostly to math courses, but I imagine it may apply to other courses as well. Two of the biggest problems I see are overconfidence and underconfidence.

First, underconfidence. Some people come to me for tutoring and say "just so you know, I'm absolutely awful at math" (or something like that). I hear that sort of thing from about 2/5 of my students. A lot of people come to me with the thought that math is some abstract, difficult subject that is beyond the capabilities of normal human beings. It's really not. And unravelling and changing that notion is one of the most important steps towards succeeding in math. The concept might not be taught in the clearest way and the prof might make things seem more complicated than they need to be. But the underlying concepts aren't overly difficult and they definitely aren't out of the grasp of an average university students. I've tutored several hundred students and there are only about 1 or 2 of those where I thought "this person just is never going to get it". The fact that you were accepted the university means you're already a capable student. Don't get held back by thinking you can't get through a math course.

The second problem is overconfidence. These people say something along the lines of "yeah, I had a friend who took this course and he said he skipped every lecture and only studied the night before the exam and he ended up with 100". Fine, maybe your friend is telling the truth, but he's probably the exception to the rule. I get a huge influx of students emailing me for help right after the first exam because they find they didn't get as high of a mark as they'd hoped. (This is especially bad because the first test is the best place to score marks. Often students look back on the first test and wish they'd put more effort in because there are definitely some easy marks to be had - if you do the work) Yeah, there are some easy courses out there. But, just because it's an easy course doesn't mean you can skip lectures and homework and still get an amazing grade. An easy course just means you might have to do less work overall, but you still have to do work. Even if your prof is terrible, you'll still get something out of going to the lecture. It may not make sense right away, but it'll "click" all of a sudden when you read the textbook or get help from a friend or whatever. Things will snap into place in your head. So, I suggest students go to their lectures even if the prof is bad. If you insist on not attending lectures, you should try to at least put in an extra hour into self-study for every hour of lecture you miss.

I tell students they should study with their friend. Being able to explain a concept to someone is a good test that you truely understand it. And if you consistently study with a friend throughout the year, you can keep each other in check and not let each other get behind. (Or this could backfire and you could both distract each other from studying).

If you find yourself getting behind - get help immediately. Things tend to get worse over time if you let them sit. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can go back to understanding things. Repeating a course is not fun.

That's all I can think of now.

Edit: Thought of some more. In upper years, my class size ranged from 2 people (including myself) to 12 people. If you have a very small class like this, you might be able to get by checking the textbook out of the library and using that instead of actually buying one.

I used to start with the last question on an exam and work backwards. That way, you get the harder questions out of the way when your mind is still fresh. Solving the problems in order would result in getting to the hardest questions several hours into the exam after your brain is tired. This worked well for me, but other people said it didn't go so great for them.

I tell my students that they should find a friend who's in the same class as they are and who is horribly horrible screwed for the test and say "hey, let's study together". The friend who is screwed will probably have lots and lots of questions. And your success (or not) in explaining them will be a good indication of how well you understand the material.

I also realized I wrote a bunch of exam tips on my blog a long time ago.. Feel free to check those out if you want.
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A photo of aimango aimango

@Rancy wrote
Preparation for an event is one of the keys to success.
What advice do you have for 1st year students?

Perhaps advice revolving around:
- Organization of course material
- What to bring everyday, or to certain classes
- A real textbook vs an Ebook
- Financial budgetting
- Managing course load and/or work load, with a part time job, or with a volunteering schedule, or with other activities
- Usage of spare time
- Importance of not procrastinating
- How to study for exams
- Who can edit your assignemnts properly

.. And any other advices you can think of!

Thank you for your help!


You will end up finding your own fit as not everyone has the same learning style. Some schools/profs are more online-friendly than others (i.e. will post their notes online, which is damn useful).

If you have profs that post notes online, I recommend printing them and writing over them during lectures.

Depending on your schedule, I recommend carrying around a notebook for each class, rather than using binders. You will not get a lot of handouts in university.

Textbooks: get them anyway in first year. Ebooks can be found online, or shared from classmates. Theyre useful sometimes but I personally like physical reading material.

I also recommend carrying around a laptop or at least a mobile device so you can check course websites if your prof just uploaded the notes for the day, or whatever. If it's too much of a hassle to carry around a laptop you don't have to do it.
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A photo of freebird freebird
Sleep. Make sure you get the hours you need, and set a consistent time to wake up every day to maintain a routine. It will keep your energy up so you can get more out of your studying and classes. This can be really challenging in rez, where a lot of people stay up past 2 most nights, but you've got to do what's best for your health and school.

Also, like jplank said, studying with someone can be very beneficial, as long as you can stay on task. For memory courses, ask each other questions until you can recall everything. This has been really effective for me.

Real textbooks for sure.

I'm pretty sure most universities (at least UWO) have essay editing services for free. For math, Wolfram Alpha is awesome for checking answers.

Browse this for lots of good info:
http://calnewport.com/blog/
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A photo of CatRunner CatRunner
Make use of all the services that your university offers. Most university have centres that help students with time management, study skills, writing skills, etc. Make use of these resources!

You can also find many resources online.

Guelph, for example, has the Learning Commons: http://www.learningcommons.uoguelph.ca/

And they have lots of resources online:
http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/assistance/learning_services/undergraduates/services_by_topic/time_management.cfm
http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/assistance/learning_services/handouts/
http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/assistance/learning_services/undergraduates/services_by_topic/

I would also say, that for a first year, you should try to go to all your classes. Yes, some profs post all of their notes online (although most of my profs only included outlines, you actually had to go to class to get the full notes) and yes, you can get notes from your friends/classmates. But reading the notes is not the same as actually going to class. Many profs will give subtle hints about what they will test in exams during class. For example, if a prof repeats something several times, you can bet it is important, and will likely show up on the exam. Similarly, you can often pick up on a prof's body language, as to what they consider important. Those types of things you can't get from notes. Other profs will do more examples of problems in class than will appear in the posted notes.

Now, when you are more senior, you will learn which classes you can skip, and which you can't. But I would highly recommend that for your first year, you try to attend all your classes, if possible.

I also highly suggest reading through the study strategies posted on Cal Newport's blog, which someone already linked (Study Hacks). His "red book" is also excellent - the advice he presents is tops. Although, unlike him, I don't take notes on a computer. I am old fashioned and take them by hand. There are several studies that show you retain information better when you write it, as opposed to when you type it, so that's why I take notes longhand. However, if you find you can't keep up with writing (as most people type quicker than they write), then typing is obviously the way to go.

I also agree with the advice to make sure you get the sleep you need. It can be challenging, but it is important. Also try to eat healthy, even if you are living in rez. It can be tough, but it will help you to stay healthy and give you energy for all your studies. Also try to get some exercise in - schedule it in like anything else. That will also help keep you healthy and energized.
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A photo of Rancy Rancy
Wow, thanks to all for sharing their tips! If anyone else would like to share some advice, please do.

Also, what do you do when you become sleepy from studying for simply 15 minutes, or listening to the prof for simply a short amount of time? Although the topic is really interesting, I find that I become tired anyways.
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A photo of ktel ktel

@Rancy wrote
Also, what do you do when you become sleepy from studying for simply 15 minutes, or listening to the prof for simply a short amount of time? Although the topic is really interesting, I find that I become tired anyways.



I do a crossword or read the paper. Some sort of mentally stimulating activity that's not so consuming that I can't still listen and take notes.
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A photo of jplank jplank

@ktel wrote

@Rancy wrote
Also, what do you do when you become sleepy from studying for simply 15 minutes, or listening to the prof for simply a short amount of time? Although the topic is really interesting, I find that I become tired anyways.



I do a crossword or read the paper.




I would argue that this is rude, disrespecful and distracting to the professor. I've seen profs specifically talk to students after class about this and tell them to either stop or to not come to class.
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A photo of ktel ktel

@jplank wrote

@ktel wrote

@Rancy wrote
Also, what do you do when you become sleepy from studying for simply 15 minutes, or listening to the prof for simply a short amount of time? Although the topic is really interesting, I find that I become tired anyways.



I do a crossword or read the paper.




I would argue that this is rude, disrespecful and distracting to the professor. I've seen profs specifically talk to students after class about this and tell them to either stop or to not come to class.



It is no more distracting than writing notes in my notebook. It's a square of paper smaller than an 8.5x11 sheet and is very discreet. It leaves me with a way to keep my brain working during lulls in the lecture. In my lecture classes of over 100 students, with no active participation, nothing about it is disruptive to my colleagues or the professor. I also know the time and place to do it. I obviously didn't do it in my smaller 4th year lectures.
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A photo of CatRunner CatRunner

@Rancy wrote
Wow, thanks to all for sharing their tips! If anyone else would like to share some advice, please do.

Also, what do you do when you become sleepy from studying for simply 15 minutes, or listening to the prof for simply a short amount of time? Although the topic is really interesting, I find that I become tired anyways.



If I'm studying on my own, I get up and go for a quick walk, or do some sort of exercise. Gets the blood flowing and has me ready to concentrate again.

In class, I just focus on taking really, really good notes. Colour coding, underlying, whatever I need to do to focus on the material.

While reading the paper or doing crosswords might work in some classes, it might not work in others. I've had profs that specifically asked people not to do that sort of thing in class, and actually had TAs scattered throughout the room, to make sure people weren't texting, reading, on facebook, or doing anything other than concentrating on the class work at hand. As the profs said, they don't care if you do all that stuff, they just don't want you doing it in class. There would be verbal warnings, and then penalties, if you persisted in that type of behaviour. In some classes, if you wanted to use your laptop, you had to sign a contract, stating that you would only use it for the purpose of taking notes, and would not be on facebook/email/Youtube/whatever other site, during class time.
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A photo of ktel ktel

@CatRunner wrote

While reading the paper or doing crosswords might work in some classes, it might not work in others. I've had profs that specifically asked people not to do that sort of thing in class, and actually had TAs scattered throughout the room, to make sure people weren't texting, reading, on facebook, or doing anything other than concentrating on the class work at hand. As the profs said, they don't care if you do all that stuff, they just don't want you doing it in class. There would be verbal warnings, and then penalties, if you persisted in that type of behaviour. In some classes, if you wanted to use your laptop, you had to sign a contract, stating that you would only use it for the purpose of taking notes, and would not be on facebook/email/Youtube/whatever other site, during class time.



Absolutely, there is a time and a place for it. Some of my professors specifically asked the class not to have laptops, or read the paper, etc. and I always respected that. Similarly I'm not about to do it in an obvious manner. I realize it is somewhat rude, but it is what I needed to do to keep my brain sharp during a boring lecture.
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A photo of jplank jplank

@ktel wrote

@CatRunner wrote

While reading the paper or doing crosswords might work in some classes, it might not work in others. I've had profs that specifically asked people not to do that sort of thing in class, and actually had TAs scattered throughout the room, to make sure people weren't texting, reading, on facebook, or doing anything other than concentrating on the class work at hand. As the profs said, they don't care if you do all that stuff, they just don't want you doing it in class. There would be verbal warnings, and then penalties, if you persisted in that type of behaviour. In some classes, if you wanted to use your laptop, you had to sign a contract, stating that you would only use it for the purpose of taking notes, and would not be on facebook/email/Youtube/whatever other site, during class time.



Absolutely, there is a time and a place for it. Some of my professors specifically asked the class not to have laptops, or read the paper, etc. and I always respected that. Similarly I'm not about to do it in an obvious manner. I realize it is somewhat rude, but it is what I needed to do to keep my brain sharp during a boring lecture.




I'm not a professor and I don't teach regular classes. However, I do teach prep sessions (I've done just over 40) and a few years ago I taught a class of students once a week for a year. I've taught small groups and I've taught larger groups. All I can speak to is my own personal experience. Whether in a class of 15 or a class or 80, it's very noticable to me if someone is doing a crossword (or otherwise distracted). Students tend to think they're more inconspicous about things than they really are. It's very, very obvious when someone is doing a crossword or visiting sites not related to the class. I'd strongly recommend not being that guy. If you need to stay sharp during lecture, grab a coffee beforehand or something.
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A photo of ktel ktel
I don't drink coffee, it makes me sick.

In a large lecture hall with over 200 students, with the lecturer mostly facing the board or looking at their notes (yes most of my first and second year profs taught like that), and me sitting at the back of the class, I would be surprised if they noticed a small crossword puzzle next to my notebook. I got straight As, and I had great relationships with a lot of my professors.
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