Studying. Stu-DYING. The word “dying” is part of the word and yet most of your time at Uni will (should!) be spent on this, so having a good study plan is essential. The workload at Uni is miles beyond high school, be it depth or breadthwise and yet freshmen underestimate it despite repeated warnings of the fact.
Romy’s post has some excellent strategies on how to get better grades and I decided to chime in with other ideas that may prove to be of some use.
If you are a Civil Engineering student, also check out my guide to the course.
1) Study during the semester
The ECTS system should give you a rough guide on how much study time is required for the course. “ECTS stands for European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System and is a standard across the European Union. Its aim is to makes programmes and the performance of students of higher education more transparent and comparable European-wide and to replace or complement the different local (national) standards within.”1
One ECTS credit is equated to 30 hours of work, which includes the lectures, exercises, tutorials prepatory and subsequent work.
If a course has 6 ECTS credit points (“Leistungspunkte”), that equates to 180 hours of work.
Here is one example, taken from the module handbook for Civil Engineers for the subject Engineering Mechanics 1 (p. 39):
“Präsenzzeit: Vorlesung 42 h, Vortragsübung 28 h
Selbststudium / Nacharbeitszeit: Nacharbeitung der Vorlesung (ca 1,5 h pro Präsenzstunde) 65 h, Nacharbeitung der Vortragsübung wahlweise in Zusätzlicher Übung oder im Selbststudium (ca. 1,5 h pro Präsenzstunde) 45 h
Gesamt: 180 h”
Translated this means you have 60 hours of classes and are expected to do 120 hours of prep and subsequent work on your own, with the total then coming to 180 hours.
A good rule of thumb is that for every hour of class you have, you should do two to three times in prep and subsequent work.
The word for lecture in German is “Vorlesung” which is the nominative form of the verb to “read aloud”. This is sadly what usually happens at lectures, so make sure to not go unprepared. If you do prep and subsequent work, lectures can be a good tool to help you understand the nuances of the subject, but if you simply go to the lecture they can be superfluous.
2) Do the PVL
PVL (“Prüfungsvorleistung”) is a requirement to write most exams. Without the PVL you (usually) have to wait a year to first do the PVL and then you can write the exam, so make sure to do it when you have the opportunity even if you do not write the exam in the same semester!
The PVL can be difficult, but they serve as a good prep for the exam.
They are usually almost at the exam level when it comes to difficulty and sometimes allow you to do them in groups (see below).
There are sometimes extra “Sprechstunden” (open hours by lecturers/teaching assistants where they field questions from students) just for the PVL and they are usually quite happy to see someone taking their time to go through the assignment instead of just copying it.
3) Go to the “Sprechstunde”
Over the course of the semester, “Sprechstunden” are usually offered once a week so make sure to utilise this face time.
Ensure that you have specific questions and are not just showing up for the fun of it.
4) Identify what is important
This is usually the hardest step. With mountains of information that might not be exam-relevant, sifting through it all to determine where to expend your energy is vital.
If you are lucky enough the lecturer/teaching assistant drops a few hints over the course of the semester but that only gets you so far. My strategy so far has been simple, using past papers to determine the line of questioning as well as which topics give the highest marks.
5) Tailor your study plan to the emphasised questions
After identifying what topics are important as well as the point distribution, tailor your study plan to fit it. Spend more time on topics that have more points and in the worst case scenario, don’t bother with trivial topics.
Tip for Civil Eng: theory questions account for 25% and calculations the other 75% so concentrate on calculations!
6) Form a study group
Most courses allow you to do the PVL in groups, which reduces the work load. Having a tight-knit group of study buddies also helps because you can motivate each other as well as explain concepts that one might be struggling with alone, but someone in the group is well-versed in.
Group work also helps to train a skill that will be of use later in life. It is rare that you will have autonomous power over whatever you will be doing in future, so the sooner you get used to group dynamics, compromising and the concept of synergy, the better off you will be.
7) Go to the Prüfungssprechstunde
Ah the beloved “Sprechstunde”! It appears three times on this list and for good reason. Unis can sometimes feel like a lonely, desolate wasteland and professor and teaching assistants sometimes come off as aloof, disinterested and impersonal. This impression could not be further from the truth. They sometimes have to hold lectures for up to 300 students, so building a personal relationship or answering every question that comes up during the semester is nigh on impossible.
Use the Sprechstunde to your advantage, because funnily enough, few students do. This one on one time with someone who has the knowledge that you seek can prove to be invaluable.
During the exam period, there are usually extra “Sprechstunden” so keep an eye open for these.
8) Use your strengths
Everyone has different ways to study effectively; some prefer visual aids, some audio, some group work, and others work best alone. There are many ways to skin a cat, so make sure to find that which works for you and refine it.
Toi toi toi!