Learning support at UBC Okanagan provide students with a range of skills and strategies that encourage learning excellence and promote holistic development. Students are invited to access a wide variety of learning support resources that include free tutoring in writing, research, math and sciences, as well as help with study skills and learning strategies.
The learning process
There are many different approaches to learning and to learn effectively, it is important to tailor your study habits to your own needs. This often means understanding your interests, motivations, and tendencies that may influence your learning and choosing learning strategies that will maximize your strengths.
Most students find that attending university means juggling a number of commitments and tasks, often with overlapping deadlines and little time available. Trying to manage these different commitments can lead to stress, unhappiness, and feeling overwhelmed. Managing your time effectively will help you accomplish your goals, meet deadlines, and perform better academically, while still having fun and enjoying university.
Successfully managing your time
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you arrive late to class?
- Do you leave class early?
- Do you miss classes for reasons other than medical appointments
- Do you hand in assignments after the deadline?
- Do you complete all of your assignments?
- Do you feel stressed or anxious about exams?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, you’re not alone. Students have special time management issues because of the multiple demands on their time: course work, intense social demands of being in university, and the frequent need to include employment.
There are three major types of time wasters:
- External time wasters: These are the never-ending phone calls from our friends, partner, or parents.
- Internal time wasters: We all have those days where motivation is lost. We can spend hours looking for it, but we just don’t want to do anything.
- Uncontrollable time wasters: These are the family emergencies or sicknesses that just randomly appear.
Remember, time management is a skill and, like any skill, it can only improve with practice. We have to learn to avoid these time wasters. By using our time appropriately during the day, we can reduce the feelings of guilt when we want to be social.
Time management and goal setting
What do you want or need to accomplish? Once you create your goals, you can start organizing your time to accomplish them. Effective time management is all about developing an awareness of where your time is spent—a process that is improved through reflection and adjustment.
- Setting goals
- Estimating the time needed to complete goals
- Making plans to accomplish those goals
- Carrying out the plans
- Tracking time spent
- Adjusting plans
- Setting new goals
Organization brings structure to your life. Organized things are easy to find and remember. That said, there is no right way to manage your time. Your schedule should reflect your personality. Planning every minute of each day is sure to make some people crazy and give others peace of mind. You’ll probably fall somewhere in the middle.
For lots of people procrastination, regardless of what they say, is not about being lazy. In fact, when we procrastinate we often work intensely for long stretches just before our deadlines. Working long and hard is the opposite of lazy, so that can’t be the reason we do it. So, why do we procrastinate and, more importantly, what can we do about it?
Do you procrastinate?
- Do you have a tough time starting projects or assignments you don’t enjoy?
- Do you get preoccupied with details, rules, or schedules?
- Do you panic when you think about starting a big project?
- Do you often say things like “I have no time” or “I’m too busy”?
- Do you have difficulty making decisions?
If you have answered yes to most of these questions, you’re not alone. Procrastination affects most students at some point during the studies. To overcome procrastination you need to have an understanding of the reasons why you procrastinate and the function procrastination serves in your life. You can’t come up with an effective solution if you don’t really understand the root of the problem. As with most problems, awareness and self-knowledge are the keys to figuring out how to stop procrastinating. There are three main reasons why we procrastinate:
- Action diversions: When we procrastinate, we substitute a lower priority task for an important one. This is called an action diversion. It is easier to justify neglecting something important if you are getting something else done, after all.
- Mental diversions: Action diversions are usually how the procrastination process started, but a diversion can only keep you distracted for so long. At some point you are going to start making justifications for your delay and these are what can keep you from getting started. If you find yourself saying “I’ll do it tomorrow,” “I give up,” or “I can’t change so why try” you are using mental diversions to validate your delay.
- Emotional diversions: People who are putting something off think they need to be in a certain mood or state of mind before they can act. The truth is, you don’t need to feel inspired to get unpleasant tasks done. People will also avoid unpleasant situations because they don’t want to interfere with a good mood or because the task makes them anxious.
Diversions can lull you into a sense of security and make it so you can’t get started. Recognizing these diversions won’t be enough to reverse your patterns, but it’s a start. When you get rid of the excuses behind your procrastination, the value of timely action becomes clear. Getting started is the hardest part!
- Break your task up into manageable pieces: Remember, you don’t need to figure out how to do everything, you just need to figure out how to start.
- Try working for five minutes: If you can commit to focus for five straight minutes, there is a good chance you’ll be able to keep going. If you can’t, try doing five minutes of another task.
- Advertise your plans: Your peers will help hold you accountable.
- Use a friend as a study buddy: Study with a friend who won’t distract you.
- Find a place that works for you to get work done: If you can’t work at home, go out. If you can’t work in a crowded environment, go home.
- Prioritize: Try planning your time. How many hours would be reasonable to spend on your assignment tomorrow? When should you start and stop?
- Expect the unexpected: Not everything will go according to plan. Accept setbacks and start again.
Now that you know how procrastination works, you have the tools you need to stop it from controlling you. If you can stop procrastination, you can spend your time deliberately and you’ll have more freedom and greater peace of mind.
Motivation is the combination of desire, values, and beliefs that drives you to take action. These three motivating factors, and/or lack of them, are at the root of why people behave the way they do. Because you ultimately control your values, beliefs, and desires you can influence your motivation. This means, if you consider something important and assign value to it, you are more likely to do the work it takes to attain that goal. When motivation originates from an internal source and is combined with a realistic goal and circumstances, the odds of a good outcome are greatly increased.
What motivates you?
To understand what motivates you, you’ll need to understand what is important to you. If you have never thought about these questions, do it now. Consider issues such as family, relationships, learning/school, grades, work, aspirations, achievements, status, money, travel, social causes, social life, following a dream, etc. People’s goals and desire grow from their values and beliefs. Once you have made your personal list, begin to think about how the items relate to one another.
- Are some issues more important to you than others?
- Are some more important in the short-term or the long-term?
- Are they linked in some critical way?
By becoming aware of what motivates you, you can judge the quality and depth of your motivation and begin to modify and control your commitment.
Key to motivation: strengths, weaknesses, AND goal setting
One of the keys to success at university is having a realistic view of your strengths and weaknesses. Do an informal assessment of your abilities. Reflect on what you have learned about yourself in the past from classroom experiences, conversations with teachers and advisors, writing tests, projects and activities, and outside activities. An accurate and honest assessment of your abilities is essential. It prevents you from underestimating and over-estimating your skills and helps you set attainable and appropriate goals. Having an accurate direction is important in maintaining motivation.
Knowing what you value and desire, along with an assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, makes it possible to establish personal goals and keep you on track. In order to get motivated and stay motivated, try the following:
- Identify your values, beliefs, and desires
- Recognize your strengths and weaknesses
- Establish realistic goals using these common attributes
- Be a realist. Goals should be based on your abilities and circumstances.
- Be possible. Don’t establish constraints that make the realistic, unrealistic.
- Be flexible. Anticipate bumps in the road and expect to work around them.
- Be measurable. Have a target in mind so you know when you have reached your goal.
- Be under your control. Set your own goals based on your values, interests, and desires. Target things where you can control the outcome.
- Realize that success is a merger of all three factors
When your goals are realistic and match your desires, you will be motivated. When you’re motivated and work toward your goals, you will succeed. When you succeed, your motivation will grow, you will set new goals, and continue to achieve.
Studying smarter, rather than harder, can lead to success with exams.
Anxious about tests/exams
Test anxiety is a common issue among university students and a certain level of anxiety is natural. But there are ways to manage it.
- Review the Anxiety BC booklet (PDF) for test anxiety coping methods
- Download the free Mindshift App for tips on handling test anxiety
Be informed about the exam
- Ask yourself, what do you already know? Write down everything you know about the course — often called a ‘data dump.’ The goal of this exercise is to kick start your brain and get you thinking about the subject matter overall.
- Consider what is expected of you. Look at the course objectives on your course syllabus.
- Are any topics or sections given more emphasis? If something appears on the syllabus for multiple weeks, it should be prioritized.
- Are exam questions going to be pulled from lecture material, assignments, readings, or all of the above?
- Is the exam cumulative (covering everything from the first class onwards)?
If you are unsure, ask your professor. Also consider if your professor has any special interests that might influence topics, format etc. Going to class consistently will assist you with answering these questions.
- Know the logistics of the exam. Knowing what type of exam you are preparing for will impact how you study. Be aware of the format of the exam; the breakdown of questions such as 50 multiple choice, five short answers. Be informed of the weighting: what percentage of the final mark is the exam worth? Know the topics to be covered and emphasis on material not yet tested compared to previously tested materials. If you aren’t aware of the logistics of the exam, talk with your professor prior to studying.
- Review past assignments and tests. Look at old exams, assignments, and tests for question types, topics, and key concepts. Old exams offer great practice before the real thing but be sure to never assume that old exams will follow the same material or ask the same type of questions. Reviewing past assignments and tests will, however, help with recalling material and building connections between course themes.
- What else? Compile lecture notes, complete assigned readings (textbooks, articles) and, specifically for math and science, have solutions to problems and finish lab work. Consider what other study aids you might need such as study guides, past exams, consulting with your TA or professor, or study group as needed.
- Set targets. What content is to be reviewed by what date? Create a one- or two-page study guide to organize your multiple study sessions. In your study guide, make note of the format of the exam topics including general themes or questions to focus on. It’s always a good idea to begin with the most difficult content.
- Order the content to be covered. This will depend on your learning goals and the professor’s instructions. Evaluate the quality of your review. If you don’t have time to study for everything, focus on a selection of material and learn it really well.
Select and organize key information
- Identify the key information (concepts, ideas, issues, sections).Preparing summary sheets for studying is a great way to do this — aim for one summary sheet per major topic in the course. There is no one way to create a summary sheet. You should choose a method that reflects the content plus your preferred way of learning. Some common methods include the Cornell method, mind-maps, charts/tables, or a concept summary. To learn more about these methods, please see our guide for creating a Creating Summary Sheets for Studying (PDF).
- Build your understanding of the key information. Creating your own set of test questions is a proven way to develop and build understanding of information. Generating and answering your own questions helps you to elaborate on the key concepts and allows you to go beyond surface reading and memorization. This will also assist with recalling material and identifying important course themes. For technical courses such as math or engineering, go through practice problems again and again…and again.
- Organize the key ideas with their supporting information. Do you see correlations between the key concepts? What supporting information do you need to help you understand the main idea? Use a Cornell note and/or a mind-map to make connections and distinguish key ideas from supporting points.
- Remember key course information. To recall the material on the exam, you’ll need to do a lot of reviewing. Ideally, you’ll review material constantly throughout the term (mini review sessions shortly after a lecture is a great way to get into this habit) and do larger review sessions closer to the actual exam date.
Review and self-test
- What does reviewing actually mean? Review is a two-way process of information gathering and information using. During your review process, you can switch back and forth between these two functions. Information gathering can include reading through all of your sources of information such as lecture notes, books and articles, handouts, workbooks, old exams, labs, study guides, summary sheets etc. Information using can include testing your understanding of the information and using a variety of strategies while you review. Similar to the summary sheets, the strategies you choose will depend on the nature of the material and your individual learning style.
- What are some popular review strategies?
- Teaching a friend
- Generating new examples to illustrate concepts
- Reciting out loud
- Making up your own multiple choice questions
- Summarizing notes: tables, mind-maps, headings with bullet points
- Cue cards
- Analyzing types of questions and answering questions on old exams
- Practising problems
- Doing a mock exam
- Using memory strategies (make up mnemonics or visual stories to link words/ideas together)
- Applying a concept to your own life experience
- When should I start reviewing? Regular and systematic review during the entire term is a proven way to facilitate understanding and learning. Many students leave reviewing until just days before a test due to procrastination and poor time management. Keeping up with your readings and consistent, regular review can reduce test stress and help you gauge the extent of your learning and your depth of knowledge in the course.
One aspect of university life that students frequently struggle with is reading and retaining information. Reading is a huge component of preparing for courses and exams.
Common myths about reading
- You have to read every word in order to retain information
- Reading once is enough
- You can’t skip any sections in a textbook
- Re-reading is the only way to retain information
- Highlighting things in your textbook is the best way to remember things
If you have been reading like the myths are facts you are not alone. Most students believe them to be true and even best practices. Try the SQ4R (Survey, Question, Read, Respond, Review, and Reflect) reading method, it is a way for students to retain more while not reading every single word in the textbook.
The SQ4R method
S = Survey
Decide what you are going to read (using the course syllabus as a guideline) and survey the chapter. Instead of starting to read everything in the chapter, survey the material. Read over the titles and subtitles, captions under pictures, charts, graphs, or maps, and read the questions at the end of the chapter. In this step you’re just getting an idea of what the chapter is about.
Q = Question
Develop a purpose for your reading by writing down questions. Try to turn the title, subtitles, and headings into questions. Write down any questions that came to mind during your survey (Was there a graph or a picture? Why was that important?). Write down any words or concepts you are unfamiliar with. Use your syllabus to guide you.
R = Read
This is where you will actively read; instead of reading every word, read only to answer the questions you wrote down. If you come across something you aren’t sure about, stop and re-read that section before moving on.
R = Respond or Recite
Close your book and write down the answers to your questions. Use your own words! If you can’t answer a question, go back and read to find the answer. Use examples or notes to support your answers.
R = Review
Summarize the information you read by creating a concept map, or a one-page summary of the material. Re-read the questions you wrote down during the Question step and quiz yourself. Make frequent review of your concept map and notes a part of your study routine.
R = Reflect or Relate
Think critically about the information. Try to link new facts, terms, and concepts to the stuff you already know. Think about how you can use this information to expand your knowledge.
SQ4R may seem like it will take longer, but think of all the time you will save by not reading an entire chapter, re-reading, or highlighting. This method can also be personalized to how you learn best. If there is a step in the SQ4R that doesn’t seem to work for you, look for ways to adapt it to make it more personal to how you learn. If you are more of an auditory learner, instead of writing a concept map or summary, try recording yourself summarizing the chapter in your own words.
Note-taking is the practice of recording information captured from another source. By taking notes, the writer records the essence of the information, freeing their mind from having to recall everything. Do you find it difficult to maintain your concentration in lectures? Do you get lost during lectures or have a hard time identifying what lecture material is important? Do you have trouble keeping pace while writing lecture notes?
Before the lecture
- Survey the text before the lecture in order to recognize new ideas and vocabulary
Go to class intending to listen and learn:
- Take responsibility for learning from the lecture
- Avoid distractions in class
Try to sit in a place where you can focus:
- Try to sit in the front where you can maintain your focus on the instructor and see and hear as well as possible
- Your eyes won’t wander towards distractions
Do a quick review:
- Look at your notes from the previous class to refresh your memory
- Reviewing notes will help you to make connections with the previous class
Check course outlines:
- This is a good way to keep track of the sequence of topics
During the lecture
Listen for signals and cues:
- Watching for cues can help you decipher between main ideas and supporting information.
- Listen for verbal cues—voice, pauses, repetitions, slowing down, raising voice, lowering voice, saying things like “I believe the following is important”.
Watch for emphasis:
- Emphasized words and concepts are likely to appear on the exam.
Listen for ideas:
- Good listeners listen for the central themes and concepts; don’t get hung up on facts.
- Write down all examples or statistics the professor writes down; they are there for a reason.
Pay attention to organization:
- Pay attention to the way the instructor has organized the material
- If it is not well structured try to organize it yourself.
Be aware of your general knowledge:
- Try to associate your general knowledge of the topic with this new information to give it more meaning and enhance memory.
Ask for clarification:
- If you don’t understand a point, ask.
The Cornell method
The Cornell method provides a systematic format for condensing and organizing notes. Rule your paper with a 2.5-inch margin on the left leaving a 6-inch area on the right in which to make notes. During class, take down information in the 6-inch area. When the instructor moves to a new point, skip a few lines. After class, complete phrases and sentences as much as possible. For every significant bit of information, write a cue in the left margin. To review, cover your notes with a card, leaving the cues exposed. Say the cue out loud, then say as much as you can of the material underneath the card. When you have said as much as you can, move the card and see if what you said matches what is written.
Advantage to this method: Organized and systematic for recording and reviewing notes. Easy format for pulling out major concept and ideas. Simple and efficient. Saves time and effort.
Listen and then write in points, in an organized pattern, based on space indention. Place major points farthest to the left. Indent each more specific point to the right. Levels of importance will be indicated by distance away from the major point. Indention can be as simple as or as complex as labeling the indentations with Roman numerals or decimals.
Advantage to this method: Well-organized system if done right. Outlining records content as well as relationships. It also reduces editing and is easy to review by turning main points into questions.
Mapping is a method that uses comprehension/concentration skills and evolves in a note-taking form which relates each fact or idea to every other fact or idea. Mapping is a graphic representation of the content of a lecture. It is a method that maximizes active participation, affords immediate knowledge as to its understanding, and emphasizes critical thinking.
Advantages to this method: This format helps you to visually track your lecture regardless of conditions. Review will call for you to restructure thought processes which will force you to check understanding.
This method is most similar to the Cornell Method, however, it is more commonly used for the sciences, especially mathematics. The question, equation or topic will be placed at the top of the page and the left column is for key words, formulas and equations, while the right column is for definitions examples and your solutions.
Advantage to this method: Better organized notes for reviewing for exams and working on practice problems.
For a summary of how to use the Cornell Method, the Outlining Method, and the T-Method, check out the University of British Columbia: Taking notes
Gain valuable skills
University learning experiences help prepare you for a career and life after university. Many of the skills you develop at university will serve you well in the world once you graduate. Here’s a selection of key skills you’ll need in the real world, that we can help you learn during your university experience.
- Relating well with others
- Responding to concerns
- Motivating people
- Assisting others
- Resolving conflicts
- Being a team player
- Setting and attaining goals
- Meeting deadlines
- Time management
- Public speaking
- Writing and editing
Learning Coaches offer you individualized support, encourage exploration, and promote change in your study practices. Through a one-on-one, strengths-based conversation, Learning Coaches can help you improve your skills in time management, exam preparation, reading textbooks and note-taking.
Learning Coaches are located in the Advising and Involvement Centre (UNC 207) until the end of November for Term 1 and from January to the start of April for Term 2.
Term 2 schedule
A key to success in higher education is to develop new study habits. The StudySmart program has been introduced as a mandatory interactive session for all first-year chemistry students. This cohort was purposely chosen to capture all first-year science students, as chemistry is a foundational requirement for all science students at UBC Okanagan. The goal of StudySmart is to help students understand how to organize themselves, their time, their notes, and their work space to ensure they study smarter, not longer.