Tips for successful studies

We have summarised some points for you below to help you successfully master your studies.

Learning for a degree is very different from learning at school. You have to absorb larger amounts of subject matter and this often requires a different learning strategy. On the one hand, you should think about the amount of time it takes to learn and how learning is integrated into your everyday life. On the other hand, conscious planning of what you have to learn (What? … can I learn how? … with whom?) is important for your studies.

It can take up to one or two semesters until you have found your own learning rhythm and techniques that work for you and for the topics of your particular subject. You have to try out what suits your own personal situation best: How do I prepare the knowledge in a way that I can grasp it easily? How can I practice applying my knowledge to exam papers? How does passive knowledge (“I know that”) become actively accessible knowledge (“This is what I CAN”)? When can I concentrate well (time of day, days of the week)? Where can I learn well (at home, in the library, …)? Does communicating with fellow students help me?

It is important that you consciously organise your learning times and if necessary even make regular fixtures in your calendar. You need periods of time to prepare and follow up on the subject matter. You have to try a few different ways to develop your OWN learning style.

If there are difficulties in understanding the subject matter, you may be able to get to the bottom of things together with fellow students, or you could ask tutors or lecturers if they can recommend further literature or exercises for the specific topics. They will be happy to help you. There are also many other explanations and tutorials for specific questions in specialist journals, books and also online that can provide new, useful information and also help you access a topic.

It is also just as important to plan leisure time in which you can relax and recharge your batteries. Relaxation can already be part of your learning phase – as long as the exam pressure is not too great, relaxation can and should be practised just like anything else. For example, breathing techniques can also be very useful for you in an ’emergency’ (evening before the exam).

The Rhine-Waal and Niederrhein Universities offer regular events focusing on “learning”. Attending these can only be of help and show you new ways of coping.

The learning workload when studying is greater than at school and it is assumed that students will be able to work independently on the subject matter dealt with at the university. This means that students can feel overwhelmed and even develop exam nerves.

If you feel overtaxed, it often helps to take another look at everything and get everything into perspective. You should realistically define the material that you have to learn and see how much time you have until the exam as well as working out which steps are necessary (e.g. gathering relevant information, reading, copying, establishing links, applying to tasks, etc.). Fixed milestones help you plan learning phases over a prolonged period of time.

Exam nerves often crop up when you are studying. The situation becomes critical when you can’t remember what you have learned when you are actually in an exam, or even fail to learn at all if you suffer from extreme anxiety. In this case it is often helpful to prepare yourself well for the exam situation, to simulate the exam situation with real exam assignments, to get feedback at the post-exam review, to practice relaxation techniques if you have a complete black-out and to get support, if necessary also professional help. Consultations on topics such as examination nerves, relaxation techniques and self doubts are offered by the psychological/psychosocial counselling centres of the universities.

On the website of the University of Bielefeld (only in German available) you can download a guide to dealing with exam anxiety which also includes a checklist.

Long-term planning is essential to ensure the success of your studies. This starts with a sensible sequence of modules right up to knowing when you have to take which examination. If you make sure you have a schedule, you can’t simply forget an exam. You can easily note these dates and the registration deadlines for seminars, exams and re-registration in your personal calendar.
In this respect you can get help from the Student Pathway Advice staff at the universities, both at the beginning of your studies as well as when you have already slipped behind and you need to retake exams or reassess your situation and reorganise yourself. Why don’t you make an appointment?

If financial worries are dragging you down every day, you should deal with them actively. If you can’t manage this on your own, then make sure you look for support before the situation becomes even more serious.

Many students can apply for financial support provided by the state BAföG system, the German student grants scheme. On top of this, study-related part-time jobs or working student contracts can boost your income. Perhaps a student loan or a scholarship is also an option for you to finance your studies? The scholarship options in particular offer more opportunities than just ‘elite funding’ and the applications from students from universities of applied sciences stand a good chance of success. Just find out what’s possible. Comprehensive advice is offered to you in this respect by the Student Union Düsseldorf and the universities!

A familiar problem! Putting things off, especially when they’re unpleasant. This often the case with internships, difficult exams and repeat exams. However, this should not become a habit, as a backlog of exams naturally stops you graduating within the standard time to degree.

It is often possible to get a good grip on “postponeitis” with various techniques for work organisation, motivation and dealing with self-doubt. As some people tend to suffer from postponeitis throughout their lives and it demonstrably prevents them from attaining their individual peak performance, it is worth taking a closer look at this phenomenon. The psychological/psychosocial counselling centres of the universities offer advice and workshops to help overcome the problem. You can also visit the website of the “Procrastination Clinic” of the University of Münster (only in German available) and take a look around.

Especially at the beginning of your studies you may feel uncomfortable in this new world. The (new) living conditions, homesickness or personal starting difficulties can put a strain on you and make it difficult to settle in. You should not be too embarrassed to look for support. Many of your fellow students may feel the same, and simply by getting in touch you can already make new contacts in your new surroundings. Getting involved in extra-curricular or leisure activities either at or outside the university is also a good idea and helps you meet up with others (e.g. joining the student council or sports club at the university). The psychological/psychosocial counselling centres of the universities are available for advice on these questions (e.g. loneliness; insecurities in dealing with fellow students, in partnerships or family).

Students who are the first to study in their families may face different questions than students whose parents are already familiar with the world of higher education. Parents and other relatives may not always be able to understand or comprehend what everyday student life is like and what hurdles and problems there are. The right contact for such problems is (only in German available). This network of volunteers throughout Germany supports students who are the first in the family to study with their own experience and offer free advice. Of course, in this case, too, the Student Pathway Advice counsellors of the universities are also at your side to help.

Another possibility is that the degree programme, the university or the city just doesn’t suit you. If you would consider a change of degree programme or university, then further information is available here.

Sometimes you just run out of stamina. If this is a short-term effect, for example after a difficult examination phase, a break and gaining some distance might help you. One option would be to reward yourself after mastering the next task with something pleasant such as a coffee with good friends or a movie night.

However, you can avoid falling into a motivational hole: In stressful everyday student life it sometimes helps to take an ‘inner step back’ and to look at your studies from a more general viewpoint. What’s going well? How do I make things work? What is less positive? How can I adapt my behaviour so everything runs more smoothly again? What happens when I have successfully completed my studies? After some self-reflection it often helps to think about concrete changes and to implement them step by step. Realistic goals and milestones which you can gradually work through also help with difficult learning topics. You can also find support with this self-reflection and planning of your studies at the Student Pathway Advice in your faculty.

A lack of motivation often indicates that the goal is unclear or simply no longer attractive. If you have been feeling deflated for some time, you should reflect on your own situation and, if necessary, your choice of subject. Conversations with friends, family, fellow students or study counselling can help you to remind yourself of your goal. If you still suffer from recurring doubts about your studies, you will be faced with the serious question of whether your studies are really the right thing for you and whether the career goal they are aimed at is actually (still) something you want to achieve. A minor or major change of plan can give you a new boost of energy.

We would be happy to support you with a personal coaching session as part of the “NEXT STEP niederrhein” project. A first step can also be our “support for self-reflection in the event of study doubts”.

In the event of family and health-related problems, the psychological/psychosocial counselling centres of the universities  can help you.

In addition, you can contact the Student Pathway Advice service to see if and how you can adapt your studies to compensate for your illness or family situation.

The Student Union Düsseldorf offers social counselling (also locally in Kleve and Krefeld). Here you can discuss personal and social statutory issues as well as the compatibility of your studies with a disability / chronic illness or family responsibilities.