Excellent study advice from Oxford University

  1. This was on Quora and is great advice for nursing students, too.

    What are the study habits of top students at Oxford University?

    Benjamin McEvoy, studied at University of Oxford

    Study Habit #1 - Go to your lectures.
    For the first 2 years of Oxford, I went to maybe 4 lectures out of hundreds available.
    I was arrogant, foolish, lazy, and severely disadvantaging myself.
    In my third year, I went to almost every single lecture available. Including those involving topics I was not personally involved or interested it.
    So I’ve seen things from both sides: not going to lectures and going to all lectures.
    When I didn’t go to lectures, I thought I was winning.
    I had all this spare time in my schedule to drink, socialise, go on trips, sleep in, and mope around. Who wanted to be stuffed inside a dusty lecture hall learning stuff I could just read about myself?
    But BOY did my mind change when I actually went to lectures.
    Firstly, lectures are FUN!
    Sure, some of them suck. But I found so many gems that influenced my thinking. I found so many passionate, knowledgeable speakers who got me excited about the topic.
    Second, I remembered more stuff!
    An hour in the lecture hall has massive returns on investment.
    If you fill up your schedule with lectures, you can really cut down on your actual solo study time because most of your studying will simply be reviewing your lecture notes.
    Study Habit #2: Be an active student.
    For my first year at Oxford, I barely said anything in tutorials.
    We’d have 2–3 tutorials a week, each ranging from 1–3 hours. Some would feel informal with comfy chairs and herbal teas, sitting and chatting with a few friends. Others would feel more like we were being grilled for facts.
    In both types, I was pretty quiet.
    I was shy, introverted, and devastatingly worried that everyone would think I was stupid.
    Quick Fact: Everyone in Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, etc, has felt supremely insecure about their intelligence at some point.
    I didn’t volunteer in discussions and, as a result, I didn’t understand much.
    My understandings of different texts never matured or became complex. They stayed the same. And they were often wrong.
    Then, somewhere in the middle of my second year, I got over myself, stopped giving a damn, and offered more of my own opinions.
    I responded to others, asked thoughtful questions, and interacted way more.
    Top Tip: ALWAYS ask if you don’t understand something. 9 times out of 10, people will NOT think you’re stupid. Most of the time, others also don’t understand the thing you’re struggling with and will be happy you asked.
    I went from being a passive learner and having everything go over my head to being an active learner and having tons more information sink in.
    In tutorials, I took notes. After tutorials, I reviewed those notes. I rewrote them. I explained new concepts to my friends in other subject areas. And I felt smarter. I went from floundering and failing to thriving and suddenly getting firsts on my essays.
    Being an active student also means asking for help. The smartest people in the world learned everything from other smart people.
    So:

    • Visit your tutor during office hours and ask for their help.
    • Ask your peers to help explain stuff to you.
    • Ask your peers in the years above you for advice (they are a great resource).
    • Get a mentor if you can. I had a PhD student mentor me once a week over coffee in my final year. It was the best thing that happened to my studies.

    Study Habit #3: Establish a perfect study environment.
    My perfect study environment is not your perfect study environment.
    This is a very personal place and it needs to be somewhere you instantly click into study mode.
    It might be your dorm room. It wasn’t for me though. That’s where I did my drinking and socialising a lot of the time. I associated my room with down-time so I always got distracted when studying.
    It might be your library. My library was hit or miss. It was pretty small and a lot of people went there to socialise. It was also directly above the common area with arcade game machines and snack machines. Easy distractions.
    It might be your local coffee shop. Again, hit and miss for me. On a quiet day, this was perfect. During peak times? Forget it.
    My perfect study environment was actually the Oxford English Faculty building. This is where all my lectures were. PhD students studied there so there was a serious vibe. No one socialised in the library. It was totally silent.
    It was perfect. I got so much done there. I used to fill up my schedule with lectures and during the breaks, I’d hit the faculty library and study.

    I wrote my 6000-word dissertations on Conrad and the Beat Generation on that long desk, bottom floor, right side of the picture.
    Study Habit #4: Study in small chunks.
    All those students studying and cramming for hours on end have got it wrong.
    Remember this one adage because it will be a huge help to your learning career and your life in general:
    Input is crap. Retention is king.
    It doesn’t matter how much new information you stuff into your head - even if you comprehend it - if you forget it the next day or cannot apply it.
    When you structure your studying, the most important task is always to ensure you are remembering the information you have already learned. That always comes first.
    New information can wait until you’ve giving due attention and care to the recently learned information.
    Put it this way, we’ll take an example from language learning.
    Let’s say you study the core 1,000 most commonly used words in Japanese. You study damn hard, stuffing those words into your head over hours and hours with few if any breaks.
    Then you go to Tokyo and you can only barely remember ‘konnichiwa’. Was that time well spent? Was that effective studying?
    On the other hand, what if you studying the 250 most commonly used words in Japanese. You don’t study for hours in a row. You break up your studying into bite-sized chunks.
    You study for maybe 20 minutes, then you take a 5 minute break. Then you do another round of 20 minutes, take another 5 minute break, and then do another 20 minutes.
    Then you go do other stuff for the rest of the day. Before bed, you spend 5 minutes going over what you learned. You have a nice sleep and when you wake up, you spend another 5 minutes first thing in the morning revising what you looked at the night before. During the day, you do those 20 minute on/5 minute off blocks again.
    You do this over the course of a week. Then you go to Tokyo and you can introduce yourself, ask directions, order coffee, order food, and even make a few friends because you can remember and use 150 of the 250 words you used.
    Which scenario is better?
    The second one is better. We intuitively know that retention is the most important thing. But because the first scenario looks more like hard work (think sweating and furrowing your brow), most people gravitate to that type of study and shy away from the second because it looks “lazy”.
    The good news here is that the lazy, easier looking way of studying is way more effective because it ensures you actually retain what you learn.
    It does this by taking advantage of a principle known as the primacy and regency effect.

    The primacy and regency effect basically says that the information you remember most is the information you saw first (primacy) and the information you saw most recently (regency).
    We always forget the stuff in the middle.
    This concept holds true in all walks of live.
    In the movies, the beginning and the ending typically have the biggest impact (or, at least, filmmakers should make sure that this is the case if they want to affect the audience).
    In job interviews or university interviews, the first candidate and the last candidate are the most memorable (ask recruiters or interviewing tutors).
    In order to improve your retention and absorb more information, you need to set up your studying so that primacy and regency are emphasised.
    That means breaking your studying up into manageable blocks (not studying new information for hours on end) and reviewing what you’ve previously learned in each new block.
    If you thought studying meant cramming your head with new information until you burst, you are about to embark on a very different approach to studying - one that emphasises revising the same information.
    Let’s see what this looks like in a study schedule. We’ll take a day when you’re studying one subject for 5 hours and we’ll break that down into chunks of studying time optimised for primacy and regency.
    Study Chunk 1
    - 5 minutes = reviewing material learned on previous day/study session
    - 45 minutes = learning new material
    - 5 minutes = reviewing new material
    - 5 minutes = break time! Go for a little walk, get a snack/drink, stretch.
    Study Chunk 2
    - 5 = reviewing material from first study chunk
    - 45 minutes = learning new material
    - 5 minutes - reviewing new material
    - 5 minutes = break time! Go for a little walk, get a snack/drink, stretch.
    Study Chunk 3
    - 5 = reviewing material from second study chunk
    - 45 minutes = learning new material
    - 5 minutes - reviewing new material
    - 5 minutes = break time! Go for a little walk, get a snack/drink, stretch.
    BIG BREAK - 30-60 minutes to eat lunch, hit the gym/exercise, chat to a friend, read a book/watch a video
    Study Chunk 4
    - 5 = reviewing material from third study chunk
    - 45 minutes = learning new material
    - 5 minutes - reviewing new material
    - 5 minutes = break time! Go for a little walk, get a snack/drink, stretch.
    Study Chunk 5
    - 40 minutes = review everything from all the study chunks you did today
    You can optimise your studying based on your own life.
    You might need fewer chunks or more chunks. You might have to make the chunks smaller. But keep the principle the same.
    You want to maximise reviewing.
    You want lots of opportunities for primacy (remembering the first thing you learned) and regency (remembering the latest thing you learned).
    Those are the 4 most important and prevalent study habits of top Oxford students (in my opinion).
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