Studying at university is a whole different ball game to A levels, and Cambridge is certainly no exception to the rule.
Even with the extra support from supervisions, there is still significantly more independent study and self-motivation required. So, here’s a few tips to help you hit the ground running:
1. Manage your time efficiently
You’ve probably got your lecture timetable stored in your Google calendar, but time management is about a lot more than just turning up to class on time. Make sure to schedule in study hours to get your supervision work done, as well as some well-deserved breaks such as a sport or film night. Think about what you need to prioritise (e.g. essays and assignments which count towards your final grades) and try and avoid committing to too many extracurriculars/ committee positions. However, bear in mind that plans are apt to change and so add in flexibility into your schedule too!
2. Figure out where you study best
Some students love the silence of the college or department library, whereas others study much better in a more relaxed coffee shop environment. However, it is generally acknowledged that trying to study in your room is a bad idea – not only will you be more easily distracted (that bed looks soooo comfy…) but mixing up your work and rest spaces also makes it harder to properly relax as you can never escape your studies.
3. Get up early!
Ok, not everyone can make those crazily early rowing sessions, but do try to get up before 9am every day, even if you don’t have a lecture that morning (yes, this includes weekends). Early risers can fit in an extra hour or so of studying before breakfast and get their supervision work completed before dinner time – giving you the evening to relax. You may also find that going for a run or visiting the gym before starting your studies is not only good for your health but also helps you concentrate more. Additionally, maintaining a regular sleep schedule throughout the week ensures you are always prepared to get up on time for those early morning commitments.
4. Chat up your supervisors/ lecturers/ lab technicians
Ok, don’t take this suggestion too far – but having a good relationship with those who set and mark your work is only going to help your grades. Supervisors may give you a bit more time and feedback, lecturers can give a few insightful exam hints, and for science students lab technicians submit feedback which directly affects your practical marks.
5. Do the recommended reading *in advance*
You remember that crazily long reading list your DoS emailed you over the summer? Yes, that one. Well, he may have been a bit overoptimistic with how much you can read before the start of term, but at least make a start on the main texts. Try and find some alternative reading materials of your own too – this can give you a different viewpoint on the topic to bring up in your essays.If there really is too much reading to do, share the workload with a friend and then share the main points with each other in a group study session.
For science students, reading the lecture notes ahead of lectures is essential if you want good grades – it allows your brain to focus on the extra information the lecturer adds in class, rather than sitting there struggling to grasp the underlying concepts. You can also go through the lecture content more slowly in your own time and look up anything you’re stuck on in advance, which will help your comprehension of the lecture material.
6. Join your subject society
Pretty much every subject has a subject society at both a university and college level. These are great opportunities to attend talks from top professors, network with potential employers, and discuss your studies with classmates. Some subject societies will provide talks expanding on lecture content, advising you on module options or giving subject-specific study tips.
7. Figure out what you actually need to know for the exams *before* Easter term
Be that keen bean who downloads the past papers over Christmas – because familiarising yourself with the exam layout and questions will help you understand what you need to focus on in lectures/ supervisions. Do you need to memorise all the examples and facts from the lectures, or are the questions more about applying your knowledge? Does the examiner want you to quote specific sources in your essays? How long do you have in the exam to write each essay? Ask your supervisors or lecturers to look at your essays and give specific feedback on how they would be marked in an exam.
8. But still remember that Cambridge is not just about passing exams
If you discover a new passion, don’t be afraid to ‘waste’ time exploring it further – if it’s a specific area of your subject your enthusiasm will come through in the exam, and even if it’s totally unrelated university is not just about getting the best exam results. Employers love students who have done things outside of the standard degree syllabus – so make the most of all the opportunities Cambridge offers you, whether that is acting, volunteering or rowing. Remember that escaping the library every now and then can give you fresh eyes on your subject as well as well-earned break!
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