University Mistakes #9: Forgetting to Study Smarter

This 10 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in University blog series is for any students who are still in school, or about to attend university, so that you can make the best out of your academic career!

Thank you to the dozens of people from around the world who have anonymously shared their biggest regrets in hindsight and what they thought were the biggest mistakes that people make in university. Originally, I wanted to share all 10 at once, but I received so many great responses that I wanted to do a deeper dive on each of the Top 10 mistakes. Check out University Mistake #8 if you haven’t read it yet!

I should have tried to actively work on my study habits and attend classes instead of just taking the easy way out by copying assignments and winging tests.


Throughout our academic careers, we have always relied on a grading system to measure our intelligence and ability to succeed in the world. It is important to remember that your GPA should not be prioritized over experience. However, until our academic institutions implement a different system, let’s look into how you can be a more effective student that can study smarter, not harder, so that you can make the time to explore all of the other wonderful parts of the university experience (e.g. studying abroad, internships, networking). You should also make the most out of your tuition by taking the time to really learn and understand the concepts.

A lot of time and stress can be alleviated by simply asking your professors to help. You’ve already paid them, so take advantage of this. Don’t just memorize the content, actually learn the content. When you “know” the material, it will come more naturally than trying to memorize it.


What Can You Do?

Ask for help when you need it and leverage your professors as fantastic resources for your success. Attend their office hours and tutorial sessions to go through challenging concepts and gather additional tips and resources. You should also avoid skipping classes or asking others to take notes for you. You can enhance your memory by handwriting your notes and highlighting important concepts that your instructors call out or noting down areas that you don’t understand to follow up on afterwards. (Fun Fact: In one of my classes, I spent half my semester typing my notes and the other half hand-writing my notes. I actually found that I performed better on my exams when I hand-wrote my notes in class).

It is also important to create a balanced course load that prevents you from becoming overwhelmed during exam season. For example, if you are taking 4-5 courses a semester, try to choose 1-2 electives that are not as demanding as your course courses. However, there are some rigorous programs out there that require that you take intense course loads to graduate “on time“. In this case, you could look into spreading out your course load (taking 1-2 fewer courses in the fall/winter and making up for these in spring/summer semester).

Some other tips for creating a class schedule that allows you to study smarter:

  • Plan for breaks in between your classes so that you can catch up and prepare for your next class. This is helpful for the really busy times of the semester.
  • Try to take day(s) off (e.g. choosing classes only on MWF, so that you can have TuTh off). This is great for setting up “study days” that allow you to solely focus on completing your homework and assignments.
  • Attend your tutorials/labs to keep yourself accountable for getting your coursework done. If you insist on skipping these, then make use of this time by completing your assigned working during these time blocks that are already in your schedule.

What Did I Do?

In addition to the tips mentioned above, I made sure to thoroughly research courses and professors before enrolment. As someone who disliked exams, I chose courses that were more assignment and project based. I also made sure to choose professors who had higher ratings because I saw no value in paying tuition towards someone that would make my experience miserable. I would rather take a “harder” course with a great professor who motivated me to put in the extra effort to learn than an “easier” course with a bad professor who wouldn’t teach me anything.

Surprisingly, I found that gaining practical experience through my internships helped me understand some concepts better. Instead of reading theories from a textbook, I was able to reflect on my own experiences and associate them with many topics such as leadership, organizational behaviour, negotiations, business technology management, and more. It was much easier to naturally recall topics and concepts because I wasn’t forcing myself to memorize abstract ideas. Other ways to enhance your understanding would be to tutor or teach your friends, but make sure to avoid getting distracted!

I would also start studying for my exams at least 1 month in advance. At the beginning of the semester, I would go through my course outlines to see when midterm dates were and then plan backwards on which topics I would need to review. When it came down to my study methods, I would rewrite all of my notes for each topic, create flashcards, and complete as many practice questions as possible. For the final exam, I would do the same thing all over again. For the concepts that I struggled with, I referred to my good friends, Google & Youtube, and asked for help when I needed it. I can say with confidence that I wouldn’t have succeeded in many of my classes without the tutoring and resources that my peers and professors shared with me #thankyou!

Feel free to check out my Time Management presentation for my top tips and techniques on how to balance your academics with work, extracurriculars, relationships, and social life!

The least you need to know

  1. Ask for help when you need it and take advantage of the many study resources available
  2. Enhance your understanding of concepts through practical experience
  3. Time management is key to effectively balancing your classes and other commitments

Stay tuned for the final University Mistake #10 and remember to subscribe for my top 3 career resources each month!