Study Skills

Attending university
This may be, for some students, their first experience living away from their family

Attending university is an extremely fertile part of life, in terms of challenges, knowledge and personal growth. It is the transition between high school and a much bigger, more diverse reality.

This transition also requires an adjustment in studying methods, because what might have worked in high school may not guarantee success in university, as the workload is sometimes superior.

In some cases, receiving lower grades than expected may not be directly related with studying method or organisation, but with the separation anxiety felt by the student.

Texts based on workshops organised by Dr. Julia Murta and Dr. Ana Dias at FCT NOVA GAPA/GAVP in 2006 and 2007.

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?- said Alice.
- Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? - said the Cat
- I don't much care where... - said Alice.
- Then it doesn't matter which way you go. - said the o Cat.
- long as I get SOMEWHERE - Alice added as an explanation.
- Oh, you're sure to do that. - said the Cat - if you only walk long enough.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

What are the causes for lack of motivation?

Usually, when a demotivated student is aware of their lack of motivation, some of the below reasons may seem familiar:

  • Lack of vision towards medium to long term goals (finishing the degree, career doubts)
  • Knowing their goals but feeling they are too far out to be reached, on top of short term benefits not being well defined
  • Knowing their goals but not believing in the journey that will lead them to their final destination and even revolting against them
How to improve motivation?

Strategies for dealing with motivational difficulties can range from a deep self-assessment to a simple self-regulation exercise. The goals (and the task of finding/creating relevance) can be thought at different levels:

  • What are my life goals? Is what I am studying relevant to what I am trying to achieve or it is completely unrelated?
  • Degree goals. What am I trying to achieve by doing this degree, and does it provide me with the necessary skills?
  • Academic year/Semester goals
  • Today’s goals
What can impact motivation?

Contemporary psychoanalysis’ approach deals with both conscious and unconscious processes a patient goes through, allowing for both personal growth and self-awareness. This therapy is used as a means towards establishing and improving relationships with others, moving on from unhealthy ones, and overcoming trauma.
With the used methods, patients and therapists develop a strong, mutual and creative bond. During the sessions, the patient is usually lying on a couch out of the therapist’s sight.

  • Value – How important is it to achieve the goal
  • Instrumentality – How the individual finds a connection between the task and the means of successfully achieving the goal
  • Expectation – How the individual believes in his or hers ability to successfully complete the task.
How to maintain motivation on a daily basis?

Both Intrinsic and extrinsic factors can affect an individual’s motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation – Hotivation is reward-driven by outside factors. For example:

  • Self-rewarding can work as motivation. Some students self-reward by doing some they enjoy after a productive afternoon study session (or do not if they did not reach the goal of studying)
  • If a good mark is the result of this study method, the student will most likely use if for the following exam
  • Sometimes, we study to feel validated or loved by someone (i.e. parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, etc.). However, the opposite may happen too: not being able to handle the pressure of what we think is expected may lead to bad results

Motivation can be impacted by extrinsic or intrinsic factors,

Intrinsic Motivation – The motivation factors are internal. For example:

  • Cognitive: An individual studies to learn something that is interesting to him or her
  • Affective: we study to feel good
  • Volitional: we study to achieve our dreams or develop efficiencies
How does motivation vary from person to person?

We can consider 5 motivation factors:

  • The individual is motivated by the reward and to therefore avoid punishment
  • The individual is motivated by the pleasure of performing the task
  • The individual is motivated by the desire of attaining self-determined goals
  • The individual is motivated by molding their behaviour to their self-expectations
  • The individual is motivated by other people’s expectations

The individual is motivated by the pleasure of performing the task.

It’s not only about making choices…

All actions and behaviours have consequences. Doing the same actions over and over will have the same consequent consequences. Some behaviours may have both positive and negative consequences at the same time. For example, skipping class: on one hand it may increase the student’s study load which contributes to anxiety and frustration during exams (negative consequence). On the other hand, it frees up time that allows students to do more enjoyable activities (positive consequence).

Study & Time Management

When an individual faces challenges when studying or taking an exam, it is sometimes associated with intellectuals (not being smart enough), or for not being naturally good at it. These labels are what, in some cases, causes individuals to struggle with mental challenges.

Studies show that academic success tends to relate more with confidence and organization rather than study method or intelligence. Each individual uses their own method and time management (whether it is a conscious or unconscious effort) and some methods work better than others.

Where do I struggle when studying?
  • Affection: Which feelings or emotions (anxiety, sadness, etc.) would you say affect your performance the most?
  • Sensations: Which physical sensations (headaches, muscle pain, etc.) would you say affect your performance the most?
  • Imagery: Which imagery (daydreaming, flashbacks, nightmares, etc.) would you say impact your performance the most?
  • Cognition: Which thoughts (beliefs, values, truths) would you say impact your performance the most?
  • Interpersonal: Which relationships (family, friends, etc.) would you say impact your performance the most?
  • Biologic: Your physical and mental health, as well as any medication or drugs you might be taking, can have an impact on your performance or study time. Feeling euphoria or sleepy can be examples of this. Are you experiencing any symptoms?
Study harder or study smarter?

Usually individuals tend to think the recipe for success is to study harder which tends to mean intense and longer hours. Even if it sometimes work, it might also not always be the case:

  • Self-awareness is important when trying to discover the reasons that led to the lack of commitment
  • Understanding if the used study method is the most suitable for you as an individual – it’s not always about the number of hours you have studied, but about how productive those hours were

It is always good to take a moment to re-evaluate and adjust your study method if necessary. Our realities change and what might have brought good results in the past may no longer have a positive impact on our study performance. If you come to the conclusion that you need new study habits we suggest that you try to find alternative and more efficient ways of doing so.

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