Mar 4th, 2021

🐣 One Semester In, Five To Go

When I was about to start studying last fall, I wasn't sure what to expect. Around four months and four exams later, I think I have created a routine that's working out for me. My first semester is almost over, and it went by faster than I anticipated.

Naturally, in a pandemic, nothing is going the usual way. Studying at a university transformed too, of course. Every aspect of presence and connections to other people was replaced by pre-recorded lectures, webinars, tutorial meetings with breakout rooms, you name it.

And still, I feel like the atmosphere was generally positive, the faculty really put in efforts to make the experience as pleasant as possible, and that most parts of studying continued to work. Surely there might be exceptions for other people or different programs, but as far as I'm concerned, things worked out quite well in the end.

At that point, it also makes sense to point out that I might have a different set of expectations of how I want my "student life" to look like, as I'm actively working at GraphCMS and also pursuing this blog among other side projects and interest, so I think about it differently. Throughout the semester, I often spent only as much time as necessary.

For most parts, this worked fine, although I saw that some subjects (especially those more focused on applying what you learned and going through exercises) benefit from putting in time spent on exercises upfront, instead of having to catch up on those with an impending deadline.

📂 Distinguishing Subject Types

I saw that most subjects can be attributed in one of two types: Subjects that focus heavily on exercising and training procedures and different tasks (maths, management science, microeconomics) and others that go deep in terms of content but are rarely trained (ethics, entrepreneurship).

It should not take more than one or two lectures to know which category your subject will belong into, but it should shape how you learn for it, considering the exams. While I attended all lectures, some subjects could be checked off after this, while others would take the same amount of time if not longer to work through with exercises (looking at you, maths).

When you're preparing for the exams, it's also helpful to know whether it's open book, where you're allowed to make use of your notes, or a closed book exam, where that is not the case. If your subject is on the note-heavy side and you can use those notes, it usually makes sense to put effort into making them searchable and being able to navigate them under time pressure. But if you get this right, there's not much you need to learn by heart.

On the other hand, if you're expected to perform certain procedures and calculations, you better start training those early. This is something I wish I'd have followed earlier, instead of the lectures it would have helped me much more to focus

Luckily I had the opportunity to collaborate with other students, which forced me to do some of the exercises at least. But if you, unlike me, want to reach some specific grade, only practice will do.

📝 Taking Notes

In the communities focused on productivity, taking notes and summarizing is sometimes considered controversial. I found that taking down notes in the format of questions or descriptive names with a quick summary on the side helped a lot to think through a point instead of just writing it down.

Especially if you're working with digital notes, it can be tempting to just take screenshots and copy-paste text instead of writing it yourself, but trust me, you won't remember a thing ten minutes later.

Sometimes I felt like writing the notes with an actual pen made me focus more on the content, but then again it depends on if you've got the means to writing digital notes with a pen and making them searchable.

The most important aspect of your notes will be that they help you understand a topic, even if you haven't looked at it for a while, and as mentioned previously they should be searchable. This helps to quickly look up your content based on keywords you find in tasks or other contexts. Having notes but not being able to search through them would be counterintuitive in today's world.

😌 Staying Organized

Usually, it doesn't take much time to know when your exams take place, how they're structured, what tools you can use, but also to stay on top of regular topics like when specific sessions take place, or what requirements your study program put in place.

Making sure you have some basic overview for those things is really important, who else would do this for you? Maybe it's the lack of experience, but I've seen a lot of cases where people would ask questions that could be resolved by less than a minute of searching or at least reading through the most fundamental documents you're presented with.

Don't be lazy when it comes to this, and you've saved yourself a huge deal of stress and trouble.

👯 Meet People

This might be the most important aspect of studying. More than the content you're learning, you've got the unique opportunity to meet people your age, and if you're lucky, with the same interests.

While everything got slightly harder with the pandemic, you might still be offered tutorial courses or get-together sessions where you get randomly assigned to small groups to work on exercises. Take part. If you've got a bit of luck, you'll find amazing people. And if everything works well, you can continue working together on other subjects, learning for exams, the whole deal.

Depending on your personality you might not have any difficulties in engaging with people you haven't met before, but maybe it's not that easy. No matter your situation, you'll get more out of it if you actively engage with people and search for contacts.

Of course, there's no guarantee in finding people you're aligned with, but it should be likely, considering that you decided to enroll in this specific program, so why shouldn't there be like-minded folks? And you can take my word, even the business administration crowd has those.

🙌 Don't Stress Out

Everything's different at the moment. Apart from your friends, there might not be many people who lived through a similar situation in terms of studying, so no one will have answers to what the best way of doing this is.

I imagine that most people from school still think in the same way school taught them and academia will continue: Good grades are everything, failing isn't an option, and so on. I guess in some cases you could think it's true, but really, I think you should relax a bit.

University (and I believe other similar environments) is very different in how you select courses you want to study and exams you want to take part in.

If you're not bound to GOPs you will have multiple opportunities to retake exams that didn't work out, and you could even build a strategy of getting some more time for your first exams and then taking the retake exam of another subject that's scheduled for later on.

You really have to think about what your priorities are, and if you set the goal of getting A's in every exam, that's your decision and perfectly fine. But if you have to work on the side to finance your studies and passing is all you want, that's also fine.

Everyone is in a completely different situation, might have a different set of skills and expectations, and cannot be compared that easily. So take your time, perform on your terms, and enjoy the time.

If you chose to study and got admitted, you should be confident that you will be able to pass. And if you find out over time that this study program is not what you expected, there's no harm in trying out something else. After all, if you didn't have time do to this before, you might still need to find what suits you.


That's it for the moment, I'm looking forward to the next semester! And I've got some pretty exciting topics in the pipeline, so be sure to follow me on Twitter to know what's next.

Bruno Scheufler

Software Engineering, Management

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