Oct 11, 2023

4 tricks for academic success

Many of us want to be successful, and it starts with the tools we develop. Here are 4 tricks Kwasi used to find balance as a university student!

When I completed my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology at McMaster University, I did 4 things. I played varsity basketball, I kept my grades at honour roll level every year, I volunteered a lot, and I had fun. When I got my masters degree in Public Policy & Administration at Toronto Metropolitan University, I did the same thing (minus the basketball). The point is, I want to share 4 tricks that may help you find balance and success in your life - especially as a student.

Give yourself flexible deadlines

Everyone talks about the importance of using things like calendars and planners. I am one of those people. However, I want to add one adjustment that made a difference in my life. I would give myself deadlines that have grace periods.

For example, if I had an assignment due 3 weeks from now, I would give myself 2 weeks to do it. This would put me in two positions 2 weeks later:

  1. I completed an assignment 1 week early with a whole week to review it.
  2. I would be practically done my assignment with a whole week to complete it.

Life can be extremely busy, so I found giving myself flexible deadlines gave me the combination of grace and structure I needed to succeed.

Give yourself time to have fun

Moderation is important, but having time to unwind can be just as essential. There are times when you need to sit down and do the work for hours (or weeks). There are also moments where you need to remind yourself that you’ll only be this young once. The work will always be there.

Learn to understand, not to memorize.

For many classes, we can get away with memorizing information without understanding it. When we do this, we have to try harder to retain it. But when we focus on understanding, it’s easier to remember all the information you need. Take my course in Musculoskeletal Anatomy for example.

In that class I took more than 5 years ago, I had to remember every bone, muscle, ligament, and tendon in the body, and what they did. For context, there are roughly 206 bones in the body, that support hundreds of movements and actions throughout it.

That’s a lot right?

That’s why my professor taught us to focus on understanding systems instead of memorizing them. When we can focus on the story our information is trying to tell us instead of regurgitating it, we can prepare our minds to handle a lot more over time. It’s why I still remember that our muscles are the shock absorbers that help us brace for force just as much as they generate it.

This approach rooted in understanding was useful in my masters too. I had to focus on demonstrating a critical understanding of policy issues, instead of surface-level recollection for example.

Create a system that works for you

This might be the most important item on this list. Throughout my 6 years in university, I tried all kinds of study habits. I was the person who would rewrite their notes after class. Then I was the person who took no notes, but was extra attentive in lecture. I was even the person who used OneNote and tried to be the one who shared notes with others.

In this process of trying different study styles, something amazing happened.

As I found the study style that worked, I was putting in less effort to get better grades. For me, it was using OneNote to write over lectures, and applying the flexible deadlines I mentioned earlier in the blog. At the root, it all comes down to what feels most natural to you. Try not to worry about what study style looks the best or what others will think.

Overtime, you’ll start to know just what you need to succeed. And that starts with grace, trying new things, reflecting, and having fun along the way.

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