University is the first taste of true freedom for many students. Moving away from home to emerge into the wonders of adulthood, like doing your own laundry and cooking your own meals – splendid! Fresher’s week, piles of assignments, long lectures, social events already begin to fill your jam-packed days. Social life seems like the most important thing as you divulge into a new city with unfamiliar sites, foods, and faces. But how many hours should be devoted to academia?
Balancing all the aspects of university is hugely important to achieve academic success. Time management is an aspect I wish I were better especially around exam time and hand in dates. After my years studying, I feel I have found the winning formula to master that balance of university experience while still gaining academic success.
Courses with lots of contact hours such as medicine, dentistry and some science subjects require more timetabled learning. However, courses such as English, history and other humanities subjects require more independent study. Generally, across the board, most universities in the UK accept 30-35 hours per week (including contact time) for first year undergraduate students. This equates to around 4-5 hours per day. As you progress, you should expect to study full time, which is a minimum of 40 hours per week, meaning around 6 hours per day.
There are many factors which determine the amount of time contributing towards independent study. Students must be able to fit in other aspects of life amongst academia. This article aims to give an idea as to what should be taken into consideration when thinking about independent study time and how many hours students really should be doing.
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What Does Independent Study Entail?
Independent study does not mean cramming in notes the night before your exam. There are various techniques out there to try, such as talking though your course with your peers. For some students verbal learning is the most effective method of absorbing information sometimes just discussing your lectures or reading flashcards out loud can be the most useful approach. Working with a tutor, reading and note taking from textbooks, planning, and reviewing assignments, and working with peers on projects also falls under the term ‘independent study’. You can find more information by reading this study guide, Independent learning: advice from students. Developing your own study style early on in your course is worth considering as reading for hours or copying notes may work for some people, but a less efficient method for others.
Getting Started: First Year Students
The first factor which is considerably important in discussing the appropriate amount of time subjected to independent study is the specific year at university the student is in. The first year can be highly daunting as settling into a new place, foreign to your own home can be a scary a step to take. First year students are likely to place high importance on establishing a social life to build friendships and study peers throughout the next few years. These relationships may help to relieve the pushing pressures of university life and study demands.
Meeting new people, adapting to audiences, immersing in new cultures can aid a form of personal growth alongside the academic growth. Young blooms of friendship from university, are commonly seen to develop and grow throughout adulthood forming long lasting relationships. Social activities are likely to take time away from independent study as students are getting to grips with their new lifestyles. Therefore, in the first year of university, independent study may not be utilised to its full potential due to other responsibilities and priorities. Here is a Think Student article talking about the step up from college to university and how independent study hours differs.
Settling into a new town, city and country is arguably more challenging for international students due to culture shocks in food, people, and just daily activities in general. Instantly their new lifestyles could be a daunting change as new routines can feel alien without a sense of familiarity. In this circumstance, independent study may be downsized, and rightfully so, as settling in efficiently can create a secure foundation for the rest of their university lives. Exploring the new countries and cities and testing out unfamiliar foreign aspects of a country are viably just as useful as academic study. Gaining experience first-hand can broaden wider knowledge of the world. Sometimes experience is more advantageous than just study, although this does not mean that less than the recommended time of study should be done.
Moreover, high pressure is placed on international students to maintain a high-grade standard. This pressure may lead to stress over academic success and social isolation. To overcome this, students should plan around their study time and fit in their 4-5 hours early on in the day so they can relax later on. Therefore, international students may be subjected to a downsized portion of study time initially, but this can be avoided if their days are planned accordingly.
Heavy emphasis on solely academic activities may become overwhelming and cause students to burn out. Daily activities such as playing sports or joining social clubs provides a distraction and is an effective way to develop transferrable skills like communication and teamwork. This can aid your future career as the learnt skills in your younger life could prove useful in your adult life. Transferrable skills are a vital asset employer look out for when you apply for a job. They can promote your career success and increase your chances over competitors. Real life experiences are seen to have a significant impact on career prospects and personal growth; therefore, students must learn to take part in extracurricular activities as well as academic activity.
Here are some reasons why transferrable skills are of importance in your career:
- Once you learnt them, they are yours forever – these skills will stick with you throughout your career and can be used in a plethora of situations. You never forget them.
- They make you adaptable – although a sufficient and high standard of academic skill and knowledge will help your future career prospects, employers are always looking for people with a diverse and varied skill set, so their employees can respond to multiple situations and have a range of abilities.
- They reflect your life experience – many employers find it particularly useful that their candidates have experience as well as good results. Leaning in a classroom can be very theoretical, however in real life you will have to learn how to adapt to different settings and people. Transferrable skills can be learnt through your daily activities, whether it be voluntary services or playing football for your local club – employers deem these hobbies to be very valuable.
Mental Health and Time Management
According to research conducted at mind.org.uk 1 in 5 students have a diagnosed mental health problem. University as a full-time job can be very overwhelming when the stress of constant deadlines is chasing you like a lion for its prey. Student stress is a prominent concept which is likely to follow you throughout your courses. If stress is not managed it can lead to further mental health complications such as depression and anxiety. Looking after your mental health is fundamental to ensure a healthy happy lifestyle. Therefore, it is important that students organise their time according to their needs and their own lifestyles. Creating a study timetable catered to these considerations can be a great start towards organising your time to fit in independent study.
Although at times university can be overwhelming, there are various strategies to help organisation and time management surrounding your study. Here is my personal favourite and a student recommended technique:
The pomodoro technique. This involves breaking up time periods into small sections. The standard method is to study for 25 minutes then take a 5-minute break in-between to rethink and refresh. Every 4 sets of 25 minutes, you can increase your break time.
This technique ensures maximum absorption of information. It allows you to manage your time and achieve your study goals in a realistic way, as you can grab a snack or check your phone in your breaks, rather than interrupting your study time to grab a peek of your Instagram feed. It also forms a sense of discipline and routine, as you develop a strict habit of only working during those 25 minutes and avoiding all distractions to do so. If you use this technique 10 – 12 times per day in 25-minute intervals, you can complete your 4-5 hours of study time. If this is too frequent, you can upgrade your study time intervals to around 45 minutes. Follow this useful link to learn about time management techniques which will ensure a well-handled university life.
Prioritisation of Study
Prioritisation is important when trying to sort out your independent study time. One way of prioritising your tasks is to look at your strengths and weaknesses. If you struggle with a specific area of your course for example, essay writing, then you should place higher importance on improving those skills, rather than something you already excel in which requires less effort.
Another prioritisation technique is to use a Priority Matrix to arrange tasks into categories of importance such as: Urgent, important but not urgent, not important, and urgent and not urgent and not important. This method could help you plan your days according to your tasks and ensure you are using your study time effectively.
Furthermore, you could use a technique called Time Boxing where you categorise your day into assigned hours, this could be as follows: In a 24-hour day, 8 hours can be taken for sleeping, 3 hours for eating, showering, and getting ready, 4-6 hours for studying (depending on your year of study) and around 7 hours for socialising and other activities. This method provides a loose template to plan your day around. However, circumstances may change for example, if you have an exam the next day. In this situation you can devote more time to study and deduct time from another area like other activities. This means that independent study time can vary heavily due to prioritised events, but this can be pre-planned and organised using the aforementioned methods. (Ideas are based on this link).
How Many Hours of Independent Study Should be Done at University?
Well with all factors considered, the easy answer remains as 4-5 hours per day if complications are excused. However, realistically this cannot be avoided as last-minute trips, family gatherings or something else not accounted for always finds a way of popping up. This is completely ok and expected as long as you can account for the time missed into your assigned hours, you should be able to achieve your university goals effectively and productively. Social time, sports, volunteering, family still should be fitted into your busy student life but planning ahead can avoid the stress and keep your mind clear. Organisation and time management is key. With a clear plan you will be racing through your student life. So, knuckle down and get your study on!