FirstYearUniversity.comFirstYearUniversity.com just got its first-ever reader’s request via a Facebook message! One of our readers asks, “what advice would you give for first year students who are struggling, but not enough to be put on academic probation?”

This is an interesting question as it basically hints that the student is doing well enough academically, but may be struggling with other non-academic issues such as motivation, time management and dealing with the many distractions that first year students experience. I’ll address these three issues in reverse order and will deal with the first two in this post. I’ll save the last one, getting motivated, as that’s a pretty big and difficult subject that really does deserve a post of its own.

First, dealing with distractions. We live in age of constant connection, which means constant distractions. If too much Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is causing you to not pay attention in class and lose focus in exams, you need to take steps to limit these distractions. A recent study of 300 middle school, high school and university students discovered that students who checked Facebook just once during a 15-minute study period, became worse performing students than those who didn’t. What this study shows is that to be successful in university, you need to become a more disciplined learner. This can be a hard task to do, but there are ways to effectively deal with distractions. The most recommended strategy is to turn your distractions (i.e. your social media time) from being an all day distraction to a reward at the end of your study time. So, try breaking up your study time into smaller chunks throughout the day. At the end of each break give yourself a ‘tech break/reward’ for a few minutes of distraction. After that, go back to studying. The trick to making this a successful study strategy is to consciously try to increase the amount of study time and shorten the amount of ‘tech time.’ Start with 15 minutes of focused, study time and then a 5 minute break. After that try to go to 20 minutes of studying and 5 minutes of break time.

Second, learning to manage your time effectively is a skill that’s mastered by all successful people. A good example is Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, who works 80 hours a week as the CEO of two successful tech companies (Twitter and Square). The way I see it if Dorsey can work 80 hours a week, anybody can dedicate 2-3 hours of study time per week for every hour spent in class. For most students, this means up to 30 to 45 hours of study time per week, which is still a lot… but that’s only half the time Twitter’s executive works per week. To successfully cope with such a demanding schedule, you need a good time management strategy. Start with doing an inventory of where your time goes. Spend a week writing down what you’re doing. After that, evaluate and see if you really are dedicating enough time to your studies. If not, it’s time to shift your time around. There are many ways to break up your schedule to become a more effective learner. I personally recommend you break up your study blocks into smaller chunks throughout the day and to try to put them during times when you study best. Additionally, you can ‘Dorsify’ your schedule by focus each day to dealing with specific things. As a student, you can break up your days to specific courses or specific types of study activities like reading days, lab days, recreation/fun days, etc…

So, that’s part I! Stay tuned for Part II! 🙂