10 Ways You’re Making Your Future Studies Difficult (Without Even Realising It)

1 August, 2014

Image shows a surreal clock face spiralling into a central point.Endless essays, mountains of books, a relentless schedule of classes: even at the best of times, education can seem difficult.

It’s a shame, therefore, that many students make life harder for themselves without even realising it. Habits you’ve picked up during school don’t just have a tendency to stick with you to plague you at university; there are various ways in which they can actively be making your future studies more difficult. You can counter these negative effects now by getting into new habits and mindsets that will make it easier to be successful later on. Let’s look at some of the ways in which you can make changes now that will positively affect your education in the future.

1. Not backing up your laptop

Image shows the 'blue screen of death' where a Windows computer encounters difficulties.

This is always bad news, but it needn’t mean the loss of all your work.

We live in an age in which technology is, thankfully, generally more reliable than it has been in the past, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still let us down from time to time. The trouble is, most of us only realise how dependent we are on it at the crucial moment when it fails us and we lose everything. Imagine how it would feel to be in the middle of writing a piece of coursework for your one of your A-level subjects and then suddenly your computer starts presenting you with the ‘blue screen of death’, from which you are unable to recover it. In addition to the half-finished piece of coursework – to be found nowhere else – your laptop also contained all the notes and essays you’d written throughout your A-level courses. They’re now gone forever. It’s a massive loss, but it’s one that could easily have been prevented simply by backing up your laptop. A laptop failure would still be inconvenient, but your work would at least be salvageable. Try to get into the habit of regularly backing up your laptop, whether that’s to the Cloud using online storage such as Dropbox, or onto a USB stick or external hard drive. It doesn’t take long to do this, but you’ll be glad you did should the worst happen.

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2. Not keeping your notes organised

You could write the most detailed and useful notes, but if you have no idea where you’ve put them, they’re rendered useless. You can make life much easier for yourself by implementing an organised filing system that enables you to locate work on a particular topic at a moment’s notice. Buy a lever-arch folder for each subject and a set of dividers for each folder. On each divider, write the broad module or topic, and on the front of the divider write a table of contents and add each topic area to the list as you go along (adding new items to the bottom of the list to reflect their position in the folder), so you know exactly what’s in each. For instance, your divider name might be “War poetry” in English Literature, and your table of contents might have items including Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and so on. If you come back to add more on a particular poet later in the term, you can then add it to the section for that poet rather than shoving it in at the back. This way, everything on a particular topic is kept in one place and it’s much easier to refer back to and revise from.

3. Annoying a teacher

Image shows an alarm clock with a miniature man clinging to one of the hands and shouting.

Your teacher will not be impressed if you’re always a couple of minutes late, even if you’re a diligent student otherwise.

You may not wish to cultivate a reputation as a teachers’ pet, but it’s better than the opposite: annoying them. They’re the person who’s going to be writing your university references, and while you don’t have to be sycophantic, it’s a good idea to make sure you stay in your teachers’ good books. You might not even realise you’re annoying them. Perhaps you’re talking to your friends a bit too much in class, or being too outspoken in class discussion – or not outspoken enough. Perhaps you’re irritating your teacher with poorly presented work, or being slightly late for class on a regular basis. But how do you know you’re annoying your teacher? Well, they should hopefully make it obvious by mentioning it; if you’re persistently late, for instance, they’re likely to have issued you with a verbal warning of some sort, even if they’re good-humoured about it. You’ll have to make a conscious effort to ensure it doesn’t happen again and to show that you can change your habits if you’re to ensure the kind of reference you want from them.

4. Not contributing to class discussion

Are you someone who likes to hide away in a corner of the classroom, hoping you won’t be called on to give your opinion, too timid to proffer it? If so, you may be sabotaging your future studies without even realising it. Debate is the cornerstone of academia, a fundamental means of arriving at a sensible conclusion and weeding out weak arguments. For this reason, it’s a central part of a university education, and top universities will expect you to be able to hold your own in a class discussion. If you never contribute to class discussion at school (unless forced), you’ll be making your future studies more difficult in two ways (at least). Firstly, you’ll not be developing the debating skills you need to succeed at university, or to get you through an interview for a top university. And secondly, your university reference from your teachers won’t portray you as someone eager to enter into academic discussion, which may put you at a disadvantage when compared to a reference that describes someone who’s willing to debate a point in class, if not lead discussion. This means you’ll need to work harder in your university application to prove that you can contribute to this sort of discussion; and it’s not something that’s easily proved in a personal statement.

5. Not getting involved in the school community

Image shows someone in floral wellies pushing a wheelbarrow.

Helping out in your school community can make a huge difference.

Taking part in events organised at school – or, better still, helping to organise or run them – may not sound as though it would have an impact on your future studies, but it does, indirectly. If you’re the first to offer your assistance when the school needs people to marshal for a charity walk, or serve drinks at a parents’ evening, you’ll be an active member of the school community whom teachers will notice and appreciate. This is sure to make it into your university reference, which can only be a good thing: universities like students who have more to them than good grades, because they want individuals who’ll contribute to the life and soul of the university community. If you don’t get involved in anything or volunteer to help, you’re potentially missing out on a useful – and easily achieved – comment from your teachers in your reference.

6. Not taking on board criticism

There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle criticism of your work, and if you take it the wrong way, you’re potentially harming your future studies. If, when you receive criticism of an essay (for example), you take it personally, reacting with anger or indignation, it’s time to try a different and more constructive response. The feedback is there to help you improve, not to insult you, so however disappointing it may seem after you’ve put in so much effort to produce it, you should try to take it in the spirit in which it was almost certainly intended. Use it to help spur you on to achieve better feedback next time, ironing out the faults in your work and ensuring that you don’t make the same mistake next time. Even good feedback can be used to this end; rather than resting on your laurels, strive for even better comments next time and watch your academic performance reach new levels. We’ve covered more on how to respond to essay feedback in a previous article, which you may find useful.

7. Giving up too soon

Image shows a padlock around a wire on a bridge. Written on it is "won't give up <3"

Don’t let one set-back ruin your plans.

On a related note to taking criticism the wrong way, a common way of making your future studies more difficult is to give up too soon. By that, we mean that some students may receive a bad grade for an essay, or negative feedback, and immediately assume that they’re no good at the subject and essentially write it off. This is also a common response to subjects the student dislikes, or for which they feel they lack a natural aptitude. This negative mindset then affects future essay grades and potentially the overall grade for this subject. A positive mindset is needed in order to succeed, although it can, admittedly, be hard to maintain this when you don’t enjoy a subject. Faced with negative feedback, or a subject you dislike, the most productive response is to adopt a ‘can do’ attitude and put in some extra effort to master the subject. It may seem hard work, but it will pay off when you achieve a good grade and don’t have a rogue bad grade sitting uneasily on your UCAS form, that you feel the need to make excuses for.

8. Not testing yourself as you go along

Many students write an essay and promptly forget about it, until it’s time to drag it all up again during revision. The best students, however, know that success lies partly in ensuring that you learn material properly in the first place, and partly in keeping it fresh in your mind on a continual basis. A good way of doing this is to test yourself continually on what you’ve learned – not just that week, but that month, term and year. This means that no topics get forgotten about and have to be relearned during exam revision, and you remain confident. This also means that while everyone else is trying to relearn during revision what they should already have learned during the year, you’ll be able to concentrate more on learning new things, so that your exam answers can really stand out from the crowd and achieve exceptional grades.

9. Leaving essays until the last minute

Image shows someone running beside water on a pinkish dawn.

Avoid being the one who always has to dash to hand things in on time.

Leaving essays until the night before the deadline is unwise in view of the extra stress it creates, but you might not have realised that, in a way, it also makes your future studies more difficult. Why? Because putting off writing essays until the last minute inevitably means you’re not going to do as good a job on them as you would have done had you allowed plenty of time. At university, the process of writing an essay involves copious amounts of reading and research, and it’s a process that takes time – there are no shortcuts. Try to squeeze all that into a few hours, and you lose quality and depth. Allowing enough time for this process at GCSE and A-level gets you into good habits for university, as well as allowing you to produce brilliant essays that will earn you the grades and references you need to get into the best universities.

10. Not doing enough reading

Finally, too many students feel that they can get away with the bare minimum when it comes to completing homework assignments, and this certainly makes future studies more difficult, because what isn’t learned now will have to be learned later. Doing as little as you think you can get away with now may get you through each assignment – just – but it’s not going to help you in the long term. On the other hand, if you do plenty of reading now, reading widely and not just what you’ve been set, you enrich your mind, grow your knowledge, expose yourself to a wider range of academic opinions and make it easier to land yourself a place at a top university. If you’re a slow reader, you could develop your speed reading techniques to help you cover more material in less time. Finding the time to read more will benefit your future studies in so many ways that it’s a no-brainer, so if you only take on board one tip from this article, make it this one.

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Image credits: banner; blue screen; alarm clock; wheelbarrow; giving up; running.

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