Structuring your Academic Life

Structure Blog Picture

By Azizan (Student Blogger: BSc Hons Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics)

After a long period of lockdown full of restrictive measures, most of us are excited to finally have in-person classes and activities as we enter the new 2021/22 Academic Year. Other than your classes, you might be inclined to join some of the societies and public events scheduled over the academic year. This is a great time to finally reconnect and make new connections within the University’s population. However as more and more activities are being introduced each day, it is normal for us to struggle to balance our limited time given the various attractive activities being offered, on top of our classes and given assignments/coursework. Here are some tips that might be useful in structuring your academic life.

Make full use of a Calendar/Planner

Most of us find the Timetable feature on the iLancaster App to be convenient as it allows us to check when our classes are and where the venue is. Consider using your phone’s inbuilt calendar/planner App to write down all your leisure/meetings/meet-up/social plans along with their time and venue. Some Apps allow you to synchronise all your calendars, allowing you to have a better overview of your classes and your recreational plans through a ‘centralised’ calendar. Through this way, you will be able to plan out your day more efficiently and, hopefully, you won’t miss out on your classes or meet-ups!

Break your day into ‘time blocs’

Once in a while, it is tempting for us to overwork ourselves until late at night. This however restricts us from enjoying our leisure time, which can affect our productivity and performance in the near future if done repeatedly. Consider dividing your days into time blocs, let say 8.05 – 8.30 am, 9.35 – 11 am and so on. For each time bloc, assign it to categories: academic, leisure, personal, etc. By doing so, you have set up a boundary for what and when you will be doing your work or when is your rest. It is also a good way to track whether you’re meeting your personal needs or not.

Focus only on a Main Task each day

Many times, when we have too many works assigned to us, we tend to try to complete them all at once by multitasking. However, this is not a good practice, as our concentration is not at its optimum as our mind struggles to divide between the various tasks. By setting a main task at one time and sticking to it, you’re more likely to be productive and able to contribute considerable progress rather than splitting it into small progress for various tasks. In a sense, it will help to complete your task much quicker compared to the alternative.

Stay Grounded

As days progress, we tend to lose touch with time and reality – we’re so ‘invested’ in our work/responsibilities that we fail to notice what’s happening around us. It is important for us to step back once in a while and be present in the moment to appreciate the blessings surrounding us. This helps to prevent us from overstretching on our work beyond our allocated time, allowing us to rest and recover both physically and mentally. A good way to stay grounded is to utilise all of our 5 senses – touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste. This will have a positive impact on your wellbeing.

Integrating a well-refined structure into your everyday life has plentiful benefits. It gives you certainty, and restores a sense of order in your life. Most importantly, having a structure allows you to navigate your day with ease!

Tackling the Exam Period

By Lucy (Student blogger: MSc Management)

Revising for exams is never an easy process and certainly not one that people want to relive in a hurry. However, exams are generally a part of university life no matter which stage you are at, so it is best to be prepared for them. Exam revision can be very stressful. Many of us face obstacles such as a lack of motivation or uncertainty about what is expected of us, but sometimes all we need is a little bit of direction. Therefore, after reflecting on my years of assessment preparation (the successes and the setbacks) I thought it might be helpful to provide some tips on what I found beneficial in easing some of that exam stress.

  • Keep up to date

With an abundance of new circumstances over the past year, including online exams, online teaching and a greater focus on independent learning, it can be easy to miss learning material. Lecturers provide vast amounts of detail in lecture recordings, additional readings and workbooks – so I would just ensure you have double checked the Moodle page. It is also a good idea to be strategic and make comprehensive and logical notes from the pre-recorded materials throughout the year to save time when you revise.

  • Use a variety of revision techniques

When I first came to university I did not know how to begin tackling revision. The types of exams and exam content were different to what I was used to at A-Level, and I often found that trying to replicate techniques I had previously used was not always effective at university level. I learnt that the most effective approach for me was to compile many methods together to ensure a greater comprehension of material such as: re-visiting lectures, condensed notes, cue cards, diagrams and lots of colour. People obviously know what works best for them, but from my experience variety is a winner.

  • Create to-do lists

Often it can be rather overwhelming trying to balance current learning with revision. Making to-do lists can ensure that everything you need to do is written down so nothing is forgotten. Making to-do lists can provide you with the motivation to work towards getting something crossed off, as there is nothing more satisfying than having a finished list. However, one thing I would say in regards to such lists is to be reasonable with yourself. It is very easy to get carried away writing down everything you want to get done but this can often make the targets unattainable. Breaking the lists up into different days can ensure that your goals and strategy work for you.

  • Have a weekly schedule

Again, emphasising the previous point, sometimes we can forget how much time we have in a day to get things done. By creating weekly schedules, you can physically see how many days you have to get stuff done. Mark key deadlines and activities on these schedules so you can actively plan smaller personal targets to work towards. Remember, there are 24 hours in a day – following the 8/8/8 method (8 hours sleep, 8 hours studying and 8 hours for eating, socialising and jobs) often helped me manage me time and my life.

  • Take breaks

Finally, make sure to take some breaks! Having small breaks in-between study sessions for some snacks, exercise (such as walks) or chatting to friends and family is really important. The Pomodoro method of 25 minutes studying for a 5-minute break often keeps me focused but ensures I don’t burn myself out. Looking after your health and well-being is a number one priority when undergoing stressful situations, and by having breaks it allows for a change of scenery while also making it easier to focus on your return.

Best of luck to everyone in their assessments and examinations, I hope these tips can be of assistance to anyone who is feeling a bit overwhelmed and lost. You can do it!

My exam preparation tips

By Tsz Yan (Student Blogger: MSc Business Analytics)

Examinations are a difficult issue for us as there are a lot of things to understand and remember before the exam period. So, I am here to suggest a whole set of steps that can be taken during the academic year in order to make the final revision period easier.

  1. Prepare study materials before the lesson

Our lecturers usually upload the teaching material before the lesson. You should read these materials and have a brief understanding of their content. Therefore, you can catch up with what the lecturer says during the lesson.

  1. Take notes and ask questions during the lesson

It is important for all of you to take notes during the lesson. Not only can this help you to pay more attention to the lesson, but also help you to have a better understanding of the teaching material. If you have any questions about your understanding of materials, don’t hesitate. Just ask the lecturer politely and they will be happy to answer your question.

  1. Study after the lesson

The first two steps are just basic steps you should follow. If you want to have better preparation for the exam (i.e. achieve a better result in the exam), you should concentrate on this step.

After the lesson, you should tidy up all the notes you made. If you find that there are some important things missing, just listen to the recording again to catch up on what you missed. If you have any questions on the topic after reading all the notes you made, ask your classmates and ask the lecturer if needed.

Also, in order to have a better and deeper understanding of the specific topic, it is important for you to do further reading using the textbooks and/or articles that the lecturer recommended. These further readings may also answer some of your questions on the topic.

Finally, you should make a complete set of notes for each topic (combining the notes you took during and after the lesson, the additional information and/ or knowledge from textbooks, articles, as well as some explanation you obtained from your friends and/or the lecturer).

If there are any after-class exercises or case studies, you should also complete them at least once to make sure you have fully understood the topic.

  1. Study in the revision period

After you have completed the above steps, life will become easier in the revision period. During this period, all you need to do is just go through the notes you made and the after-class exercises or case studies you have done. Keep asking yourself questions related to the topic during revision. The more questions you can answer, the more confidence you will have for the exam.

The above four steps are my process of preparing for the exam. I hope these steps will help you to achieve a good result. Good Luck!

Balancing Time

Image created by Azizan Anas

By Azizan Anas (Student Blogger: BSc Hons Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics)

“Every second is of infinite value” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Time is a special finite resource that can’t be traded or created. Each of us is given an unknown different amount of time. As such, it is important to spend our limited time wisely and qualitatively as we can’t retract and change what has gone. Nowadays, a student has to balance their personal life, their studies, and their work, as well as their social life. With all the distractions and increasing workloads a student obtains as days pass, it is common to struggle when rationing time. This struggle can lead to stress and opportunity cost as deciding which opportunity to do can result in the sacrifice of another. Here are some tips on balancing your time.

Identify and work on your priorities

Some tasks are important and have to be done immediately. These can be assignments as well as your assigned tasks in team projects that are due soon. It is highly recommended to work on important tasks first, ideally starting as soon as you first receive them. Try to work on them each day, no matter how small your progress is. This is to avoid panic and stress from tasks accumulating as a result of procrastinating. After all, small progress is much better than not doing anything at all. In the end, you should have enough time to proofread and check on your work with the ample amount of time you now have at your disposal.

Create a schedule

Start your day by writing down all the tasks you need to do. Then, split them into 3 categories:

  1. Urgent and Important;
  2. Not Urgent but Important;
  3. Less Important.

The idea is to focus on doing things based on their ranking of significance and priority. By doing so, you can have a rough idea of how you need to spend your time each day. This way, you can plan your day ahead in the morning and use the schedule as a point of reference to ensure that you’re on track with what you need to do.

A 55 minutes study session is a great idea, with a 5 minutes break in between (25-5-25 rule). Our brain cannot handle too much information in one go, so it is good to spend some time unwinding like making yourself a cup of tea, stretching your body or doing simple chores.

If you’re on your personal computer every day, consider looking into free ‘To-do list’ widgets such as the one in Microsoft Outlook. This way you can keep track of what you have been doing and whether you have accomplished it or not. Another useful widget to get is a timer app. I am using OnePomodoro, a time-management application that can make you more focused and efficient in doing your job. Personally, this is useful for me as sometimes I lose track of time and since I am always on my laptop, I often get eye strain. The app will send you a reminder to take a break after every work session (25 minutes) and during this time I will move around to help combat my unhealthy sedentary lifestyle and eye strain.

Avoid multi-tasking

Multi-tasking can be tempting, especially to those who have lots of responsibilities, as a way to reduce total time spent. However, not everyone is successful in it resulting in them experiencing more stress and taking a much longer time to finish. Thus, it is better to focus fully on each incomplete task before moving onto another one.

A big no-no of multi-tasking is doing two activities that require your mental focus at the same time. It is not practical to do so as your attention span will constantly jump from one different topic to another, making you unable to maximise your thinking, which could be counter-productive.

Remember your own ‘me’ time

Once in a while, it is common to have your work so piled up that you feel as though you have to use all of your time to finish it. It is a good habit to be so dedicated but sometimes you deserve some time off for yourself! Go out and have fun: go for a walk, have a tea break with a friend, devote some time off to doing your hobby or enjoy watching Netflix.

Striving and pushing yourself for perfection is good, however to be able to do your work with enough time to maintain a proper well-balanced lifestyle is better. Sometimes, things don’t go as planned and that’s a reality we have to face. Perfectionism can be harmful if you are pushing yourself beyond your limit. As important as your work is, your health and especially your mental wellbeing during this challenging time should be of the highest priority.

To be productive is something good to strive for. However, this doesn’t mean that you should constantly devote all your time to work/learning. Don’t try to squeeze everything in one go. Don’t try to pressure yourself. Without this realisation, you can overwork yourself and this can affect your performance in the end. Having a proper balanced lifestyle can make you productive without compromising your wellbeing. The key for a successful healthy lifestyle is to be disciplined and make it a habit; that can only be forged by doing it repeatedly and willingly to the point your brain registers the routine as a norm in its system. So, make sure to have your day off so you can be energized next time!

Studying Online Efficiently (My Style)

By Azizan Anas (Student Blogger: BSc Hons Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics)

The rapid progression of technology can be beneficial, while also be disastrous depending on how you use it. As a result of the current Covid-19 Pandemic that’s happening worldwide, it can be seen that technology has played a huge role in students’ learning. More and more schools, institutions and universities are offering online-based materials which are accessible from the comfort of our home. However, this serves as a challenge for some students as being at home means that they are more susceptible to nearby distractions thus maybe more susceptible to distractions. I would like to share my ways of studying online effectively that I have been doing for the past few months.

Building Up Momentum

When you’re in the zone (of momentum), you will find it much easier to focus on the task you’re doing. This means you are able to do you tasks while being ‘in the flow’. From what I’ve noticed to achieve this state its better to do simple tasks such as making your bed or cleaning up and removing any possible sources of distraction before engaging in any online learning.

Preparing A Dedicated Workspace

By having our own dedicated workspace area to do our tasks, we can be far more productive (assuming that you’re not distracted). So, whenever you are in your workspace, your brain will recognize and remember that you will be doing work turning on your ‘working’ mode. This is much better than doing our work in different parts of the house where there could be other distractions such as people watching TV or talking with each other.

Have A Rest

It is essential to give yourself some rest, for both your body and your brain. The reason is that if we go on for a 2hours straight studying, our brain may feel overwhelmed and may not process some of the information while our body may feel tired and our eyes may struggle due to looking to the screen to watch lectures for 2 hours straight. I would suggest giving yourself a 4-5minutes break for every 40-45mins, where you can stretch your body or make yourself a cup of tea!

Why studying from home is actually decent…

By Safiya (Student blogger: BA English Literature)

‘Studying from home’ initially seemed so off-putting: from connectivity issues to lack of motivation due to being in your environment of leisure, virtual learning was not at all appealing. But sometimes you don’t need to think positively about something in order to enjoy it – you just need to experience it. And, after several weeks of studying online, I think many of us can say that this is actually not that bad.


Why studying from home is actually decent:

  1. There’s so much more time!

If anyone is a (now former) commuting student, you’ll have quickly realised how much time we now have! Balancing work and play was madness, and winging it was all I really did. But due to the lack of extra stress and super early get ups that often came with travelling, studying has never been more enjoyable.

  1. You can attend lectures/seminars from the comfort of your bed

Although it is advised to have a dedicated space for studying, especially whilst being at home, it wouldn’t be terrible to watch a lecture or two from your bed once in a while. You’re comfy, and you’re learning. Win-win.

  1. You can plan (most) of your studying around your own schedule

While seminars may have an allocated time, you can access the recorded lectures and reading materials at your own convenience. Early bird? Night owl? Schedule the lectures for whenever you want! If you want to minimise the number of ‘uni days’ you have, watch the lectures on the same day that you have the corresponding seminar. In this way, not only will the information remain fresh for discussion, but you will have more ‘free’ days for which you can dedicate other things! (P.S – if you’re in a hurry, you can speed your lectures up!)

  1. I’m…getting the reading done?!

Still can’t believe it. But, like aforementioned, due to the lack of travelling and extra stress, there is so much more time for work.

  1. Sleep schedule is now actually a schedule

Again, still can’t believe it. I used to be able to relate to every lack-of-sleep meme there was, but now they all seem like a distant memory.

Although online learning may still seem inconvenient and strange to some, it’s important to remember that this is new for almost everyone! And access to education, especially during a global pandemic, is definitely something we should truly appreciate.

Is 24/7 the new norm?

By Will (Student Blogger: BSc Hons Entrepreneurship and Management)

Wow, what a last few month’s hey? Feels like it’s been years, and that’s the problem for many of us. Time is molding into one undistinctive thing and our work lives are becoming ever interlinked with our personal space and activities. Our workspace is now our leisure space for most of the time, though this may seem efficient to some it presents a problem for many of us that it’s hard to differentiate when we should and shouldn’t be working. One of the great things about Lancaster University is the breadth of study spaces it has, from Cartmel study rooms on one side of campus to the health innovation campus on the other. In normal circumstances many of us relish the opportunity to rotate around campus and study under these different locations, constantly keeping the brain refreshed and environment exciting. However, circumstances are anything but normal now unfortunately, and for many of us these spaces are not longer accessible with our bedroom’s and houses the only places we can take refuge to both study and unwind. This is unfortunately not going to change for the foreseeable future, so how do we ensure we can still instigate a clear separation between our down time and work commitments?

My main recommendation is to work within clear and ‘normal’ defined hours. Most working people work between 9am and 5pm, and this is with good reason as it promotes a healthy sleep pattern and if followed through the week allows both Saturday and Sunday free for leisure. I write this blog for you now at 16:18pm on a Friday having started this morning at 9:12am, with a strict limit on myself to cease work at 17:00pm tonight and not resume until Monday 9am. This work schedule ensures I have adequate downtime at night to allow a restful sleep and early enough rising time to ensure that the workday is not wasted, and I have ample time to complete any work. Linked to this, is how it’s so easy to overlook the importance of the weekend and days off. This statement may initially seem novel, a university student that doesn’t have enough time off, is there such a thing? Well I would argue yes, however I do argue that we are poor at making our time off valuable and effective and resetting ourselves as it should be. Allowing the brain to relax, focusing on those interests we have and making time for others are all things we deserve to be doing every weekend. Whatever year or course we are studying, the amount of content is designed that we have free time, so if you feel that your weekends are too short or downtime not long enough. Ask yourself these questions; did I really start early enough today? Did I really finish early enough last night? Is my sleeping schedule that of a normal professional?

On the face of it, having a defined schedule and time limits on most aspects of our living may seem boring and frankly unnecessary. Take it from me however, this is the key to a much more successful university experience. Gone will be the days of all-nighters on assignments, hello to the time of unguilted leisure for the next 48 hours. University is a unique time when we both have the best times of our lives and experience some of the hardest work we must conquer. Allowing one’s self, the right mindset and time allocation is the best starting step we can all have to making the most of each and every day.

Managing your time and essentially your (uni) life!

By Lucy (Student blogger: MSc Management)

As someone who finds myself more on the extraverted side of the scale in terms of my personality I was absolutely dreading the whole idea of online learning. I get my energy and motivation from the human interaction with people around me and I thought the whole process of online learning was going to be a barrier in terms of my motivation to study and ability to meet new people. The endless zoom quizzes, virtual hugs and tiny squares with familiar faces really had left me in a bit of a slump with the idea of this being the new normal for a while. So, when the first academic week rolled around and notifications for online lectures started firing up I didn’t really know where to begin.

Trying to remember all the online lectures, deadlines and reading preparation can be quite overwhelming and it can leave you thinking that you have such little time to get through the workload. Without the ‘normal’ routine of face-to-face teaching it can be easy to lose track and forget that there’s 24 hours in a day. A lovely lecturer called Poppy once gave me the best advice when it comes to managing your time, deadlines and essentially your life!

  • Using the 8/8/8 system to schedule your day – Its very easy to get overwhelmed with juggling university work, seeing friends and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But its easy to forget that you can achieve a lot in 24 hours. The 8/8/8 system is a framework for splitting up your day into 8 hours sleep, 8 hours of work (including lectures and timetabled sessions) and 8 hours of time to relax, exercise, eat, socialise or whatever you please. Obviously it is not always achievable but it’s a good target to aim for!
  • Have some form of a planner – whether this is a diary or a calendar being able to physically see lectures, events and deadlines helps to organise your time. You can set yourself mini deadlines in relation to assessments so that everything is not last minute.
  • Make sure you have breaks from the screen – this could be going for a 5 minute walk, doing 10 squats or having a quick chat with a friend. Having little breaks away from the screen helps with your concentration and general well-being.

Whatever your opinion on the online learning situation, I feel it is always important to try and take the positives from new situations – even if it means doing lectures in your pjs!

Studying Effectively and Efficiently

By Tsz Yan (Student blogger: MSc Business Analytics )

Study is important to our university life. However, as a university student, we always face challenges in our study. We may feel stress when we are studying a new module. We may want to relax due to fatigue after study. We may even struggle with what we need to do in a day. Therefore, I am here to share some tips and strategies for study.

Motivating yourself

Self-motivation is really an important tool for study. You should try to motivate yourself intrinsically and remain positive every day before you perform different tasks. From my own perspective, I will encourage myself by telling myself that “I can do it! I am the best!”. These kinds of motivational affirmations can help us to feel more energised so we are able to perform our work as best as possible, which is a good starting point.

As well as intrinsic motivation, you should also try to give yourself with an extrinsic motivation —something you enjoy and are interested in.  In my case, I enjoy watching movies so I allow myself to watch a movie if I successfully finish all the tasks I have set in the day. For me, this strategy is really effective and helps me to study efficiently.

Planning your time

Time management is also an essential method for effective study. For me setting a timetable really helps with my time management. I like to set the timetable per week and prioritize all the tasks I need to complete based on their importance. Then, I will specifically list out which module, chapter, coursework and/or assignments I will concentrate on and how much time I am willing to spend. I will also consider how many breaks and how long I can relax for during the day so I can ensure I don’t get too overloaded. For example, 15 minutes relaxation time between each task.

Of course, this is only my strategy for my studies. You can make any adjustment you want to produce the most suitable timetable for yourself to increase the efficiency of your study.

Studying in a suitable environment

The environment we study in is also an important issue that needs to be considered. Finding a suitable environment which is most favourable for your study is really important. “A suitable environment” is different for everyone. If you can only focus in a silent environment then your room may be the best place. Or maybe listening to music whilst you study can can help you to study more efficiently. We are all different so try to find the most appropriate environment that works for YOU.

Once you have found your own suitable environment, you should remember one important issue — keep your eye away from electronic devices. I believe that electronic devices will distract study for most of us. So, I suggest switching off or putting all of the electronic devices away when you are studying (unless there is a need to use it). This is really effective for my study.

Here are my study tips, I hope these will help you to study effectively and efficiently. Good Luck!

I Kind of Like Online Learning Now

By Sean (Student blogger: MSci Hons Computer Science)

Coffe, muffin and laptop on bed

Not gonna lie, when I first heard that we would be switching to an all-online curriculum, I cringed. I’d heard stories from my friends studying in other universities about how mind-numbingly painful online lectures were as their lecturers droned on and how crickets chirped each time their seminar leaders asked if “anyone else knew the answer”. Here we go, I thought, I’m going to lose all my interest and spark in my degree, drop out of university and end up homeless from the thousands of pounds of debt I have on my shoulders…

Two weeks in, however, and I kind of… like online lectures now? Put your pitchforks down and let me explain! While I do miss seeing my friends, taking the bus, being on campus, and the overall buzz of in-person classes, there are a few things I’ve learned to appreciate about their virtual counterparts.

1. I can go at my own pace
With everything being online, I don’t feel as much pressure from being able to access my academics from the comfort of my home. Sometimes, having to hop from class to seminar to lab in the span of 3 hours can be very tiring, and studying tends to be the last thing on my mind after the long bus ride home! We’re having none of that this year- spaced out classes and comparatively mellower days are giving me the break I need, all while maintaining the momentum of being in education.

2. Asking Questions
I don’t know about you, but the Q&A sessions in my lectures tend to either be crickets or dominated by the same two people every single lecture. Just the thought of having the whole lecture hall of 150 students turn to hear you squeak out what you probably think is a stupid question is enough to put most people off.
However, things seem to be changing with the introduction of Q&A sessions over call or over chat. I’ve definitely seen an increase in eager queries- and I’m finding it a lot healthier and more helpful with my understanding of the course material.

3. They’re absolutely convenient
Not having to physically commute to class is one of the best things to come out of this once you look past the “I don’t really feel present” part. I can wake up and immediately zip over to my desk to sit in for my 9am (or even better- just attend it in bed!). I save hours not having to wait for and get the bus to and from campus, which can very often kill my “study” mood. Not to mention: I’ve saved over £250 from not having to buy the 3-term bus pass- absolutely amazing.

I know online learning is a big change, and definitely a very unfamiliar one. However, every cloud has a silver lining- even if it’s switching to online curriculum during a global pandemic. Sometimes, we get so distraught with all the negatives that we end up overlooking the small wins right in front of us.

Stay safe, guys, and work hard!