Mistakes in Study – Why ‘Best Intentions’ Aren’t Always Enough

[Martin’s note: I’m taking emergency posting measures while I’m ill. This is not a finished post, neither is it polished and properly checked. So please forgive any mistakes, shortcomings, and rambling points. You never know…one day I might even tidy this article up…maybe…]

Oups! (photo by scol22)

I’ve always believed that – since we’re so different – we all have different ways of working effectively.

Personally, I worked throughout the year, not just when an essay was due or an exam immenent. I felt it much easier to focus on the study when it was fresh in my mind. With each lecture and seminar, I made the most of the information presented and built my knowledge and ideas up as I moved along.

But that’s just my method. We’re not all the same and some of you may prefer to cram all the information together in one big bundle, just before it’s needed.

I say this because potential problems lie with the belief that there is only one way of working.

It’s not uncommon to hear complaints like, “No matter how hard I try, I still can’t get to grips with my work” and “I can’t understand why my brain won’t take anything in when I want it to”.

It’s true…if a system of working doesn’t gel for you, it won’t make a difference how hard you try.

Let’s look at some of the mistakes that people can make when studying for their degree:

  • Upping the time spent studying, but consequently wasting it

There is a false belief amongst many that the more time you spend on your study, the better you’re going to deal with it. But this just isn’t the case. With a particular system in place, it’s perfectly possible, but spending more time on study will not work in isolation. Much better to enhance the WAY in which you work, rather than the amount of time spent working.

  • Having a lack of focus, even when your intentions are good

If you’re not sure what you’re meant to be studying, how on earth can you push forward with revision and writing? If you’ve set aside quality time, but don’t know where to begin, chances are you’ll end up achieving very little. It’s a recipe for panic and stress.

Step back a bit and try to get a view of the bigger picture. It’s wise to do some general background reading first (from your own books, from the library, on Wikipedia, and any other general info websites out there). It’s no use throwing yourself in the deep end if you don’t know how to swim. So work the basics and overall points first.

  • Spending too much time planning and not enough time doing

Maybe you like to build an elaborate sketch of what you need to work on, which times you’re going to work on it, where the information is available, and so on. Maybe you also like to write your notes up several times, convinced they will be perfect the next time. When I was at uni, I knew one person who would write up their notes in neater handwriting, as if the better handwriting would improve their memory capacity.

There’s certainly something to be said about re-writing your notes to imprint them on your brain (it does work for some people), but it’s never worth making your notes neat just for the sake of it.

My point is, your planning could be down to a complex method of procrastination. Anything but the actual revision itself. But you feel better if it’s RELATED to your revision. Sadly, it’s no excuse, so if you recognise yourself in this example, it’s time to have words with yourself and knuckling down!

  • Letting peer pressure get in the way of your study time

I’m sure most of us have been here before. Your good intentions are blasted out of the water because your mates are pleading with you to spend a day out with them.

Friends are often like this without realising. The only thing you can do about it is to say ‘no’. If you’ve got a clear study time that needs adhering to, there’s nothing to do except tell your mates that you definitely can’t do anything at the moment. They might try and persuade you every which way, but rather than give excuses or ‘um and ah’ about it, just stay strong and say that you must stick with the study and there’s nothing you can do about it. You owe it to yourself to do this. Hang on in there.

  • Allowing your stubborn want for more leisure time to get in the way

You can’t just blame peer pressure on study problems. As I’ve said above, the final say rests with you and you owe it to yourself not to stray from the goals you’ve set. You set them for a reason, so turning your back on them isn’t wise.

  • Not working in the way your brain can handle it best

Just because you’ve heard from a few people that cramming is getting them through exams, that doesn’t mean it’ll work for you.

It’s just the same with the advice I give on this site. You’re not going to agree with all of it, so you have to find your own way to success. The hints and tips you get from books, this website, your friends, or wherever, are for you to take in and then find what’s best for you.

Maybe you’ll take to cramming naturally. But who’s to say you’d get on much better with regular blocks of work instead? Get experimenting!

  • Misunderstanding what’s most important

Don’t be too lax when it comes to your study. There could be several modules that you need to set time aside for and they may all seem of equal importance. But some modules may not be worth as many marks and other tests may not have any bearing on your final grades whatsoever.

For this reason, it’s important to make value judgements and be clear about what’s most important in the whole scheme of things. For example, just because one tutor has set a test worth nothing (except experience) on the same day as you have an exam worth a third of your marks, it’s a bad decision to work just as hard on the impromtu test just because, let’s say, your tutor will have a go at you if you do badly.

At the same time, you’ll hopefully be managing your time a bit better so you can work on both without an issue… 😉

  • My old favourite…BALANCE (not enough leisure time is just as bad as not enough study time)

I’m sure you’re aware of the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Well, it’s true even if your name isn’t Jack.

Imagine going through the first couple of months at uni in a daze of fun, partying, socialising at clubs and societies and, of course, getting a bit of work in when you can. Now imagine sitting down for a couple of weeks after all this, doing nothing but revision and writing essays that are due in.

Your mind and body are not going to thank you for shaking everything up so dramatically.

So even if you’ve totally ignored work for the majority of the semester, your intense study time still needs to be broken down with regular break periods and relaxing activities.

Balance (photo by darktaco)


Before you excel in anything, you have to have a grasp of how to do it and what works best for you. It’s also important to have faith in yourself and the drive to do it. Without the faith, you’re in danger of wrongly giving it up as a bad job. Without the drive, you’re in danger of procrastinating and allowing your mind to wander.

So even if you have the best intentions to get that work done, don’t forget to push down any other barriers in your way too. And give yourself a pat on the back when you’re done. Alternatively, just go down the bar with your mates to celebrate!