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Crumbling under the pressure of online learning? Trust me, you are not alone. As the November examinations start to loom, staying on track and on top of one’s work can be extremely exhausting and challenging. But who says you have to face it alone? Below are a few tips and tricks from Stellenbosch University’s (SU) top academic performers and Golden Key members. Take notes, or don’t – I know you have a lot on your plate.

“As soon as you have a date for an essay or test ― write it down,” says Dominique Fuchs, a second-year BA student. She explains that the key guide to surviving online learning is to stay up to date. According to Fuchs, completing the set-out work for each module within that specific week ensures that you get the job done. She breaks up the workload into smaller parts and after that, she usually has enough time to be social and active. “You can really have a social life and study hard,” says Fuchs.

“Do not work in your room. Have complete separate work and relax areas and try to spend the time you do relax, off screen,” says Imáney Janse van Rensburg, a second-year BSc (Molecular Biology and Biotechnology) student. She takes her time to make the lecturer’s slides her own, by putting it into her own words and diagrams. Two of the biggest tips she has when it comes to writing and studying for tests, is to check your time and to avoid parrot learning. “The truth is, no one is going to ask you who developed the first microscope and what its actual job was. If you understand the process, in your own words, you are good to go,” Janse van Rensburg explains.

Lorelei Nieuwoudt, a third-year BEng (Electrical and Electronic) student says, “Engineering is notorious for drowning its students in work to the point where we don’t have social lives.” In order to stay ahead of the curve, she plans the next day’s work in her notepad. When it comes to studying, she normally spends her weekend revising the work of the prior week but also finds ways to relax such as watching movies. Nieuwoudt emphasises the importance of asking questions and understanding the work, rather than memorising it. “When you sign up for engineering, you sign up for a lot of late nights working in the labs. It gets hard and there are a lot of surprises along the way, but always remember why you are doing this. If you know how to hold on, manage your time, revise effectively, and communicate with your lecturers, you will make it,” expresses Nieuwoudt.

When tackling the academic hurdles that life throws at her, Tarryn Pangel, a second-year MBChB student believes that the first and most important step is to breathe. After calming herself, she looks at the work again and tries to make sense of it. If that does not aid her in any way, she makes use of as many resources as possible which include textbooks, academic articles, class group chats and YouTube videos. “When studying for our Anatomy spot tests, I would always make an effort to go to the dissection halls after hours to spend more time learning and studying cadavers and I would always attend mock spot tests,” she says. However, she is adamant that essentially you learn the best through your own experiences and through trial-and-error. “Learning is a constant, on-going process. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method. You need to discover what works best for you and go with that,” Pangel explains.

“When approaching a new concept or a challenging module, I’ve told myself that learning is a process. I need to be okay with not understanding sometimes as long as you know you will do something about it,” Zandile Tabata, a second-year LLB Law student says. In order to be motivated she reminds herself of the purposes and goals she had set out when coming to university, “Acknowledge your struggles and celebrate your achievements, even the wins you consider small.” She encourages students to make use of SU’s resources especially those who are on campus currently. Whether it be the private study rooms in the library, or taking a trip to the Council of Academic Affairs – all are equipped to guide you. 

For Tshepiso Billa, a second-year BCom Law student, the key to online learning is consistency and knowing when to step back. “I make use of daily to-do lists, which helps me stay on track and feel accomplished after a challenging day,” says Billa. She also tries to set out different academic goals for each module and calls a friend when she doesn’t understand something regarding the work. A few other tricks she has include stepping away from social media and trying not to leave things up to the last minute. According to Billa, having an accountability partner helps a lot, “If I don’t do the work, they check up on me and vice versa.” To keep herself motivated she tries to start with the modules she enjoys first and enjoys playing three to five good songs to get her blood pumping.

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