Hogeschool van Amsterdam

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Studying efficiently

Higher professional education is a little different to what you might be used to. There is more theory, less supervision and perhaps more distraction. You might find it a bit stressful, too. You may have found things pretty easy in secondary education and perhaps you didn't have to do all that much work, but now you’re really going to have to put your nose to the grindstone. How? You can find out here.

Higher professional education is a little different to what you might be used to. The texts you will read are often longer, more abstract and not every text is written as a study text. As a result, it is sometimes harder to get to the core. In addition, the responsibility for understanding the study material largely rests with you. So how do you keep track of things and study efficiently? What’s a good approach? Here are a few tips:

  1. Spread your study times out well. Don’t just study what you need to learn now, but also repeat material from previous lessons. You must also take this into account in your busy schedule (see also tip 2).
  2. Actively bring up and use your knowledge. You can do so by casting your mind back several times, even after a few weeks or months, to see what you remember (and therefore what you don't remember).
  3. Repeating to yourself on a regular basis what you have learned will make the knowledge more deeply embedded in your brain.
  4. Explain ideas or theories to someone else and describe them in great detail. This will keep you focusing more on why and how questions, rather than simply remembering factual information (who-what-where questions).
  5. Alternate subjects while studying. Not every 5 minutes, of course, but for example every half hour. It's a good idea not to spend too much time in a row doing the same thing. This keeps your brain fresh.
  6. Think up concrete examples for the course material. This will make it easier to remember the material and to see connections between the various different parts of the material.
  7. Combine words and images. Try to capture the material in a picture. This will force you to think carefully about what you think is relevant and what isn't.

Actually, the answer is that you can do this already. An evening spent watching Netflix? No problems with your concentration, right? What about playing a computer game? You don’t tend to get distracted after 10 minutes then either. And that means you’re already perfectly capable of concentrating for a long time; there's nothing wrong with your brain.

So what’s going on? To put it simply, you’re just letting yourself be distracted too easily. Imagine a studious, super-focused you, but next to you is a clown who's always asking for attention. You can pay attention to this clown, or you can simply ignore him. The more often you pay attention to him, the more attention he's going to demand. And that’s not what you want. You want him to go away. Here are a few things the clown doesn't like:

  • A well-rested you
  • A good place to study
  • Fresh air and good light
  • Drinking enough water and eating healthily
  • Motivation
  • Planning and structure
  • An active learning attitude

Did you know that even after a minor distraction, it takes 10 minutes to focus again? As a result, you are 40% less productive and make 20% more mistakes. So it’s good to work on your concentration skills!

Help me out!

  • Have you already heard of the Pomodoro technique? This technique can help you to study more effectively in higher education.
  • And did you know that there are all kinds of apps that make it impossible for you to check your Instagram or message your mum while you're studying? Forest is one of them, and Flipden Eggzy is another.

Planning, planning, planning. It might sound boring, but it’s the key to successful studying and less study stress. There isn’t a single success method that works for everyone, so you will have to find out what suits you. Also think about which time of day you study best. It’s a great idea to make the most of your peak time!

You will notice that the pace of lectures at AUAS is higher than in secondary education. Particularly during lectures, you are given a large amount of information in one go. Good notes are important when it comes to processing this information properly and studying it later. Below are some tips and guidelines that will help you to take notes during lectures.

  • Pen and paper or typing? Research has shown that handwritten notes are more likely to stick.
  • Is the lecturer using a PowerPoint presentation? Ask your lecturer if he/she can share this PowerPoint presentation in advance. If you know what's coming, you can listen in a more focused way and the information will stick better.
  • Record conclusions rather than facts. You can do this by organising your notes in the form of questions and answers. Which questions are raised in the lecture? Which answers are given to these questions?
  • Use colours and arrows. Make connections clear. This ensures that you are already learning during the lecture, and will save a lot of time afterwards!
  • Give each slide a title/mini summary.
  • Highlight important concepts with felt-tip pens.
  • Use colours: red for questions, blue for definitions, green for conclusions.
  • Review your notes immediately when the lecture comes to an end. Just 10 minutes can be enough.

In this video, you will learn more about following online lectures. Turn on English subtitles.

Higher professional education students are increasingly expected to consult and use academic articles. But how do you actually find these kinds of articles? We have included a few suggestions below.

  • Google: when you are looking for something, the first reflex is often Google. It’s a great place to start, but... you should realise that many of the Google search results, especially on the first few pages, are commercial. As a result, it’s a better idea to use Google Scholar .
  • Databases: the HBO-kennisbank.nl is a database that gives you access to the final products of students from universities of applied sciences. It is also available in English.
  • Wikipedia: no, not the text in the actual Wikipedia post, but the references used that you will hopefully find listed in small print beneath the post.
  • The right search term: often, you might not find what you're looking for because you are using colloquial terms or words that are not frequently used in scientific articles. Searching in English can also help.
  • Broaden your search horizon: sometimes, students are looking for something very specific. ‘Drop-out rates of first-year medical students at the University of Amsterdam’, for example. Can’t find anything? Try broadening the search. In this case, for example, you could make it: ‘drop-out rates of first-year students’.
  • Use advanced search techniques: when searching in Google or in databases, you can also use advanced search techniques. For example, you could limit your search to a specific file type by adding .pdf to your search term.
  • Stay critical: this is perhaps the most important tip: cast a critical eye at what you find!

More information:

Watch these clips on information literacy and read more about the principles behind citing and recording sources . Also, check out this APA-citation guide .

Starting to revise too late for a test or exam is something you are probably familiar with. It causes a lot of stress. So how can you avoid this? Try the following:

Divide up your exam material before you start studying

How did the lecturer organise his or her lectures? Use this structure for your overview. Divide the content of the course into ‘abilities’ and ‘understanding’. Practical skills fall under ‘abilities’. These include statistics, acknowledging sources etc. A good understanding of the material is essential for open essay questions during the exam. A good way to understand the material is to read it critically. While reading, you can use a Word document or notes to record the core elements. In addition, 'flash cards' or tools like Quizlet may help you memorize things.

Calendars and schedules

Proper planning prevents you from ‘drowning’ in the huge amount of material, a problem encountered by many new students in higher professional education. It pays to spend some time creating a work schedule. You may not be able to enter everything in your work schedule immediately, as you might not yet know how long something will take. Remember that you can adjust your work schedule on an ongoing basis. There are lots of online tools that will help you to create a good work schedule, such as Google Calendar.

Break down your material and note in your calendar how much time you think you will need. Multiply this by 1.3 to give you a little wiggle room and some peace of mind. Update your weekly and monthly schedule on a regular basis.


When you do something regularly, this creates a routine. New tasks require a great deal of time and energy at first, but tend to take less and less effort as you do them more often. A few tips that will help you to create a routine:

  • Ensure a good study environment. Make sure that your workplace does not provide excessive distraction. In this video, AUAS social reporter Joey provides some tips . You can enable the English subtitles under ‘Settings’.
  • Build regularity into your day. For example, you could draw up a standard daily schedule that is divided into four study blocks and three breaks. Always try to organise your study days in the same way.
  • Many students enjoy studying together. If you like this idea, make arrangements with fellow students to study somewhere together.

Test yourself in preparation for the exam

Test yourself out loud using flashcards, for example, or in collaboration with other students by listening to each other. Talking about the material and actively using it will get the information into your long-term memory.

Finally, a few tips for the final exam preparations:

  • Before you start, try to find some old exams that provide insights into what is ultimately expected of you.
  • Stop revising the day before the exam, so you can recharge your batteries for the exam.
  • Don't let fellow students drive you crazy just before the exam. This is often not productive and can make you nervous.
  • At the beginning of the exam, try to get a good overview of the time available for each question. If you get stuck on a particular question, don't hang around for too long and move on to the next one.

Published by  Student Affairs 17 August 2020