How to Study for Competitive University Courses

Thinking about pursuing a professional course like Veterinary Science, Medicine, Law or anything with competitive entry? Then you need to read this blog from two girls who have lived and seen it all.

When you first go to University it can be a mind-boggling experience. The style of teaching can come across as intimidating (lecture halls with hundreds of other keen students) and moving out of home and doing your own washing always confounds a few. Add on top of that, the stress you will undoubtedly feel about assessments because you want to ‘get in’. It can be really overwhelming, especially as you want to get out there and enjoy your newfound independence!

We’ve got some tips for handling the course load, how to study for ‘getting in’ and most importantly, how to deal with the stress and enjoy your first year of University.

First of all, the course load. It is going to seem intense. It is going to seem like too much. From the word go, it is really important to stay on top of your lecture notes, and the best way to do that is to have an efficient way of reviewing content. This is a skill you should start developing now in high school. Review your notes from school weekly if possible. Start to get into the habit of writing what your teacher is saying. Taking notes while a lecturer is talking at speed is often what new (and old) University students find the most challenging, so if you start practicing now, you’ll be a step above the rest.

Secondly, how to study for ‘getting in.’ This is what we see students struggle with the most. They either don’t do enough of it or they do way too much and burn out! It is about effective studying; study smart not hard! Again, the best thing to do is to start getting into the habit of doing this now in high school. Try to filter out key points and concepts from each lesson and write them down. Memorize concepts and practise your writing skills and exam techniques. Don’t spend hours memorizing details you will never recall again; University is about teaching you practical concepts you need for your future career.

Lastly and most importantly we need to address stress. This may shock lots of people but looking back, we both agree that the competitive entry papers we have taken weren’t actually that difficult. They were heavily based on Year 13 content, so make sure you are going to enrol in the right subjects in school! What caught most students out was the stressing and panicking; over thinking assignments and by being constantly surrounded by other competitive-entry students. These guys, whilst they understand what you are going through, are also a constant source of stress. It is this stress, and overthinking tests and assignments that cause students to get caught up in what everyone else knows instead of focusing on learning the content for themselves at their own speed. We’ve seen students abandon effective study techniques for 11-hour marathons in the library, and it just wasn’t healthy nor effective. They would have been better off adopting the techniques we mentioned earlier. These students also struggled to maintain a good work-life balance.

We’ve brought up those 3 points. Now what?


So what can you do about it? Go out with your friends regularly and enjoy living your life. Get involved in clubs and activities, play a sport, try something new. Just do something for yourself outside and away from your studies. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to email teachers and go and see them for 10 minutes in their office; this is more effective than spending hours trying to find the answer in a textbook. Tutors are also always available to help you, as are senior students. Take advantage of these resources! Make sure that when a test is approaching not to spend ages waiting around the room with other students; you’ll all make each other nervous and stressed. This is not ideal going into an exam and will affect your performance. You need to be relaxed and calm going into the exam and have a bit of faith that all that knowledge is in there somewhere! If you can minimize your stress levels over the semester you will find the papers really aren’t that bad and that you will perform to the best of your abilities. You can practise getting into the habit of this in school by minimizing your stress levels during exams and developing a routine before the test. Some students need to cram-read their notes right before a test; others like to go out for breakfast. Whatever works for you!

Overall, trying to get into competitive courses is by nature a stressful time. This doesn’t mean it has to be an unenjoyable time too! The key thing is to try to develop habits now that you can carry over into University. Then you don’t have to spend time figuring this out in your first year; you’ll already be in control of your learning. You can then just sit back, relax, and enjoy being in University – wherever you may be.