Academic Success

Skills for Beginning University Study

Successfully beginning university study requires mastering essential skills. These include time management, organisation, and critical thinking. The information on this page will help you develop these skills to set the stage for a successful and fulfilling university experience.

On this page you will find the following Academic skills:

  • Planning and Organising
  • Learning Online
  • Academic Literacy and Numeracy Development
  • Study Strategies
  • Learning Technologies (Outlook/Email, LMS, Microsoft Office, PDFs)
  • Research and Referencing

JCU Learning Centre

The JCU Learning Centre has a range of free and confidential services to help you get the most from your study at JCU. From our webpage you can:

JCU Academic Skills Essentials: Designed to assist students new to university and delivered by experienced staff, this session will help with your transition to university life and provide additional advice and tips before classes start. JCU Academic Skills Essentials aims to reduce anxiety levels by providing insights into time management, assessment planning, study skills, types of classes, and learning technologies in a supportive environment. The three topics covered will prepare you to be a High Distinction student at JCU.

Part 1 -What successful students do and preparing for assessment

Start your study the right way with the top tips and tricks for how to get the most out of your subjects and succeed at your assessments with ease. Find out what successful students do and discover the best ways to prepare for assessments to get ahead in the first week.

Part 2 - Academic Writing Basics

Writing academically is a key skill at university which you will use frequently in any degree. In this workshop we break down the writing process to make it simple and achievable for all students.

Part 3 - Ethical use of AI in assessment

Can I use ChatGPT in my assignment? What counts as cheating? Generative AI is an emerging technology, and the rules are always changing. In this workshop we unpack some of the key issues surrounding the ethical use of AI such as ChatGPT and give clear guidelines and about what is, and what is not acceptable use at JCU.

Register for all O-week workshops here.

Planning and Organising

Planning is crucial for first-year university students for several reasons:

1. Academic Success: 

Planning your courses and study schedule helps you balance your workload over the semester, ensuring you don't overwhelm yourself. It enables you to meet deadlines, manage assignments, and prepare effectively for exams.

2. Time Management:

University life can be busy with classes, assignments, extracurricular activities, and social events. Planning helps you manage your time efficiently, allowing you to strike a balance between academics and social life.

3. Setting Goals:

Planning allows you to set both short-term and long-term goals. Whether it's achieving a High Distinction for an assessment item or a certain GPA, joining a club, or studying abroad, having a plan helps you work towards your objectives.

4. Stress Reduction:

Having a well-thought-out plan reduces uncertainty and stress. When you know what to expect and how to approach your studies, you're likely to feel more confident and less stressed.

5. Personal Development:

University is not just about academics; it's also a time for personal growth and exploration. Planning can help you manage your personal development goals, whether they involve fitness, hobbies, or self-improvement. Maintaining a healthy balance between your personal and study life is a critical step in Academic Success.


How do I plan for success?

Unlike high school, no one is going to plan your week for you – you will need to do that yourself!

  1. Estimate that each subject will take you a minimum of ten hours per week to complete. This includes two to five hours of contact time (lectures, tutorials and so on), and five to ten hours of self-study (pre-reading, review, assessment time).
  1. Download a weekly planner. Fill in your lectures and tutorial times by accessing your class schedule.
  1. For each subject, allocate a two hour block the day before the lecture to do your weekly set pre-reading / textbook reading / lecture preparation and to download the lecture notes.
  1. For each subject allocate one hour after the lecture to do a review and to update your pre-reading notes.
  1. For each subject allocate two hours for working on assessment items each week (starting from week one).
  1. Then allocate all your personal time commitments (gym, movies, family time, and so on). You should now have a completed weekly planner.
  2. Download an assessment due date planner. Look at the Subject Outline for each subject and record the due dates for each assessment item. You should be working on these assessment items each week in the time you have allocated for assessment.
  3. Shape

General Assessment Planner

General Study Planner

Weekly Planner

In short, planning in your first year of university helps you navigate the challenges, make the most of the opportunities, and set the stage for a successful academic journey and future career.

Developing effective study strategies is crucial for success in university. Here are some proven techniques to enhance your studying:

1. Active Learning:

Participate in Class: Engage actively in lectures and discussions. Ask questions and participate in debates. Actively engaging with the material during class helps reinforce your understanding.

Take Effective Notes: Develop a system for taking notes that works for you. It could be traditional note-taking, mind mapping, or annotating lecture slides. Review and organize your notes regularly. There is a guide to effective note taking here.

2. Effective Time Management:

Create a Study Schedule: Plan your study time and assignments. Use tools like planners or apps to schedule your tasks and set deadlines. Break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable chunks and complete them over time.

Prioritise Tasks: Identify high-priority tasks and focus on them first. Tackle difficult tasks early when your mind is fresh. If you start procrastinating this is an indication that you are uncomfortable with the task, or don’t understand where to start – seek help from a lecturer, tutor, friend, or Learning Advisor.

Avoid Multitasking: Concentrate on one task at a time. Multitasking can reduce your efficiency and comprehension. There is little evidence that it is an effective strategy for learning.

Create a ‘Study Box’: A study box is a room or place that you go to whenever you are planning to study. Using one space as an exclusive study space and for nothing else trains the brain to enter study mode efficiently. For all other activities, physically move to another location. The JCU Libraries have many silent study zones you can use for this.

3. Effective Study Tools:

Improving your Memorisation Ability: Utilising multiple types of tasks to cover the same information can stimulate multiple brain regions and consolidate long term memory. In your study sessions it is a good idea to vary the types of activities you use and could include: speaking, drawing, moving, writing, practicing quizzes, and so on. Any effective method to enhance memory function should include input (such as reading lecture notes), thinking through the information, and then output (such as self-testing), repeated over time.

Understanding your Attention Span: This refers to the length of time a person can concentrate on a task or activity without becoming distracted or losing focus. Attention span can vary from person to person and can be influenced by factors such as age, fatigue, interest level, and the nature of the task. You need to know how long you can focus your attention. For some people this may be as short as ten minutes, or as long as forty minutes. When you reach your attention limit, change the task, or take a 2 minute reset break. Some students find the Pomodoro Technique to be very effective at managing their attention span.

Use Flashcards: Create flashcards for key concepts and definitions. Review them regularly, especially the ones you find challenging.

Practice Active Recall: Instead of simply rereading your notes or textbooks, quiz yourself on the material. As you read the set reading, make up your own study questions which you can use in your review session to test yourself. Try to recall the information from memory, only check the answers after you have answered all the questions.


Spaced Repetition: Review information at increasing intervals over time. The concept is based on the psychological spacing effect, which suggests that information is more effectively retained and learned when it is studied multiple times over a longer span of time rather than in a single, intensive study session. This means review information the next day, 4 days later, 7 days later and so on. This technique is very good at long term preparation for exams. Regular retrieval efforts make memories more accessible over time. Plan to have a review time of previous material at the start of each study session.

Past Papers and Practice Tests: Practice with past exams and quizzes. This helps you become familiar with the format and types of questions you might encounter and gives you the opportunity to practice spaced repetition.

4. Effective Note-Taking:

Notes provide a structured way of organising information. They help you see the logical flow of the lecture or reading material, making it easier to follow the subject matter. The easiest way to do this is to download the lecture notes from LearnJCU and annotate them as you are reading your set texts.

There are multiple styles of note taking which may work for you, these could include:

The Cornell Method: Divide your note paper into sections: a narrow left-hand column, a wider right-hand column, and a summary section at the bottom. Take notes during class in the right-hand column, add cues or questions in the left column, and write a summary at the bottom after the lecture.

Mapping/Mind-Mapping: Create visual representations of information. Mind maps can help you organize concepts and see connections between ideas.

There are more examples of note-taking techniques available here.

5. Group Study:

Group study is effective because it offers diverse perspectives, active participation, immediate clarification of concepts, motivation, shared resources, skill development, and social interaction. Collaboration enhances understanding, boosts motivation, and fosters communication and teamwork skills, making group study a valuable learning method.

Form Study Groups: Collaborate weekly with peers to discuss topics and quiz each other. Explaining concepts to others can reinforce your own understanding. Face to face group activities tend to work better than online events. There are many co-working spaces available in the JCU libraries for you to use.

Teach the Material: Teaching the material to others is a very effective tool. If you can explain new material to another person, you really understand it. If you cannot, you don’t understand it yet. This method reinforces your knowledge and helps identify areas where you need more understanding.

6. Healthy Habits:

Maintaining healthy habits is crucial for university students to ensure well-being, academic success, and personal growth. Some key healthy habits to consider include balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, stress management, and a financial plan. There is more information on healthy habits available here.

7. Seek Help When Needed:

Utilise Resources: Take advantage of university resources such as PASS, The Peer Advice Desk, The Learning Centre, Wellbeing, Counselling, Careers, The Student Centre, and JCUSA.

Ask Your Lecturers: If you don’t understand something, don’t hesitate to ask your lecturers and tutors during their office hours. They are there to help you. You can also email them for assistance, but make sure you follow the correct JCU student email format which you can view here.

8. Practice Self-Assessment:

Regular Self-Assessment: Periodically evaluate your study methods. If something isn’t working, be willing to adapt and try different techniques.

Remember that everyone's learning style is different, so it's essential to experiment with various techniques to find what works best for you. Stay consistent, stay organized, and stay adaptable in your approach to studying.

Research at university refers to the systematic investigation and exploration of specific topics, questions, or problems to advance knowledge and contribute new insights to a particular field of study.

It is a fundamental part of higher education and serves several important purposes including generating new knowledge, solving problems, and critical thinking and analysis. As a student you will need to apply critical thinking to the papers that you read and to the arguments you make in your assignments.

Researchers publish their findings in academic journals, books, and other publications, sharing their knowledge with the academic community and the public. As a student you will also be expected to share your thinking through essays, reports, reflections, presentations and so on.

How to do Research

When we begin an assignment, the first step we take is to read the existing information that exists on the topic. Then we can make a basic plan about how we want to construct our own argument, based on the existing research.

To do this, we usually go first to the Library Database OneSearch and make a basic search.

Library databases provide access to peer-reviewed journals, academic publications, books, and research papers. These sources are credible, reliable, and written by experts in the field, ensuring the quality of the information you use in your assignment.

Databases often offer citation tools (references) to help you generate citations (references) in different citation styles (such as APA, MLA, or Chicago). This simplifies the process of creating a reference list for your essay or assessment.

Using references in essays enhances the credibility, depth, and ethical standards of your work. It supports your arguments, avoids plagiarism, and showcases your engagement with existing materials. In academia, readers are interested in viewing the data that you have gathered to support your ideas, because they are looking for evidence for each argument you make.

If you want to learn how to research effectively, and how to write a basic essay using references, please attend the The Learning Centre Academic Writing Shortcourse and The Library Referencing sessions during o-week. You can also access The Learning Centre essay writing basics resources here, and the Library Referencing Guide here.

Academic literacy encompasses reading, writing, analysing, and critically understanding complex texts and information. Numeracy equips students with the capacity to work with quantitative data, analyse statistical information, and solve mathematical problems.

Academic literacy and numeracy are fundamental skills that are significant in the context of tertiary education. These underpin a student's ability to succeed in higher education, as they provide the essential tools for learning, critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective communication.

Academic Writing

Academic writing differs from discipline to discipline, however, there are some common features. How the writing is structured, and what counts as evidence depends on the discipline or field, such as history, business, law or physics. The core elements of essay writing include how to respond to an essay question, how to write a Thesis Statement (the sentence that contains your main point), and Topic Sentences (which start each new paragraph). An online resource that builds your capacity to write an academic essay can accessed by following the here: Essay Writing Basics. You can also attend The Learning Centre o-week Academic Writing Workshop for more information.

Refreshing and improving your Maths skills

Mathematics and numeracy skills are important for many university courses, although the specific requirements can vary widely depending on the field of study. Whether you're studying science and engineering, humanities, business, education or the arts, the ability to work with numbers is often required.

Refresh your maths skills by completing The Learning Centre maths workbooks. They revise the basic concepts of numbers, fractions, ratios, powers, roots, logs and algebra.

Refreshing and improving your Statistics skills

Statistics equips students with the tools to understand data-driven decision-making. Statistics empowers learners to analyse complex information, unveil patterns, and draw valid conclusions. Whether pursuing sciences, social sciences, business, or humanities, a solid foundation in statistics is invaluable. Review the modules relevant to the study of statistics.

These materials are divided into four modules:

Module A:
Data types and methods of sampling

Module B:
Descriptive statistics (including measures of central tendency and measures of spread) and normal distribution

Module C:
Inferential statistics (hypothesis testing, p-values and significance, choosing the right test)

Module D:
Presenting data

Module A helps you to understand the importance of data types and data collection methods. Once you have collected your data, Module B helps you to understand the “behaviours” of your data, e.g., whether they are normally distributed or not, and how to describe your data (descriptive statistics). In module C (inferential statistics), you will learn about hypothesis testing and what statistical significance is. In addition, module C covers the important process of choosing the correct statistical analysis for your context. Lastly, module D guides you in presenting your results in an effective manner.

Most students are highly computer literate but may be unfamiliar with using some tools that are required to transform or manage data at university.

LearnJCU – This is the system where all you subject information is accessed. There are help guides available here.

Microsoft Excel – This is commonly used for data analysis and graph creation. There is free training available here.

Microsoft Word - This is a commonly used for creating and editing documents. There is free training available here.

Adobe Acrobat – This is a commonly used to manage portable document format (PDF) document files. There is free training available here.

If you are unsure about how to use any of the tools you can access the training modules provided by JCU or LinkedIn Learning (free for JCU students).

You can download a range of software from JCU for free here.

All JCU systems are protected using Multifactor Authentication (MFA). MFA adds a second form of security to confirm your identity, for example using an authenticator app on your mobile device to confirm your identity. You can find out more about this here.

Staying connected while studying online

It is important to stay connected and engage with academics, tutors and peers within your subject when studying online. Virtual communication and collaboration tools are provided free of charge through your JCU account. You need to familiarise yourself with these tools and use them to enhance your online study experience.

Office 365 and OneDrive– The Office 365 suite allows you to work fully online from any location with an internet connection. OneDrive allows you to easily store and share documents in the cloud.

Zoom – Zoom is a communications platform allowing for video, audio and chat connections.

Email – email is a very common form of communication with lecturers, tutors or other students. Email etiquette should be followed when communicating. An email template is provided by JCU as an example of good communication.