Support for studies

What should you do when your studies are stalling and it feels like you can’t move forward? These instructions contain hints from study psychologists that may help you solve your problem.

Challenges with distance learning?

Distance learning can be challenging at times. Many of us face difficulties creating routines and practices to support studying. Lack of social contacts can be a challenge. Suffering from a lack of concentration at home isn’t uncommon. It might feel easier to postpone studying and do things unrelated to our studies or work. Specified workstation helps you to separate work and leisure time, and thus is useful for stress management. Routines create clarity and security in everyday life, and help you to focus on the essentials. Planning your studying is also useful. As tasks of the day are clear, you're more likely to use your capacity and concentration on the essentials.

Parents with young children may have major challenges in managing their daily lives at a distance. Creating practical routines can take time, and studying may not be as effective as in normal everyday life. Because the abnormal situation will last for several weeks, it may be important to discuss with your university teachers whether it is possible to make prioritization or temporary arrangement such as extra time for assignments.

 

Tips for distance learning

Put on casual clothes, get out of bed

  • Wear casual clothes even when you stay home. Don't spend the day in nightwear.
  • ''Go to work or university, '' meaning walk 15 minutes before you start working.
  • Go to bed early and wake up at the same time as a normal weekday morning.
  • Study in a different place than where you spend your leisure time.
  • Do not work on the bed or on the couch, dedicate them to relaxation.
  • Tidy your environment, it may help you to concentrate.
  • Try standing up while studying, occasionally
  • Resist the temptation to use your phone. Leave the phone in another room or put it in 'don't disturb' mode.

Plan your time, take breaks, and stay in touch with others

  • Make an accurate, realistic plan for your day. Try to be as specific as possible with your plans.
  • Schedule breaks as well and be sure to switch off.
  • Try Pomodoro technique: 25 mins work, 5 mins break, repeat x 4. Then take a break of at least 20 mins.
  • Study or work remotely with others through a video connection.
  • Have regular (remote) coffee breaks with others.
  • Take lunch breaks and get away from work - also mentally
  • Take a short walk outside during your lunch break

For more:

Searching for study skills?

Study skills comprise all the resources needed for meaningful and proper academic progress, including reading, note-taking, listening, essay and thesis writing, and performance and interactive skills.  It is also important to be able to plan and schedule your studies, maintain personal motivation, cope with difficult thoughts and emotions related to studying, and maintain a balance between your studies and other life.

Resources for improving your study skills:

Do you have problems with time management?

Studying at a university is relatively independent, and it is quite common for students to occasionally struggle with setting suitable goals and making plans and schedules. There is a great deal of study planning help available at the beginning of studies, such as template timetables, tutor groups and personal study plan meetings. At this time, it’s also easier to make new friends in the courses and get good study tips from them. However, the availability of external support often decreases as study paths advance, diverge and become more independent. For example, writing a Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis often requires highly independent planning and scheduling.

Studying is merely one aspect of life, and life keeps changing. Full-time students naturally plan and schedule their studies in a different manner from students who have full-time jobs or young children, or have to cope with an energy-consuming personal illness or illness in the family.  Even though work and family do not necessarily present an obstacle to studying, they should be sufficiently accommodated when setting goals and schedules so as to avoid excessive workloads.

How can I develop my study planning and time management skills?

  • Before you start planning, consider how much time you have available for your studies.
  • As a starting point in planning, it is good to know that one credit corresponds to 27 hours of work.
  • Experiment with different planning methods to find the one that suits you best – the purpose of the planning is to make your work easier, not to add guilt or stress.
  • Prioritise, list your courses and other plans in order of importance, and schedule the most important things first. You can then postpone low-priority tasks if you find yourself overwhelmed.
  • Select courses with different methods of completion for your schedule so that you don’t have all book exams or assignments due within a few weeks.
  • Also plan and schedule independent study.
  • Divide larger projects into concrete interim goals (read chapter Y in book X, write down some preliminary ideas about topic X for an essay).
  • Write your plans in a calendar and/or make to-do lists.
  • Track your own time management before and after you make the plan. This way the plan will be more realistic, and you will be able to edit it according to your experience.

Have you lost your study motivation?

Study motivation is often based on several factors. For example, a specific course may be interesting and motivating, but other study motivators may also be accruing credits and receiving a good grade, having good study friends and wanting to please the teacher. Courses are also part of larger modules or degrees, so studying is guided simultaneously by several short- and long-term goals. Motivation changes in interaction with the environment. It is not static, and it is possible for you to take steps to improve it.

Many different kinds of goals and motives are needed at various stages of studies. Sometimes you just have to get past the parts of your degree which are not interesting to you. However, finishing a degree just by plodding through studies and counting credits is incredibly laborious and stressful. For good learning, you must also be interested and willing to learn. To become an expert in your field, you must develop a personal relationship and interest in the topic, or your expertise will be narrow and your work joyless.

How can you develop your motivation and interest?

Think about your motivations: why am I studying, what is important to me, what is my goal, which direction am I going in?

  • Why is your field worth studying? What are your other options? Does the idea of a new career sound appealing?
  • Make your schedule varied, and make sure it includes at least one course that is personally interesting to you.
  • Find the interesting aspects of the courses. If the content is not appealing, perhaps you can learn new study skills, or try out a new work method.
  • Discuss this with your study friends, motivate each other, work together.
  • Motivation is generated by doing, not waiting – try to find methods that can make the work seem interesting to you.
  • Too much work and stress can erode your engagement and motivation. So give your learning some time.
  • Remember that there’s more to life than studies.
  • Take advantage of the career guidance offered by the University’s Career Services and the TE Office.

Is procrastination interfering with your studies?

Why do I always start studying late? Why do I leave everything to the last minute? Why can I not finish what I’ve planned?

Most students ask themselves these questions, at least at some point in their studies. Students who postpone tasks and have difficulty starting projects often have a problem known as procrastination. Procrastination has two key characteristics. Firstly, it must be in the student’s interest to complete an assignment immediately – meaning that postponing and delaying the project does more harm than good. Secondly, it must be realistically possible to complete the assignment immediately. Sometimes it may be preferable to postpone an assignment, for example, if the student has too much to do and too little time or energy to do it.

Procrastination may be based on many kinds of beliefs, emotions, and behavioral and thought patterns, which may be connected to specific tasks or manifest more generally in a student’s life and studies.  Avoiding difficult, challenging tasks allows us to avoid unpleasant feelings or thoughts for a while; that’s why it’s so tempting. The problem is of course that the work is postponed or unfinished, and avoiding tasks may become a bad habit.

Ways to reduce procrastination

  • Stop, learn to recognise, tolerate and accept your unpleasant thoughts, feelings and your typical procrastination methods.
  • Make the task itself as tempting, realistic, clear and concrete as possible.
  • Chop larger tasks into small concrete steps, and control the time you use on them by using methods such as the Pomodoro Technique (examples of Pomodoro timer apps: myTomatoes, TomatoTimer).

Are you too stressed and feeling exhausted?

For students, studying is work, and it can feel very stressful at times. A manageable amount of stress can help keep us going. More intense stress may also be fine in the short term, if you have sufficient time and means to recover. Remember that things that are important and significant to you may also be a source of stress. However, stress may become chronic. If this happens, stop to think what causes the stress and what you could do to remedy the situation.

Stress is not just dependent on the objective amount of work, it has to do with whether the requirements placed on you are more than what you can handle at that point in time and in your situation. This may mean that there is too much work for the time you have, or that your goals are unreasonable. The problem may also be that the amount of work is reasonable, but you can’t seem to get it done. You may be lethargic or feel paralysed. Your time and resources may seem insufficient, or you may feel like you are perpetually in the wrong place doing the wrong things.

Ways to reduce study-related stress

Stop to consider your values, motives and goals: are you doing the things that are personally important to you?

  • Take good care of yourself, don’t neglect your hobbies and free time!
  • Prioritise, make to-do and not-to-do lists: what’s important right now, what can be done later, what doesn’t have to be done at all.
  • Set realistic goals that are appropriate for your situation.
  • Divide large tasks into smaller steps.
  • Draft schedules and plans that suit you best.
  • Try out new study methods.
  • Start studying at the library instead of at home.
  • Study together with someone.
  • Establish work hours and studying routines.

Resources to try:

Are you struggling with your Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis?

Theses are demanding projects that require a considerable amount of time and labour along with independent planning, scheduling and self-discipline.  You may have many ideas and expectations about how your thesis should progress or what working on it should feel like – and these ideas may not be particularly realistic. Writing is rarely a straightforward process: the work consists of many small choices, and a good text requires several revisions. Consequently, the work is often characterised by uncertainty. Asking for help from your supervisors may also seem daunting. In addition, theses are typically written towards the end of your studies, when your thoughts are already focused on your life after university. It is therefore no wonder that procrastination and anxiety are so common among students working on their theses.

How can I facilitate writing my Bachelor’s/Master’s thesis?

  • Don’t try to cope on your own; ask for help and feedback from your supervisor.
  • Contact other students for peer support, share tips, give each other feedback and work together.
  • Find out what kind of additional support you can get from your degree programme.
  • Take a Master’s thesis course at the Language Centre.
  • Register for a writing group run by the study psychologists.
  • Read Master’s thesis guidebooks.

Some Finnish-language resources:

Do you have a learning difficulty?

Learning difficulties may be associated with many different kinds of problems, disorders, illnesses or disabilities – mental and physical alike. Students with learning difficulties may request special arrangements to help them in their studies. Read the instructions on special arrangements in studies if you feel like you need special arrangements due to a learning difficulty, illness or disability.

Some learning difficulties may relate to a particular stage of life or situation, while others may be life-long issues. Even though nearly everyone experiences some attentiveness problems, and stress, depression or fatigue may heighten such symptoms, the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), i.e., persistent attentiveness problems and/or impulsiveness and hyperactivity, begin in childhood. The symptoms may remain, disappear, become less intense or change with age. ADHD is often associated with difficulties with executive functioning, which means that planning, carrying out and assessing your own activities may be particularly challenging. It is possible to mitigate problems with attentiveness through persistent practice and by learning new techniques.

Dyslexia means slow and/or inaccurate reading. Among Finnish speakers, dyslexia often manifests as slow reading, which can reduce the motivation to study for major examinations.  Some dyslexics may also experience difficulties with learning new languages. Dyslexia should be considered when scheduling your studies. Request special arrangements for dyslexia if you feel you need them.

The common factor of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is difficulty with social interaction. You may be diagnosed with ASD if you have experienced the symptoms throughout your life. However, the symptoms of the disorder may not begin to interfere with your life and functional ability until you begin university-level studies, which require an increased level of independence and initiative, a holistic grasp of issues and application skills.  Establishing social relationships at university is also largely at the responsibility of the student and requires being socially forward. Coping with independent living is challenging for many people on the autism spectrum, and this may also be reflected in their studies.

Resources for learning difficulties (mainly in Finnish)

Is anxiety affecting your studies?

Performance anxiety is very common and normal. The University may as an environment increase the pressure of delivering a certain kind of presentation or acting a certain way when presenting. Many students also experience anxiety about examinations, calculation exercises, group work or voicing their opinions.

If the anxiety is at a manageable level, it can be a positive phenomenon, increase your alertness and help you focus on the matter at hand. However, anxiety can sometimes be so intense that it starts to make it difficult to function: the body and mind are in a state of emergency, and the focus is on coping with the situation and the unpleasant reactions.

There is no need to completely eradicate anxiety associated with studying and performance, but you should learn to cope with it. If you experience anxiety in many other areas of your life and it has made you avoid things also beyond your studies, mention this to a healthcare professional.

How can you learn to cope with anxiety?

  • Learn about anxiety as a phenomenon.
  • Find out what makes you anxious and try to find ways that would help you mitigate your anxiety.
  • Performing and interaction with others are skills that can be learned through practice. Start seeking out situations where you can practice your performance and interaction skills.
  • Start with small steps and look for performance and interaction situations or practice opportunities that are appropriately challenging for you.
  • Take a speech communication course intended for students with performance anxiety.
  • Join an FSHS group for students with anxiety.

If your anxiety is affecting your studies, you may refer to these Finnish-language resources:

Discrimination or harassment?

Discrimination and harassment are found everywhere, and the University is no exception. The University of Helsinki wants to be a pioneer in issues involving equality and the prevention of discrimination. Contact the University’s equality advisor if you have experienced inappropriate behaviour at the University. You can also book an appointment with a counselling psychologist if you feel you need help processing the situation on a personal level.

More information about equality work and support at the University can be found here.

Are you worried about recommencing your studies?

If you are returning to your studies after a longer break, you may feel like you no longer have the skills needed to study, that you don’t know anyone at the University, and that the practicalities of your studies have become unfamiliar to you. It’s common and natural for students in such situations to feel unsure about returning to the University.

How to make it easier to recommence your studies?

  • Think about what you want to gain by studying.
  • Consider how much time and resources you have to allocate to your studies and make reasonable plans.
  • Reserve time to familiarise yourself with the practicalities of your studies.
  • Give yourself time to experiment and find the studying pace and methods that suit you best.

Other useful links