Expecting the lecturer to feed you all the necessary information is a recipe for disaster. The way you learn is through your own class readings (often recommended by the professor), research projects and presentations.
2. Go through your readings!
On your very first day of the course, your lecturer will hand you a comprehensive list of all readings- showing you exactly which pages of which books you will be expected to read for every class you will attend during the semester. In other words, you know exactly what to read and prepare for your upcoming classes. When you come to think about it, it really gives you no excuses not to do your readings. Besides that, you never know when you might be asked to read hundreds upon hundreds of pages from one class to the next-sometimes between a Tuesday and a Thursday. If your reading skills are weak, it is entirely up to you to do something. Consider a speed-reading course if necessary. And it may turn out to be the best investment you ever made in your life.
3. Attend all your tutorials!
Very closely linked to the constant barrage of readings is class participation. There is no escaping this- unlike in Malaysia, the tutors are not there to talk himself hoarse while the class sits in silence and writes down his every word. Well this does happen occasionally, but a chunk of your grade will be based precisely on class participation. Hence, this means that you have to consistently come up with fresh perspectives and independent opinions to grab the tutor’s attention. On the other hand, if you regularly miss tutorials just because you felt that it was way too hard to get out of bed in the morning, or if you always come to class only to sit in silence, doze off in the back row and refuse to speak up, you are skidding towards an F grade at the speed of light.
4. Refrain from last minute cramming!
At this stage, it is not possible for you to study at the eleventh hour and pass with flying colours as university final exams are not the same as your average high school exams. If you kiasu enough, you can always find past-year exam papers from your university library and attempt those questions way before the lecturer hands them out towards the end of the semester.
5. Improve your writing skills
Overseas study is a magnificent opportunity to improve or even master your written English. There will be constant written assignments, quizzes, research papers etc. But even if your written English has a long way to go, don’t despair, the good news is, there are certain departments in the university that provide workshops and seminars which are designed to improve students' academic writing and study skills. They are more than happy to prod you along throughout the semester by giving you detailed and useful comments about how to restructure your paper to make it more cogent and to present your ideas better.
6. Research efficiently!
To do well in your written assignments, you will also find yourself conducting a lot of independent research. Most of it will be secondary, i.e. you will scour the library for books that are relevant to your research topic. It does get dull at times but the skills of collecting, verifying, challenging and consolidating and visually presenting your data will stay with you for the rest of your professional career. In addition, learn how to cite properly as well!
7. Play by the rules!
As sweet and charming as you will find your lecturers or tutors to be, they are not to be messed with. It does not matter how close you were or how many times you had been to his/her house for tea. Rules are rules, and the consequences are harsh if you break them. I would imagine that this must sound harsh to people from out part of the world where everything is negotiable and a friendly face-to-face chat, abang-adik or sahabat-sahabat style, can move mountains. But what Western culture ultimately is-or at least it strives to be-about: Following rules. So keep this in the back of your head and don’t believe for a second that flashing a few smiles at your lecturer will sway his determination to stick to the grading guidelines that he has communicate to your class at the beginning of the semester.
Edmund Lee Teck Weng
Junior Executive 2013 (Secretariat)