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Study tips for commuter students

Expert guidance from Study Advice at the University of Reading

Introduction

When you're commuting to university, it may feel like you're wasting a lot of time on travelling. In fact, there are many study tasks you can do on a commute. However it's also important to remember that learning is not something that only happens when you're reading or writing. Thinking is also an extremely important part of study, and you can do that wherever you are and whatever you're doing.

Studying on the move

If you travel in by car, you won't be spending your travel time reading or writing! But you might consider listening to podcasts or recordings of lectures. It's also worth considering whether car is the best form of travel for you. If you need to be flexible and able to get home quickly because of family commitments, for instance, you will need the car. But if your on-campus commitments mean that you have to travel in the rush hour, you may be better off using public transport as you can spend the time you'd be sitting in traffic doing something more productive.

If you travel in by public transport already, try these ideas:

  • Break down your reading and writing tasks into smaller tasks that you can do in minutes rather than hours: making an essay plan; writing a paragraph or 200 words; or reading a couple of pages, for instance.
  • Use 'landmarks' on your journey as targets: "I have to finish reading this chapter by the time we pass Maidenhead", for instance.
  • Try listening to podcasts on your subject. Or record your lectures on your phone and play them back to reinforce what you've learnt.
  • Use technology to shrink your study space for travelling. For instance, read ebooks and journal articles on your phone; download apps for organisation and notetaking (like Evernote or Remember the Milk); or if you're reading on a Kindle, use the highlighting and annotation functions.
  • Do some structured thinking: write out some questions about your subject and think through each one in turn.
  • Review what you've learnt in that day's lectures and seminars, and make a note of any unanswered questions you have.

If you need to make the most of the time you have available for studying, these strategies may help. But sometimes you will just need to take a break, sit back with your earphones in, and watch the scenery. And that's a valid use of your time too!

Delays!

Hopefully it won't happen too often, but traffic jams and transport delays can be an unwanted feature of a regular commute. Anticipating how you might deal with unexpected delays and having some strategies to call upon can minimise the frustration or anxiety. 

Let people know you commute: Telling your group project members, your Academic Tutor, and any lecturers of early morning classes that you commute to university can help them understand if an occasional delay happens. It also helps them understand how your routine and life may differ from students living on campus. Keep people informed if you are going to be late. 

Have a catch-up plan: Know what you need to do to catch-up if you do happen to miss a lecture. This is when having study buddies or a network is very useful, as they can take notes for you (and you can do the same for them). Don't let it slip - block off time in your schedule to find the lecture notes and keep on top of the work, especially if the content of the next lecture depends on knowing what has come before. 

Keep to your routine: Delays are frustrating but it doesn't have to mean the whole day is a disaster. Decide whether it is going to be a short delay and you can come in a little late, or whether it is better to work at home. Keeping to your usual routine as much as possible is usually best - you can still have a productive afternoon even if you missed your morning class.

Don't let delays become a habit: If delays regularly mean you miss a class, don't use it as an excuse for just not bothering to come in, as you'll fall behind and miss out on valuable contact time. Persevere - you may need to change your routine or mode of transport. Sometimes it isn't as simple, but there may be more creative solutions like asking to swap seminar groups or staying at a friend's house.