OMG UPDATE: Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get updates on updates!

Updated on Tuesday, August 5


OMG: Would you be willing to share how your study habits are like? What keeps you motivated to keep working hard and be organized and not slack off/procrastinate for more than an acceptable amount of time (so that it doesn't hinder your productivity)?

I often find myself wondering how it is even possible for people to get high 80s and even 90s in a school like UW, irrespective of the program. Because I believe that although a program does dictate our performance, it's majorly our work and study habits that make us fare well in school.


  1. I make sure to plan out what I want to get done for the week on a day-to-day basis. It's good to keep in mind how much time you'll need to study for each class, and I like to factor in procrastination time (it is inevitable). I find that what works best these days is creating incentives for myself, or remind myself that I shouldn't be doing this and gather the willpower to stop procrastinating. I also find that the closer I am to the exam date, the increased pressure helps me stay on track, but I don't recommend cramming (which I've been doing this whole term, it's been fine, but I regret it). Another thing I used to do is turn off the internet/wifi connection because I didn't need it to access my notes to study. I also find that putting myself into a studying environment helps focus my attention on studying only because that's what everyone else is (well, seems to be) doing. ie) going to the library. I hope this helps.

    1. OP here. Thanks for giving your input. I think the turning wifi off tip would be very helpful for me too. I usually avoid libraries because it's way too quiet and I find the atmosphere too intense, but I think I'll try giving it another shot and see if that works for me as well.

      All the best for the exams and for forever!

    2. It also helps to find a library that you like. I find DP too oppressive and I can never get any work done there but I really like SJU's library.

    3. Oh I've never been to any of the colleges' libraries. I have to give them a go. Thanks for the suggestion!!
      I used to study in DC but it's always so cold in there. I guess that demotivated me from studying there as well.

    4. For those who don't have enough will power to keep wifi turned off, I found this to be really helpful!

  2. At first it was "below 80 will get me nowhere, I will get it or die trying"
    after a term of that, studying hard enough for 80+ became a habit, didn't have to motivate myself anymore.

    1. I always get lower than what I aim for. :/ Last term I aimed for an 80, ended up with an 85 in a course I never expected I'd get that mark (I expected way less) and rest were in 70s :/

      But that's a good way to motivate yourself, I never thought of it from the "Do or Die" perspective. Now this made me really think about my future.. thanks a lot!

  3. Usually it's the goal you set that keeps you motivated. For example, I was denied a CS co-op admission when I applied to UW, so I had to make it into a group of 20-30 people who get to switch in the end of the first year (usually you need average above 88). So I got a 95% and 96% averages in my 1A and 1B terms. The new goal was getting employment in one of top notch companies. While I completely agree with the fact that grades should never be the decisive factor, you will have hard time getting an interview with top companies if your average is in low seventies (unless you did something remarkable). When I got that job, my grades went down a bit. You keep getting tons of employment offers anyway, so you can just focus on doing some interesting side projects / participate in programming competitions / spending more time reading literature / going to the gym.

    1. As for particular study habits, here is a couple:

      * Avoid group studying, unless it's a group project, or there isn't enough material to practice on for the final exam (then you would be better of making up a small group to test each other). Chances are that studying by yourself will be more efficient. It's funny when people reserve rooms for group studying, but end up spending at least 20% of the time discussing personal matters. Not to say that group activities are bad - we are social creatures and networking skills are extremely important, but in the context of getting good marks you'll be better of by yourself.
      * I didn't have problems with notifications and social networks until recently, but now I seem to be battling them. If you can't spend one hour without checking your facebook/mail, you have to do something about it. Context switching is harmful - humans can't do two things at the same time.
      * Obvious tips: Don't study on the same day as exam (e.g. if exam is at 6 PM, don't plan to use that day to study for that particular subject) - humans will remember more after they "sleep over". At least that's what I discovered from my experience - all occasions of studying on the same day didn't lead to good results. Other obvious tips include not doing all nighters before the exam (get minimum 6 hours of sleep), and spending at least 5 minutes before the exam to relax (versus trying to learn some last minute information).
      * Typically I go over all available past exams - I actually print one of them and solve it, as for others, I just go over them and give up immediately if I don't know the answer (and check what it was). I go over the course material 2 or 3 times to make sure I understand every part of it, and spend extra time on the parts I know the least (versus trying to perfect the best areas). Seems to be working OK with CS, MATH and ECON.
      * For most assignments I try to start on the first day as frequently as possible. Start AT LEAST three days before the deadline (for cs452 it's 3 weeks except A0).
      * Attendance matters. Typically I attend >90% of the lectures, but there were three courses so far where I attended less than 70% of the lectures. For one of these courses I got a high seventy, for other two my midterm scores were high sixties and mid-seventies. Clearly that was bad (though it was recently, and I found two of these courses quite boring. For the record, STAT 231 sucks). Watching youtube during lecture counts as being absent.
      * Don't be afraid to ask profs / TAs dumb questions. Sometimes you have a tradeoff of bothering the prof or spending a couple of hours stuck by yourself. I always ask the prof (If there are profs reading this (and I know there are), sorry about that :) ). It's rarely the case that you can solve a problem which you can't solve in half an hour.
      * Don't be afraid to appeal for marks. I must be among the most annoying students, because I once appealed for 5% on an assignment that was worth 1% of the final mark. Sometimes your attitude can be "whatever", but if something is wrong, it's up to you to fix it. In some courses markers are just a bit too careless, and if you keep loosing 5% on every assignment, you're grade will get impacted quite a bit.

      And the last and most trivial tip - work hard. None of the students that I know of who get 90+ or who got a job at a top-notch company are super lazy (you can afford a bit of laziness sometimes).

    2. Had to break my reply down in 2 pieces because I didn't want my hard work to go waste and I really wanted to acknowledge your response:


      Thanks, 3 for sharing your story + tips and tricks that personally work for you. These things, although we learn about them all the time from articles, workshops and other sources, seem so genuine and believable coming from an actual person who has practiced them IRL.

      First off, 95 and 96% overall - that's pretty awesome! Congratulations! I think marks do decide employment in some cases - for me they mostly have. I'm not in CS or Math, I'm in Science (but doing a minor in Math), so most of your tips would be really helpful for me since I'd still be taking those math and cs courses. :)

      Here's what I thought after reading each of your study habits:

      - I'm not that much of an extrovert anyway so never study in groups unless I'm there to help my friends with their assignments or problems.. so we're good there. (Check!)
      - I don't have facebook but I think I turned to other things after I deactivated my facebook, which now end up wasting even more of my time - reddit, twitter, music, youtube, email. Will power is essential to battle these distractions, and I seem to be lacking that a lot. Any tips on how you drive yourself away?
      - I don't think I've ever gotten proper sleep before an exam. Although I was fine with that in 1st year, things started getting really bad in 2nd year and so here I am, asking away for advice. I'll try to manage my time well. I think that if I could get away from all the distractions, I'd be so productive.
      - "Wow you seem to have a lot of time on your hands" is what I thought when I read your 3rd tip. I'm saying that because I ALWAYS find myself in situations where there is NO WAY I can go through even one of the past midterms - I'm very last minute. Now that I'm so close to my exams, I feel like this term is going to be shit as well. From all that you wrote, I realized that constant and persistent effort is needed throughout the term.. need to bring that into my life, It's so late now though :(
      - I start assignments the night before. This is where the problem lies. It happens every single time. It's so frustrating when I'm stuck and I can't even seek help. Even when I decide that I'd not let that happen to my next assignment and that I'd start early, I take it very easy and waste my time on the above mentioned sites and again find myself starting the assignment the night before. Yet again, boils down to will power. Think I need counselling for this now, I'm so much on the deep end at this point.
      - Even my friends stopped going to STAT 231 lectures and complained about it. Thankfully I don't have to take it since I'm only doing a Math minor, but hey you are at least done with it!
      - I'm such a pro-ask person. I completely abide by your ideology that asking profs for help is so much better than being stuck at something for hours. For Math courses though, I do my fair share of working on a problem before I approach the prof. This helps in 2 ways for me: It's such a great feeling when I prove/solve a problem all by myself; and it shows the prof that I tried and worked hard rather than just approaching him and finding the easy way out. (Check again!)

    3. -2-

      - Ohkay this is something that I do 50% of the time. Sometimes I don't care (so am caught up in that "whatever" attitude that you mentioned), but man your words do make sense. I'm being that stingy bitch now. Every mark counts. I'm even thinking of going and looking at my finals now after they've been graded, because I've realized that in most math courses I get 1/6 because my final answer is wrong, but it's just something trivial mistake that I made in the beginning (ex. copying the wrong value from one line to the next) and the one time I've approached the prof about it, i've ended up getting a 5/6 on that question. It's always worth knocking on closed doors, you never know - someone might be inside to open it and guide you through.
      - I think I've been a bit lazy, I accept. The problem with me has always been lack of seriousness though. That seriousness doesn't creep in until hours before an exam or an assignment is due, and that is why I end up wasting my time so much (which can be called "being lazy", I guess..). When I'm at it though, I usually do a great job on my lab reports and other assignments.

      Thankfully I'm in my 2B right now and most grad schools look at last 2 years of our undergrad, so I still have hopes of doing well in my 3rd and 4th year. Thanks a LOT for giving me all that information, I'm so motivated to do well from now on. YEAH I GOT THIS!!!

      THANK YOU! :)

  4. K so I don't want to sound conceited or condescending or anything like that so *please* tell me if I come off as such. I'm in CS.

    In my lectures when I'm taking notes, I try to make sure that I understand both what's going on the board and often also how one would come up with the idea to try that technique (in the case of examples). Sometimes if I can, I try to guess what the prof is going to write before they write it. I try to make sure I understand the math behind what was written before I write it down (instead of just mmmhmm okay so then this would be the next step sure). For anyone that was in my algebra, class, that's why I ask so many questions heh. For those in my calc class, you might have noticed I didn't ask as many questions as algebra. That's because YuRu is da best (super clear and makes few mistakes).

    For my non math classes most of the notes are posted online for me, so I just try to pay the most attention in class that I can (which sometimes doesn't work heh). But then for the online notes or assigned textbook readings, I try to read them the weekend after the related lecture. I again make sure that I get every concept and why certain steps are being taken in examples. Sometimes I stare at one line for a good ten minutes (which might involve some staring into space empty-mindedly) before I totally get what's going on - sometimes I'll highlight it and go back later, ask on this group, or ask the prof if I'm desperate.

    I also do all my assignments. All the questions. I try to do it without looking at the notes first, but often will go back especially for formulas (and Yu-Ru's "examples" that are actually the solution, which might not actually be that helpful in the long run).

    When I study for my exam, I re-read *all* the class notes. I highlight any definitions, theorems, and proofs I think I need to study. Then I go through and type up about 2-4 pages of those things. I re-read through all the assignments and check my solutions with the posted ones online (remember not all questions are marked). I add common mistakes to my notes to remember not to make them.

    Then I go over those 4 pages of notes until I know it all really well. Even the examples and proofs, which take forever to get right.
    Then I do the practice exams which hopefully I'm able to finish without looking at my notes. I make note of any mistakes I make.

    I try to make sure I understand every corner of the course. To not understand something in the notes or on an assignment freaks me out because you never know how much it will be weighted on the exam.

    Overkill? Probably. But last semester my average was just over 95.

    Also, I've done stuff like this for most of high school (as well as doing a lot of math contests) so I've developed really good problem solving and test taking techniques, which definitely also help.

    1. Hey, thanks 4! I was here for advice and help and that's exactly what you did, so you do NOT come across as being condescending. I'm super thankful to you for taking the time out and offering me this advice. It's very nice of you.

      I'm not in CS and I don't know who Prof. YuRu is, but now I know who to opt for if I have the chance to, since I'll still be taking math and cs courses as I'm doing a math minor (I'm in science).

      I feel like for asking questions in class, one has to have guts. I'm okay asking questions in a small class, but big classes intimidate me and I'm usually better off asking the prof later after class. You're super brave to be asking questions in your class though, I commend you for that! Trust me, there are others who are having the same thoughts and I personally give out a silent thanks in my head to the person who asks questions in class.. and secretly admire them for even coming up with such an intelligent question.

      Wow. All the things that you mentioned - reading notes every weekend, getting back to the stuff later by highlighting it, doing all examples, assignments, questions again, going through ALL the course notes and past exams.. you really do work hard all throughout the semester. You TOTALLY deserve the over 95 average that you have. It's seriously amazing, having that in CS. GOOD JOB!!

      Also, looking at how you study has made me realize where I lack. I am not consistent in my efforts, do everything the last minute, am so unorganized and waste time on stupid things on the internet.
      Plus that thought that you mentioned - "not knowing something freaks you out because you don't know how much it'd be weighted on the exam", is something that I really don't possess. For situations like those I assume that I'm going to "somehow" get away with it (because most of the time it's too late for me to even research about that thing, there's no time left.. I'm veryyy last minute) and hope that I'm lucky and that it is never on the exam. Pointless to say, never works.
      I really wish I had posted this OMG in the beginning of the term so that I could actually switch my ways.. I'm going on co-op in the next term so wouldn't have the chance to implement all these things (or try to implement them).

      However, I'm bookmarking this page now and when I'm back from co-op, I'm going to read all the advice again and motivate myself to work super hard.. Hopefully I can be at least half as organized and awesome as everyone on here is.

      Thanks a lot for taking out the time to write this and helping me out, 4!

      P.S. lol that staring blankly at a sentence for 10 minutes happens wayyy too much with me. probably takes up about 60% of the time I'm trying to get through the readings.

  5. Although I was in a program regarded as easy by my fellow UW peers, my study habits were study smart, not hard. I adapted and learned how my professors would grade, what content they would usually test, and the format of the tests and assignments. To truly maximize this it would greatly benefit you to have the same professors for multiple classes. To be honest, I procrastinate a lot. I write my essays 2-3 days before they're due if not the night before, and I study for exams either the night before or the day of. But I study what I know is going to be tested, and I ignore everything else. I skip classes if I know my time is better spent reading, on an assignment, or catching up on sleep. I also strategically use my time on assignments that will overall improve my GPA and wing it on things that aren't as important. If I'm already getting 90+ (4.0 GPA) in a class and I have a 25% exam but I also have a 60% paper due in a class I'm getting 75 (3.0 GPA) in, I'm going to put most of my resources into the 60% paper. If my mark increases in the 90+ class, it does nothing to my GPA, but improving my 75 does wonders. I realize UW grades with percentage not GPA, but I was applying to professional schools where GPA mattered significantly.

    1. Hmm studying smart is a good point! I'm in 2B right now and there has never been a prof who I've had twice, but I'll keep track of their pattern of testing from now on. You never know, I might have them again.

      OMG that situation that you described (having 90% in a class vs. having 75% in another) is exactly what I'm going through right now. I have a course I have ~95% on right now, and another that I have ~50% in. Needless to mention, I'm so demotivated to study for the latter course and I hate it, and want to just study the first course and maintain my 95. Now I've realized, and I have you to thank for it, that I better work on actually making sure that I pass the 2nd course since I anyway know the material really well for the 1st one. All my energy will now go into prepping hard for the exam for the course I have a 50 in, although I'll have to push myself hard for it.. i have little to no interest left in it anymore.

      Also, your advice is helpful regardless of uw following a percent system, since a 60 something still looks better than a 50 something on our transcript. I'm also in co-op so I better make sure I get good marks to secure employment.

      Thanks a lot for your valuable addition, it was good to have a non-math/cs person bring up this aspect because I'm not in math either. :)

  6. Stay busy in your off time. If you have a flexible schedule and enough time to slack off, then fill it with something productive. I had a part-time job for a lot of my undergrad. I had less time to waste procrastinating and therefore I had to balance my schedule and get school work done well and on time.


    Pomodoro setting. Basically breaks my work up into manageable chunks, and motivates me to work when I have nothing left. I actually find I'm a lot more productive when I start with pomodoros than when I sit down for a couple hours to study.

  8. Pay attention in class and learn to take good notes.

    Note taking isn't just about copying everything down.
    Assume it takes at least 2 passes to remember something well enough to write the exam. If you just copy the prof's lecture down, you're not actually thinking and processing it like you need to. Your first pass doesn't happen until later when you review/rewrite your notes, and most students wont do that until exam time.

    The lecture has enough time to absorb information, process it, and then squeeze in a question or two about things you're not 100% sure about.

    Paraphrase your notes and be reluctant to write down anything that does not make sense to you.

    If you paraphrase your notes, the information that you see and hear actually HAS to get processed, and this becomes your first pass through the material. Paraphrasing leaves you with less notes, but you have more time to expand and generate your own notes on the material and then ask a question. And to those who think that asking questions disrupts the class, when you're actually processing the information your questions will be much more useful to yourself and the class. The bad questions come from people who don't pay full attention and then clear up something they missed.

    In regards to material that didn't make sense, it's easy to see this as a problem that will slow you down. It's true, it probably will. The benefits outweigh the costs though, because you'll develop the habit of making sure you understand everything you write, and you'll become better at fast critical thinking. Practice this and you'll never have notes you don't understand ever again.

    When it comes to study time, your brain is already familiar with all of your notes and their structure. There's a lot less "oh wow, I didn't remember this part" because your brain was forced to make sense of it before you wrote it down. Going through the notes again is also easier simply because you paraphrased and you're left with only the important material.

    When you actually study, start your notes again from the beginning, but condense them much more. Anything that you don't find to be "common sense" you can skip over. There's a certain amount of material in every course that you'll be able to easily remember by association in the exam, so don't waste your time on it. Write down the key formulas, do quick sketches of graphs that you might not remember well. You should be able to fit 20 pages of original notes into 10 condensed pages depending on the type of course.

    When you have those new notes, they become your new study reference.

    Do practice problems/exams and whenever you need to know something, get it from the new notes. You should be able to get everything from those 10 pages, and the small things that are not explicitly written you should be able to pull out of your memory by association with the other main topics in your notes. If you can't, THEN refer to your original notes or the textbook and add that information to your new notes.

    The best way to write a test is to read the question and have the question remind you of what to do. This is all associative memory, and it's important to practice it.

  9. I have two study habits that have helped me get through a chronic procrastination problem:

    1. Short term goals. I write out my goals for every week, and write down when I want to have them done by. I used to meet with some friends once a week and we would write down our goals for the next week together, to have someone to be accountable to. It became a habit, and now I can be more accountable to myself.

    2. I separated home/work/leisure. I don't work at home. I have specific places on campus that I think about as my work places. If I am at a work place and I want to take a break or watch a video, I have to force myself to leave and go somewhere else. By only working at work places, I try to condition myself to being in a work-mode mindset.