Study Smart, Not Hard: 6 Strategies to Survive Your First Semester in Germany

Your first semester in Germany is going to be hard. Really hard.

Study programs at German universities often accept a high percentage of students and then start with "weed out" semesters to determine which students really have what it takes to succeed. 

If you want to make it through the ringer, you'll need to be ready to do a lot (A LOT) of studying, regardless of which subject you choose.

The majority of students study by re-reading notes and books, but this has been shown to be a terrible way to learn material. Active learning strategies are much more effective, and have proven results. 

Here are six study strategies to help you survive your first semester.

1) Don't just re-read

This is the number one strategy that most students take from their high school days, but when students re-read, they generally show no improvement in learning.

Recycling information is not an effective way to create permanent memories and store knowledge. Studies have shown no improvement in recall from students who read a passage multiple times verses those who only read it once.

When you first read something, you retain a lot of information. By the second pass, you'll already recognize a lot of the material and subconsciously skip over it. 

2) Quiz yourself

Instead of going over your notes or readings multiple times, read once and then quiz yourself, either by using questions listed in the textbook or by creating your own. This will improve long-term retrieval of memories and lead to more effective retention of information.

This technique also gives you a chance to judge what you do and don't know. Instead of wasting time skimming over material that you've already retained, you'll focus in on the material that is still challenging you.

3) Form connections with what you already know

During readings, try to create memory chains by connecting information that you're learning with things you already know. This will allow you to understand the context of each fact better, but more importantly, our memories are much "stickier" when place within a larger picture.

4) Use visuals to help understand and retain 

Many students are visual learners and need to physically see information in order to retain it. You can do this by creating a mental image and places facts within it, but it can also be useful to create actual diagrams, models and flowcharts. This also involves active learning, which helps to generate understanding of a topic and improves retention of information by engage learners in the process of knowledge acquisition. 

5) Use flashcards

Flashcards can be incredibly useful, but it's important to continue reinforcing information that you've already learned. Repeating cards, even once you get them right, is very important to the creation of memories. It also trains your brain to retrieve the information that you've encounters.

Traditional paper flashcards are great, but you can also use apps like Anki to create your own or use decks shared by other users.

6) Don't cram

You may have been able to get away with it in high school, but this won't work in Germany. The amount of material you'll need to cover for your exams is just too vast and if you wait until the last minute, you're almost sure to fail.

Additionally, studies have shown that the repetition of material within a short time frame is incredibly ineffective for both short and long term retention. If you spend less time total but space it out in regular intervals, your results on the exams will be better, and you'll actually retain the information to use it later. This is called spaced repetition, and it has been proven over the years to be the most effective way to learn.