Overview - Know your goals!

At the first week of lectures, have a look at the website of the institute which offers your lecture. The professor will surely publish the web address in the first slide show presentation. Usually there is one category called “Lehre” where you will find all the lectures hold by this institute. This page often contains detailed information about the exam or even offers exams from the previous semesters for download. Some institutes offer certain question times, during which you can speak to the professor or they offer revisions before the exam. All of this information is published on the internet site of the institute holding the lecture.
After the first four or five weeks of the semester, once you have completed the first topics of the lecture, it is a good idea to have a closer look at some of the exams from previous semesters. This is a good assessment to see, whether you are on the right course.

NASA scientists with their board of calculations. 1960′s


In almost all the engineering and science degrees attendance at lectures is not compulsory. Neither will the professor become angry at you if you do not attend lectures. The truth is that most likely he will not even notice it. On the one hand side this is very useful and a sign of trust, but on the other hand side it means, that it is your own responsibility to conquer your weaker self and avoid procrastination.

If you think that it is more effective for you to learn in the library, read a textbook or retrace the example exercise by yourself than going to lectures, do so. Some students prefer to learn by themselves or in groups instead of sitting in an overcrowded lecture hall. However you need to assure, that you keep up with the pace in lectures and that you cover all the topics necessary for exams. If you miss out one lecture, you should spend at least the same amount of time to catch up with the topics covered in lecture.


Get a suitable PDF reader! You will need to organize a large number of power point presentations, exercises and solved problems. Soon you will notice that it would be very expensive to print out all of these documents + you need to carry them around.

I use Nitro Reader 3, which you can download for free. Unlike the Adobe Reader, it allows you to write your own notes and annotations onto the documents. For example you can write the new vocabulary that you learned onto each slide or mark the most important definitions. If you share the document on Dropbox or Google Drive you can benefit from the annotations that your friends have already made or ask them questions about sections you do not understand.

Index Cards

Practice formulas and definitions with virtual index cards. This allows you to type new formulas into your smartphone the very minute they are taught in lecture and use the spare time waiting at the bus station to study. You can share your virtual index card collection with fellow students or use the collections found in the archive. Moreover this is a good system to learn vocabulary and technical terms in German. There are very many apps and websites with similar products, for example:

http://www.cobocards.com/de/              good for formulas
http://www.vocbox.com/                           good for vocabulary

Don't immerse yourself in just one topic

You look at the calendar and notice with a shock that that the semester is already almost over. You go to a lecture, which you have not really visited a lot in the last time and you realize with panic that you hardly understand a word the professor says. No you decide to revise the entire textbook and all the exercises the next weekend. While very many students try to rescue themselves with those marathon-learning-sessions, scientists have proven that this is by far the least effective way of learning. If you work on just one topic for many hours, your concentration will decrease rapidly and you will have forgotten most of the stuff from the first hours, by the time you finish. Even worse - by punishing yourself with penalty-learning-sessions you intensify a negative emotional connection to the topic, so that your brain will absorb even less of the contend you are trying to learn.

Work for 60 - 90 minutes in one go and take a break between those periods. Do some sports or go for a walk. Learn for different subjects at one day. It is harder to absorb a lot of similar information than learning e.g. statistics and business in alternating sessions. Switch the subjects, switch the places, switch your learning-partners, switch your methods - nothing is worse for your concentration than routine.

In many textbooks or summaries the problems are sorted and categorized. Don't do that, do not just solve three similar exercises in one row. You won't understand the background, but only follow the pattern. In the exam there is no pattern. In the exam you won't know which category of problem you have been given.

Manage your time

A simple way to do so, is to set yourself deadlines. Instead of having just one final goal, the exam, you could have many small and easily achievable goals. At the beginning of the semester you could write down best-before dates below every chapter in the textbook. Try to get hold on some old exams from previous semesters; decide how many of those you want to do before the exam and start planning backwards from the date of the exam. Be honest with yourself: Is it really a realistic approach to plan three exams for one day?

Unrealistic goals cause frustration, which is very harmful to studying. However not goals at all will lead to procrastination.

Plan with some buffer- time. You should plan to be finished with your exam preparations at least two days before the exam, otherwise you will get really stressed, which is ineffective for studying. At the morning before the exam, have breakfast with friends, read a novel or go for a walk, but don't study. It would be to late anyway. Spare your energy for the actual exam.

Some people say: " I can only study effectively, when I am really stressed." This is simply not true. Our brain is more able to absorb new information in a relaxed atmosphere. What those people actually mean is: "I can only motivate myself for studying, when I am really stressed." This is a problem with discipline, not with learning techniques.