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Study tips and recommendations

A Cambridge Term is intense, but it is manageable and enjoyable if you are equipped with the right skills to stay on top of your work. Whether you are an incoming student making the jump from A-levels to a Cambridge degree and are apprehensive about the workload, or a current student trying to manage your time more effectively, this is the section for you.


Nine study tips for new and current Cambridge students

Starting at a new university can be difficult. It can be hard to keep up with (often very new) academic content alongside the pressures of moving somewhere new and making friends. Below, we share some of our top tips for adjusting as a Cambridge student.

Organise your time and structure your days

In the Cambridge system, you need to keep track of lectures, supervisions and deadlines. We suggest having working hours each day, from 9-5 for example, so that you have a point every day where you are able to stop doing academic work and pursue your other interests, like society events.

Check your emails

On the surface this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but is actually very important. Lecture times could change, or supervision dates could be moved around - and so being on top of these changes is crucial to staying on top of your work.

Write out supo/lecture notes as soon as you can after they have happened

The information and topic is still fresh and you will probably have a lot of ideas on the topic in mind. Write these thoughts down or organise them while they’re still at the forefront of your mind. During a supo/lecture you may be enthralled in the conversation and so might have written nothing or extremely short-hand notes to save time. The problem with this is that you might not understand them if you leave it for too long and try to decipher what you have written days or weeks later.

Change your setting

One of the main things students forget to do is vary their study environment. Especially due to the COVID pandemic, you may have spent most of your time in your room. However, this can have an effect on your mental health and your work because your brain isn’t getting refreshed. Booking a time slot at one of the University Libraries or even studying in your friend’s room can go a long way to reinvigorating your motivation and helping you think better.

Make studying a collaborative experience

You don’t have to do everything by yourself at university, even though it may seem that way on the surface. You can split readings among your subject cohort in College or even ask older students for help on a question they may have done in previous years if you’re struggling with the content. You can also brainstorm with friends on essay questions to help spark ideas. Even though institutions like Cambridge have the capacity to be competitive, they don’t have to be.

Make sure you are taking regular breaks!

You don’t have to study for 10 hours straight! This is extremely unhealthy and you’re unlikely to effectively retain any information. Taking small breaks can greatly increase your productivity: for instance, working for 2 hours and then taking a half an hour break before working another 2 hours is much more productive than working for 4 hours non-stop. Give your brain an opportunity to rest whilst also giving yourself time to get re-motivated.

Learn how to take constructive criticism

One of the most startling aspects of the Cambridge system is learning how to receive constructive feedback to make your work better. It can be hard, or even a little disheartening, when you have worked hard on an essay and you didn’t get the feedback you were hoping for. It is especially hard because you would have probably come from being one of the tops of your class in your school and now may feel like you’re not as smart as other people at Cambridge. Take a deep breath and trust the process.


Remember, it isn’t a personal attack on you, or an evaluation of your self-worth, just tips for making your work better. Read them over, which comments are you unsure about?  Which comments could you incorporate into your next essay or piece of work? It is the ability to be able to take on criticism and improve your work that will help you make astronomical leaps in your work.

Inserting your experiences into your work as a Black student
  • Although there have been momentous de-colonial efforts in Cambridge courses its an unfortunate fact that you may not have a topic that centres your experiences as a Black student. However, you should not feel afraid to insert your identity into your work. One of the easiest ways to do this is by critiquing default Eurocentric views in your essay and countering it with the multiplicity of experiences that are left at the wayside of a Cambridge curriculum. Moreover, you could take a thematic question and make Black experiences the heart of it. 

  • But more importantly, understand that this isn’t something you have to do - it also could become extra work if you have to go beyond the reading list and do extra research, which may be harder or more time-consuming. The option is yours, but you don’t have to be the spokesperson for the Black community in every essay or piece of work

  • Also, the same goes for supervisions; if you have a supervision partner or supervisor that is insensitive to the Black experience you don’t have to be an advocate for the Black community if you don’t feel comfortable doing so; you have enough to deal with as it is. If anything racist or otherwise offensive is said, you can always report the incident to your DoS or the relevant contacts in College. Whatever your approach, don’t feel like you have to debate the side of the Black community in every academic space.

Ask for help if it is needed!

Last but not least, if the work is too much: rest! It is important to know your limits; schedule an afternoon off if needed. You should be able to talk to your supervisor and normally they will be lenient in allowing you to send in an essay plan or have an extension if it gets too overwhelming. You can also email supervisors and lecturers for help if there are aspects of a topic you don’t understand. In Cambridge, everyone has ‘duck syndrome’ which refers to when people look completely calm on the surface but are paddling hard under the water to stay afloat. Don’t feel discouraged or like you are any less of a capable student for needing a little bit of help or rest. Not only is it normal, it’s required!.