Six tips for studying success in Germany
Nobody said academia was going to be easy, especially in Germany
German universities are among the most demanding in the world, requiring students to master huge volumes of information, complete detailed research projects, and meet examination thresholds. These hurdles can become even more pressing if you get behind in your studies.
Avoid unnecessary stress by approaching your course in the right way. These tips should point you in the right direction.
1. Keep outside distractions to a minimum
First of all, create an environment that's focused on academic work. Try to have enough money available to fund your living costs, without needing to work.
Sort out your visa, health insurance, Sperrkonto, and accommodation as soon as possible after arriving. And have a system in place for paying bills on time to avoid any unpleasant situations.
If you tick off these administrative essentials, and don't need to spend your evenings bar-keeping or answering phones, you'll be in a much better place to succeed.
2. Master your schedule for the semester and plan for exams
Secondly, don't get caught out by examinations. At German universities, the annual and semester schedules are always clearly laid out in advance, so there's no ambiguity. You know when examinations will occur, and when coursework needs to be completed.
At the start of each semester, mark off milestones towards the final assessment. Leave a day every couple of weeks to refresh what you've learned, and plenty of time when exams arrive to organize your knowledge.
Also, remember that German examination periods can be very hectic, with tests coming thick and fast. So you'll need more time in advance to prepare than may have been true in the past.
3. Look for study groups to build your understanding
In Germany, it's customary for students to form loose groupings called 'study groups', which are based around specific subjects. You'll almost certainly encounter adverts for these groups, which meet regularly throughout the year.
If you see them, don't hesitate to sign up. Study groups expose students to new perspectives and ideas. Participants may have read different materials, or pursued different research areas, which are relevant to your interests.
Aside from that, these groups are an excellent way to refine your arguments, get to know enthusiastic peers, and to build your confidence. If your ideas are well received by the group, they are probably ready for the examiners, too.
4. Make the best use of online materials
Nowadays, much university learning takes place online, and Germany is no exception. Every university library will provide access to a certain portfolio of journals, databases, and search facilities. Asking the librarians for a quick introduction is a good call, as they will know every single tool, and recommend ones that apply to your needs.
Be careful about sharing articles or books online though. New copyright laws have recently clarified that materials can be shared freely via library terminals, and portions of books can be shared privately. So it may be best to focus your studies on library time, rather than working in coffee shops or at home.
5. Always be alert for plagiarism
While copyright has been a major issue recently, plagiarism is even more important - especially since high-profile cases involving sitting German ministers.
One result of these scandals has been a tightening of plagiarism detection across German universities, which is generally a good thing. However, sometimes students need to reference complex arguments or reproduce quotations, skirting the boundary between fair use and plagiarism.
Because of this, it's really important to learn the basics of referencing as soon as you can. Otherwise, you could find your papers rejected and - at worst - you could be removed from the course.
6. Become a time management expert
Finally, all students need to learn how to manage their time effectively. This doesn't come naturally to many people, particularly younger people who are keen to explore a foreign country. But it's fundamental.
Try to set aside core study periods every day. Don't overload your time with all-night sessions, in fact, avoid cramming if at all possible. It's a sure-fire route to burnout. And mix in recreational activities and socializing with academic work. Denying yourself a chance to relax is as dangerous as slacking off too much. Find the balance between work and play to enable your success.