Methodological issues

AIDE Bruxelles Saint-Gilles, Bruxelles Woluwe, Louvain-La-Neuve, Mons, Tournai

Here are some tips to help organise your daily study with peace of mind:

  • Tip 10 : Writing your dissertation (SupportKot workshop)
  • Tip 9: Taking notes: why and how
  • Tip 8: Dealing with stress
  • Tip 7: Meandering memory
  • Tip 6: Before memorising
  • Tip 5: Understanding your learning style to help you study
  • Tip 4: Understanding—and countering—procrastination
  • Tip 3: Time management
  • Tip 2: Study planning
  • Tip 1: Study strategies

Most faculties are proactive in providing academic support. Don’t hesitate to ask yours Faculty academic support !

And if you would like to talk to a member of our team, we encourage you to make an appointment. 


10 : writting your dissertation

In this PDF, "writing your dissertation" : (early November 2021 SupportKot workshop, in french)



Tip 9 : Taking notes during the class, why and how ?


First ask the right questions ! What purpose do they serve ?

  • Date and number de pages ⇒ Create a margin for future annotations (highlights, tips, questions to ask later, items to complete).
  • Space out your notes (paragraphs).
  • Note what the professor says at the beginning of class and draw a box around it: this is the thread linking the lesson to what came before.
  • Try to structure your notes (headings, subheadings) even if the professor does not do it straightaway.

Distinguish as soon as possible :

  • The essential from the ancillary
  • Concepts from examples
  • Theory from practice

How ?

  • Offset
  • Underline
  • Frame

What if the pace is too fast?

Do your best, write down what you can, you can sort it out later!

  • Highlight key concepts but also logical links ( ® + – = )
  • Get used to using abbreviations to improve your speed.
  • The important thing is not to lose track of what the professor is saying!
  • If there are passages that you do not understand, leave some space and come back to them later.

Practice and don’t be discouraged ! After a few weeks, note-taking will be a breeze!

What NOT to do

  • Do not copy word for word, you won’t understand what the teacher says.
  • Do not replay or transcribe all the videos, it is far too time consuming !
  • Never rewrite your notes to make them cleaner! It takes far too much time and the cognitive processing is far too shallow relative to academic demands. It is therefore unnecessary.
  • Do not go to class to do anything other than follow the lecture (and do not listen vaguely)!
  • Do not do several other tasks at the same time (switch off internet applications, emails, etc.).

In short, concentrate 100% on the class and your note-taking!


TIP 8 : Coping with stress, three complementary strategies


► Coping with stress: three complementary strategies

  • Strategy 1 : focus on the problem itself

This strategy aims to reduce the demands of the situation or increase your own resources to better cope with it. For example, the more you know about your exams, the professor’s requirements and the exact subject matter to be studied, the more you will develop a sense of confidence and control over the situation.

  • Strategy 2 : ask for help

Don’t take on everything yourself ! This strategy focuses on social support as a stress moderator and seeking help from others.

Sharing with friends, family or a mental health professional can help you better understand what is bothering you. You can receive insights or compassion and be able to work out solutions.

  • Stratégy 3 : try to regulate the emotional tensions caused by the situation

This can be done through :

  • Humour
  • Compassion
  • Demonstrations of solidarity
  • Developing a sense of belonging
  • Adopting a posture of gratitude for what we enjoy
  • Practicing relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga, sophrology, or cardiac coherence.

If you can implement any (or all!) of these strategies, then you are ready to master the stress mechanism !

The power of the stress mechanism


Stress can cause extremely emotional states but if we manage to channel our emotions, the hypervigilance stress triggers can help us perform right when we need to!

Not before, by worrying about and obsessing over all possible scenarios. Not after, by cursing ourselves for having not done this or said that. It’s the here and now that matters.


Just one thing to do: prepare!

Focus on precise tasks and objectives, get informed, understand the situation’s main issues and requirements. Whether it’s an exam or an interview, that’s where your attention should be focused. So you will have to train yourself to not be distracted by thoughts and judgments such as “I’ll never get there”, “It’s too hard for me”, “I’m so worthless”.


Never beat up on yourself ! Rather, take the time to assess as objectively as possible what happened. “I never lose. I either win or learn” (Nelson Mandela). It’s essential to recognise where you succeeded in facing a stressful situation. Next, pinpoint the weaknesses that prevented you from achieving your goal. The more you dedicate yourself to this analysis, the less you will repeat mistakes.


Worrying means suffering twice! Preparing and assessing are concrete actions that you have the power to undertake and thereby evade stifling anxiety.

To go further, download the “Atout Santé” on this subject, created by Univers santé.


To go further, download the l'Atout Santé on this subject, created by Univers Santé

Tip 7 : meandering memory: three ways of looking at it


► Three stages

  • Stage 1: encoding

This gives meaning to the information and creates the memory. The more precise the encoding, the deeper the memory trace and the more effectively the information is recorded.

  • Stage 2: short- or long-term storage

Storage preserves the information.

  • Stage 3: recovery (recall)

This stage consists of retrieving information in order to use it. The way the knowledge was “coded” allows it to be retrieved. ►See Tip 6 (steps before memorisation): it’s essential to organise the information in our memory in order to remember it well (links, connections, mental representations, etc.).

► Three levels of memory

  • Level 1: sensory or very short-term memory, one to two seconds

It allows us to read the end of a sentence while remembering the beginning.

  • Level 2: short-term or working memory, up to one minute

It processes a small amount of information and deletes anything that does not seem important for the current operation (e.g. mental arithmetic).

Level 3: long-term memory, infinite

This is where we store information that we use regularly. Its storage capacity is unlimited, provided we update the information regularly !

► In practice, pay particular attention to these three aspects :

  • Restitution: to avoid forgetting, you must be able to explain what you learn, and not be satisfied with simple passive learning (such as simple reading).
  • Learning: it must be done in several stages AND the time between the different learning sessions must increase over time to allow for consolidating memorisation!
  • The importance of sleep: it is fundamental to guarantee the proper functioning of memory. It is completely counterproductive to trade hours of sleep for hours of study.

► Going further: Three tips from a neurologist (French), The three types of memory (French), The importance of sleep (French)












Tip 6 : before memorising a lesson

You are about to memorise your lessons but have you thought about the important preliminary steps?

Step 1: read the document(s) and materials available to you

Step 2: understand

Step 3: make connections between ideas (comparison, opposition, deduction)

Step 4: create a study guide

Step 1: read the document(s) and materials at your disposal

  • Ask yourself why you are reading and what your objectives are in order to optimise your reading.
  • Understand the general structure of the written material and its main thread, for example, what links chapters.
  • Read actively and value your reading: keep a record of your reading, research and thoughts!

♦ Write down definitions

♦ Highlight key words

♦ Make diagrams, tables and other forms of mind-mapping

Step 2: understanding

Each discipline has its own vocabulary, acronyms and symbols. Make sure you know what they mean!

Knowing this “jargon” will help you to recognise the key words and ideas of your course.

Step 3: establish links between ideas (comparison, opposition, deduction) to:

  • Understand a text without ambiguity
  • Distinguish between main and secondary information;
  • Facilitate memorisation later.

Step 4: create a study guide

  • Plan a single study guide that brings together all the information you need to know (keeping two separate sources makes it harder to remember)
  • Making a new study guide can take up to three-four hours per hour of lecture time! Think carefully about the alternatives before you start :

♦ Complementing lecture notes or the professor’s slide show;

♦ The course syllabus;

♦ Other students’ study guides, after checking their reliability.

Main source: “Réussir sa première année, Mireille Houart, ed. Deboek”.



Tip 5 : understanding your learning style to help you study

Learning styles are a popular concept in psychology and aim to identify your spontaneous ways of learning.

VARK learning style models suggest there are four types of learning styles 

Still don’t know yours ? Take a test and follow (in french) the advice adapted to your preferred styles.







Tip 4 : understanding and countering procrastination

There are many reasons for procrastination! After ruling out the possibility of a learning disability, analysing the significance of this behaviour will enable you to implement strategies to avoid it. 

  • Procrastination can result from a poor assessment of the relationship between the workload and the time needed to complete it. It can occur in students who have never learned how to get down to work because they are intellectually very good at it. The lack of training in work and effort then becomes a real handicap. Methodological tools can help you overcome this difficulty (see below).
  • It may also reveal a lack of motivation for your work. Take stock of your real objectives and projects. This is probably where action is needed.
  • It can sometimes conceal a much more serious angst! Lack of self-esteem, pessimism, fear of failure, lack of self-confidence and confidence in the future, excessive perfectionism, isolation, anxiety, discouragement, impulsivity ... any of these might be the submerged part of the iceberg. Don’t hesitate to get help with these issues if they resonate with you.

And remember, small concrete steps will take you much farther than the unrealistic desire to take big steps.

►To go further:The 5 Second Rule, Mel Robbins, Savio Republic, 2017; Votre temps est infini. Et si votre journée était plus longue que vous ne le pensiez ?, Fabien Olicard, F1RST éditions, 2019.


Gérer son temps avec la méthode Pomodoro 


Tip 3 : time management, the important and the urgent

This tool can help you combine the clock and the compass!

Managing your time, the clock - means prioritising each task according to its importance, meaning or value - the compass.

Two videos help you organise your goals according to their importance and estimated degree of urgency (French):

Don’t get caught up in urgency: train yourself to sort your tasks! “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important” (Dwight Eisenhower).


Ne vous laissez pas prendre par l’urgence et entraînez-vous à trier vos tâches !
« Ce qui est important est rarement urgent et ce qui est urgent, rarement important », D. Eisenhower



Tip 2 : what’s the point of a schedule ? I never stick to it anyway!


Even if you find it difficult to stick to it, a schedule is essential to success! Take inspiration from this summary :

Why use a schedule ?

♦ Visualise the coming week :

  • Specify required tasks
  • Determine the time necessary to complete tasks
  • Establish realistic goals in a timetable that includes ALL activities (transit, leisure, rest)

♦ Visualise the term

  • Orient where you are in the term, e.g. the half-way point
  • Plan long-term : tests, papers, group work meetings

♦ Assess and, if necessary, correct

  • Review acquired experience
  • Adapt approach relative to goals and available time
  •  Lost time is never regained, than : 

⇒ Be realistic, assess, adapt

⇒ Planning is about taking into account reality, assessing yourself and, if necessary, adapting.

⇒ By practising this, you will improve and see that following your schedule will become a real motivator!

Mireille Houart talks about it in her excellent book "Réussir sa première année d'études supérieures (in French only, like this video)."


♦ The student’s schedule for your office

A large timetable is distributed to UCLouvain students at the beginning of the academic year. You can ask for it at the various Student Support Service reception points. The schedule is placed on your desk and allows you to enter all the academic and extracurricular activities in which you will take part. It’s a good way to organise your time. It’s also annotated with useful academic and administrative information.


Tip 1 : study strategies, the right questions to ask 

Success at university can be summed up in three words: motivation, hard work and ... strategy !

Have you asked yourself the right questions before studying your course materials ?

From the very first lesson in each subject, you receive (explicitly or implicitly) all manner of information to help you prepare for exams.

►What to look out for :

  • What exactly is the subject of the exam?
  • What materials are available?
  • Is it useful or not to summarise, synthesise, create a study guide that includes the main content?
  • For courses with practical work, will the exam focus on that or mainly on theory?
  • What are my professor’s requirements? What does he/she expect from me? Should I be analytical or concise? Schematic or narrative? What is his or her cognitive style?
  • In what form will he/she question me? Oral? Written? Open questions? Multiple choice?
  • How will I plan the stages of my preparation? Understanding, making links, practising, memorising.
  • Do I need to allow time for preparation of an assignment? What are the deadlines?

If you have not already done so, answer these questions to avoid useless work and focus on being efficient and productive !

Etudiante en révision