Fanxi Meng, Student Ambassador from China, has been studying in Ireland for three years now and has had to adapt quickly to the change to online learning. From his experience so far, he has written up some valuable advice to help you do well during your year online.

Most Irish universities have moved to online study since last March due to the rapid spread of the Coronavirus. Some students were not in Ireland at that time and only arrived in September 2020 to start their academic year in Ireland. Coming to a foreign university is never an easy thing as the academic cultures may drastically differ from one’s home country. Thus, it is challenging to adapt to a new university. It has been particularly challenging for international students this year because we not only need to adapt to the different academic culture but, also need to cope with a new way of learning – online! As an international student who has studied in Ireland for three years and has experienced one year of online learning, I am happy to share with you some tips to adapt to online learning and ace your exams!

Stick to the timetable
Attending lectures is supposed to be a very basic task for all students but, did you notice just how hard it is to do such a basic thing when classes are moved online? If you did, hey, you are not alone! I also found it really hard keeping up with lectures and I even started skipping lectures in the beginning. Ironically, I didn’t feel guilty at all because I thought I could always watch the recordings and revise when I felt like it. However, trust me, you will not watch the lecture recordings that you missed! Time does go fast and final exams always come without you realising it. So, it is very likely that when you do realise that you need to start watching recordings, it is already too late. You could end up going through lecture slides quickly and taking your exams with a poor understanding of your subject. Thus, watching recordings may not be very reliable. It is important that you watch every lecture live and the best way to do that is to follow your lecture timetable.

To make your day feel more fulfilling, you can also list things or tasks that you should be doing on your timetable. This is a fantastic way to manage your time and to keep things organised. If you are missing lectures and falling behind, why not just stick to your timetable the next day. I promise you will feel much better and motivated after doing so!

Regularly review the material
Believe it or not, even if you attend all lectures, at the end of the semester you may surprisingly find that you forget all the material learned in the first few months. It is normal that people forget things that they do not constantly think about, such as the knowledge you learnt two weeks ago, even just one
week ago. It is therefore important to review regularly the information that you’ve learnt to date. If you are able to do revision weekly, you are amazing! If you are a bit lazy like me, I would recommend reviewing materials bit by bit. What does that mean? Usually, one module is divided into multiple topics or units, which are delivered in different lectures. Materials delivered on one topic are normally consistent, allowing you to logically integrate all the
knowledge. After reviewing a topic, it is an excellent idea to write a summary! If your exams are essay-based, your summaries will be so helpful when generating answers during the exam.

Ask for help
Studying is not something that you can do completely on your own. You will always encounter difficulties and it is therefore important to ask for help when you are stuck at any point. It is absolutely normal to seek help and you should never be ashamed to ask questions! Sometimes you will be surprised how happy people are to offer their help. If you are shy about asking a lecturer, try asking a friend or classmate. Asking questions is often one of the best ways to learn. Having friends answer your questions is an opportunity to practice communication skills too— something you may be a bit rusty at from being at home all day, every day. Sometimes, your friends will find that they, in fact, don’t understand things just by answering your questions!

Take advantage of university resources
You are never alone in your journey of learning. Irish universities provide with you many supports that you may benefit from. If you are struggling with planning an essay, confused by different reference styles, not sure what plagiarism is or just want to get a second opinion on of your essay, the university writing centre is a fantastic place to go! One thing you should be aware of is that the writing centre is a popular place where students go, which means it can be fully occupied sometimes. Thus, it is necessary to book your place in advance and make full use of the session. If you need support from specific lecturers, supervisors or even the school, don’t be shy to reach out! Sometimes, the only way to do a task is by powering through. However, it may only take a few minutes of talking to your lecturers to solve the problem. Beyond answering your questions, you are also building connections with academic staff at the university; this may be valuable for your future development. Finally, as an international student, don’t forget that the international office at your university is always there for you. They are more than happy to help you if you have any difficulties so, do reach out to them!

Enjoy life
Online learning is challenging. It is essential to have a good work/life balance! Enjoy a walk and take a break when you are exhausted. Treat yourself to fresh meals every day; sufficient nutrient supply is critical for your body to work hard. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You should be proud of what you have achieved. Keep being positive and do ask for help when you are stressed out. I wish you every success!

Fanxi is studying Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at University College Dublin.