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Learning at university

three students and one tutor looking over a book

At university you are surrounded by learners. The business of Monash University is learning. The main goal of university study is to become an effective learner.

Work at learning

Don't leave the process to chance. If you're under the impression that effective learners are born that way, think again. Most will tell you that they never stop working at becoming even more effective as a learner.

Some characteristics of an effective learner:

  • Effective learners recognise that learning is a process that is ongoing and lifelong.
  • Effective learners recognise that learning is an active building up of knowledge and understanding, not merely a memorisation of facts.
  • Effective learners actively connect new information to existing knowledge and previous experiences; prior knowledge and experiences shape and give meaning to new knowledge.
  • Effective learners continuously reflect on and monitor their learning.
  • Effective learners work from a basis that learning is their own responsibility and that no-one else can do it for them.

Practical suggestions for becoming an effective learner

Practical suggestions to start you off on effective learning at university.

  • Read the study guide for all the units you are enrolled in.
  • Buy a copy of the required texts for all your units. Discounts are available from Monash University Bookshops for Monash students. Check your campus bookshop for details.
  • Plan out and make a chart of your study activities, and make changes when necessary.
  • Keep track of the learning methods that you use, noting those which seem to be most effective and what aspect of your study they were most effective for. Think about what it was that made these methods effective.  Understanding how you learn as an individual will make you a more effective learner.
  • Talk with others-students and teaching staff-about learning and study approaches. When you need information on how to go about things, it's usually best to ask someone who has experience.

Am I well prepared for uni?

Are students from city schools better prepared for university learning than students from rural schools?

Students from city schools do have easier access to open days and information days offered by universities during the year, whereas it is very difficult or almost impossible for most rural students to take advantage of these because of travel and expense. This information may help you to understand just how secondary school will tie in with university study.

The ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) that is generated from year 12 results is equal across Australia, except Queensland, so you are just as well qualified for university as anyone else.

Some university units (particularly mathematics and science subjects) typically draw on and build on content knowledge which is taught at secondary school. This will make your learning easier in that unit at university.

In general, you'll find that some content knowledge you covered at secondary school will link directly into your learning at university, but this will not always be the case. If you find that you have some gaps in background content knowledge, it's important to do something positive about the situation early in the semester, before it becomes a problem.

Try text books (ask the unit coordinator to recommend one that's easy to understand), unit handbooks, specially designed computer programs, university teachers, friends!

Communication is the key

In the various means of assessment at university you are asked to communicate your understanding of the unit, in written, spoken and/or practical ways.

Development in learning and communication skills is a lifelong experience-and it's never too late to make a big effort to improve them.  So build on accessing knowledge efficiently, selecting knowledge that is relevant and useful, examining evidence or text critically and interpreting evidence or text in the light of important principles.

Monash University provides assistance and support for students in learning and communication skills through Learning Support.

At Monash we're aware that students are likely to find transition from school to university to be a challenging experience. Fine! Change and challenge are some of the most stimulating experiences of life! But at Monash we want change and challenge to be a springboard for further growth and learning. We don't want students to get caught in a downward spiral that leads to experiences of helplessness and failure.

You will need to:

  1. think about what sort of help you might need-for example, 'do I need some counselling about the course or unit I've chosen?' or 'do I need to attend sessions on developing my study skills?' or 'do I need some help with written or oral communication?'
  2. locate the help you think you might need through reading Monash University brochures and booklets and/or student handbooks for your unit.
  3. You will find language assistance, counsellors, disability officers, Indigenous officers, financial aid advisers, housing advisers are all on campus to help you.
  4. The Student Association is another source of help and advice. There are Student Rights officers to look after your rights and to help with resources and activities. They can also provide welfare assistance if needed or refer you to other services.

Adjusting to university life

You will benefit from attending the scheduled program of activities held at the beginning of first semester as part of Orientation, and later, participate during 'Student Survival Week".  Academic programs, social activities and independent living skills conducted at that time have been designed specifically for commencing students to help you quickly and successfully learn and enjoy life as a university student.

Useful information about the transition to university can be found at Adjusting to University Life - bookmark it for future reference.

You can also contact staff in different areas of the university for information to make your transition to university as smooth as possible.


Orientation is your initial contact with the university. It involves your introduction to, and identification with, the university, a specific campus, your course, units of study (subjects), university staff, and the start of transition. Orientation today places greater emphasis on assisting first-year students with 'academic transition' during orientation.

In this time you will find all faculties take the opportunity to introduce you to the teaching methods and manner of learning expected of you in the particular subject areas they offer. Orientation is a great way to meet staff and other students before classes start and you'll feel more comfortable and start fitting in right away.

For campus-specific details, refer to your campus' Orientation 'What's On' guide and explore the Orientation website:

Student Survival Week

Student Survival Week is conducted around Week 4 where there is the opportunity to seek out, access and utilise information, facilities and resources that are available to you. It enables you to focus on issues that have arisen in the first few weeks of university.

On each campus, student associations focus on activities that suit your situation, such as helping with a range of academic programs, social activities and independent living skills which helps you to adjust to learning and have a more satisfying experience by gaining access to important information whilst having fun.

Student Survival Week provides you with the opportunity to withdraw from units of study without being charged the Commonwealth-supported places (CSP), formerly known as Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) fees and having a 'fail' grade recorded on your academic record.

How can I tell if I am coping with university study?

Sometimes you can tell quite definitely whether or not you are coping with the understandings and learnings expected in a program of university study. If you're not sure, you must ask a teacher to give you a descriptive feedback on your progress.

You need to know where and in what ways your work is deficient and the approaches you might take to remedy this.

How can I tell what learning is required in the subjects I am studying?

Clear objectives for student learning are provided for every unit taught in Monash University. These objectives describe to you what you should know and be able to do as a result of the learning experiences provided in that unit.  Individual learning objectives can be found in the Monash University Handbook and in your unit study guide.If this information is not available or you don't know how to gain access to it, ask at the departmental office if you can make an appointment to speak with the unit coordinator.

Learn how to use the library

Students at university are expected to use the library as a study resource.

You will need to refer to books and periodicals from the library right through your study program at university. Some of these are available online so you need to know how to access the,.  Many units also have reading lists on the Library website. 

University libraries are usually quite large places and are sometimes difficult to find your way around. So it makes sense to become very familiar with the library on your campus as soon as you arrive at university.

Locate the HELP desk in the library.

Also, in the first few weeks of the university year, library staff usually lead guided tours of the library. They are essential for helping you to understand how to use the library effectively and efficiently.