Textbooks! Subject Guides! Preparing for the Semester and your Classes

Well friends, there’s just a week to go before your first classes! Getting nervous? Excited? Worried? Looking forward to Orientation just so you can begin already?

If you haven’t already, scroll down to go over my Planning O Week and Learning Your Way Around recent blogs to make sure you’re absolutely ready to get everything you need out of Orientation. This week is for you. Not second or third years, but for you as the new students who need some extra guidance to help with your transition into this wondrous place called university. Hundreds of students are volunteering their time alongside staff to get you acquainted with all the things they love about La Trobe. So take the tour, attend all the information sessions, get your parking and myki concessions sorted, then kick back and relax over a sausage sizzle or a beer and aim to make a few friends among the fun. Among the social events happening in O-Week are:

Now aside from all that fun, you are probably starting to wonder about textbooks and when the study stuff will start to kick off. The good news is that if your enrolment is proceeding without hitches, then it should all be happening already, if not, very soon (this week in fact!). You want to look out for subject guides on the LMS, and spend a couple of hours this week or next planning out just what your semester will look like in terms of study load. Continue reading to get the low-down.

SUBJECT GUIDES: Check the LMS for them this week

Firstly – recall the LMS, sometimes known as Moodle that I introduced in LTU Website Navigation and Connections? If you have your Statement of Account, you can use your username and password to log in to the LMS now, linked from the right-hand menu on the Current Students page. Click on the left-hand menu on the next page to access the login screen. Within LMS you can click on each of your subjects and look around for the Subject Guide link. They are usually at the top underneath the contact details of your lecturers and tutors.

You will start to get subject guides this week on LMS and sometimes in printed version in first-week lectures. Read through them and double-check dates firstly (one time the holiday period in my subject guide did not match the official uni calendar and I booked a holiday in the wrong week, oops!). Once you have all your subject guides (one for each subject), you can create some sort of at-a-glance table or planner with all your subjects side by side listing assignment due dates. First assignments will start to be due from week 3 usually. It’s a good idea to list all the assessments out, along with their values (word count/percentage of grade) so that you can easily judge how much your workload will be at any point in semester. You will hopefully put more effort into an essay worth 40% of your grade than a 5% week 3 multiple choice quiz! The Co-Op bookshop in the Ag has free wall planners at the beginning of year, so stop by and get one to stick on your wall at home and help with the planning. Go to the ready4uni pages for further info and help to start planning your time management, and later to calculate the time you will need to put into assignments. The general rule of thumb I go by is 8 hours study per 500 words of assessment, so I calculate back to know when I should start preparing.

Subject guides are also useful to see all the readings you will need to do each week, if you are going to need a lot or a little time reading for that subject, and to work out how often you will actually need your textbooks (as in, how many chapters you actually need to read). Check the weekly listings to see if pages are listed at the end of each reference for that reading, looking like this pp.168-228 or chapter x. If you have a bunch of 10 page readings, it’s your lucky day, if you have 80 pages x 4 readings or 5 chapters to do per subject in a week then you are in hell, as in my first year I read 6 pages per hour (much harder reading than light fiction). Not to worry though, there are ways to keep on top of that which I will share with you next blog. But start looking at your subject guide to get an idea of what to expect.

TEXTBOOKS: Be prepared for the textbook queue at the Co-Op during O-Week and first week, go early or late or Friday to avoid queuing.

Co Op and the 2nd hand bookstore in the Student Union are the main places to get textbooks on campus. You can also check noticeboards and the back of toilet doors for private student advertising. Co Op offers discounts through its membership. With free shipping and no taxes, the Book Depository in the UK sells cheap books – if you have a lot to buy and don’t mind waiting the 1-2 week shipping time. Sometimes, if you only need the book for a few weeks, you can borrow it from the library, which has a copy of every textbook. Try the reserve section in the front of the library, often there are 3hour loans for textbooks, but if you are crafty, you can borrow it within the 3hours before library closing and then return it the next morning when the library opens. Especially great for weekends as they open later! Some subjects will have readings in addition to the textbook (or the textbook will be an e-book), which are available on the library website. Search either the right-hand quicklinks for Find Items on my Reading List, or under catalogue then collections then reserve and enter the subject code. I have gotten through a lot of my subjects just getting the readings from here. Some readings get released on the LMS. Some awesome subjects save you the trouble and print out all the readings and produce a book sold in the Co Op for about $20. Get in quick when they tell you it’s been released because they sell fast! By the end of week 1/early week 2 they can be sold out and you have to wait for them to produce more!

I strongly suggest waiting until first week before buying textbooks, because in the first lecture you will be told for sure if it’s needed, how quickly you need to read it, and *if you search the subject guide* you can even be sneaky and see how many chapters you need to read from it to determine how useful owning it will really be.


The first time I was in uni, right after high school, I thought classes were all I needed to do, and the odd bit of homework, like maybe write the odd assignment from time to time. I had classes 9-12, Monday to Friday, and spent the rest of the day, 12-6 in the bar. As friends came and went to lectures I’d just play pool and wait for the next lot to arrive. I wasn’t even drinking, as I wasn’t 18 till later, and I was driving to uni on my p-plates so I couldn’t have the alcohol in my blood. Looking back I can’t believe I had that many friends! What a great reflection on the benefits of Orientation! But we all had equally bad study habits and I didn’t want to be uncool by talking about classes or asking them for help. I soon learned that not bothering to study or learn was not a good idea. I had no idea how to do the assignments and got so overwhelmed, it’s a wonder I even passed the subjects, albeit not many of them. I was recently looking back on some of the assessments and oh boy, all research and not a clue how to put my own understanding, my own stamp on my creations. 

Uni is about being well-read (through your textbooks and assigned readings), practiced (through workshops, practicals, experience), attending tutorials to discuss your learning and the ideas you are exposed to, and then getting the summaries of the best ideas of past, present and future, laid out to you by the lecturer. Then your job on top of that is to research and absorb topics assigned to you and present arguments for/against/it’s too complex because… to your teaching staff, using your own ‘critical thinking’, meaning you’ve thought about it all and decided for yourself what your opinion is. At least, that’s the nutshell version.

So while there are some sums to calculate how much time you need to spend studying, realistically, you want to treat full-time uni like any full-time job, and put similar hours in. Contact time (classes) is just a part of that, and you need to allow time outside of that to do your readings, tutorial exercises, re-listen to lectures on lectopia/write notes to refer back to for exams, and then also plan, research and write your assignments. It’s a difficult balance to strive for, and even after several years I haven’t mastered it along with work and other commitments. Academics will suggest you only work 10-15 hours a week, so you can do 3x your contact class time on study. But, I’ve worked more hours than that and anything is possible, so long as you stay focussed and continually prioritise study time. What works for me, much like people who work from home, is to treat it just like you are actually going to work. Get up and dressed, walk around the block if you have to, so you feel like you are arriving at an office to spend the day. Then work out your study agenda and work through it, one task at a time, until 5pm clock off time. Don’t allow yourself to surf, check emails or facebook until you have achieved your goals for study. It works, believe me! I feel amazed that the day flies by when I don’t stop every half hour to wander through facebook, and actually keep my mind focussed on the tasks at hand.

Whatever your commitments and whether you take this plan of attack or not, the best thing you can do for your studies is try to allow as much study per subject you can manage, and make sure you tackle each subject evenly, not just your favourites. Don’t be Superman. You won’t manage all the readings and notes and assignment writing every week, but do your best and you will still succeed. Wahoo.

Make sure you attend all first week lectures!

They will give you staff contact details, important information, printed subject guides (sometimes), reading/textbook info and let you know of any glitches with tutorials. Be sure to check which of your tutorials will run in first week, as not all of them do. Mine always have, but some don’t. You can check your email, the LMS and LMS subject guides to find out if you need to turn up to the first week tutes or not. Also, some subjects actually grade you on attendance, and you will be required to make up missed attendances in the form of extra assignments if you miss more than 3 or 4 classes over the semester. Eek, find out if any of yours do.

Thanks for reading once again. Next week will cover more detail about lectures, tutes, readings and those pesky first assignments. Enjoy O Week, see you on campus!!!
– Bec.

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