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The secret for getting top grades? ‘Plan ahead, stay ahead, relax’

Studying in the small hours, jotting down info on cards, revising together; everyone has their own methods for studying. And no sure guarantee exists for study success. Still, it can't hurt to occasionally ask fellow students if they have any tips. For example from Sabine Pennings – bachelor’s student studying for a joint degree in Fiscaal Recht (Tax Law) and Rechtsgeleerdheid (Law) and winner of the Legatum Böckelmanianum 2023, the faculty award for the student with the highest average grade for the first year.

Sabine Pennings

Congratulations on this prize! A 9.58 average grade … an amazing result

'Thank you! Yes … though I was never really thinking about that during my studies. It was all going well from the very start, and that’s something you want to keep up of course.'

What kind of student are you?

'I’m curious by nature, and really enjoy my courses. Then you’re half way to achieving good results: being motivated and eager makes everything a lot easier. But that’s not to say it didn’t take any effort. Definitely at the start of the programme, there’s so much to learn. That can be hard going.'

Do you have a special method for coping with that?

'The main thing is to stay ahead with what you’re taught each week. So don’t do nothing for three weeks, and then work full out for four weeks. I try to plan ahead so I have roughly the same study load over a period of seven weeks. That way, you can avoid getting stressed at the end of that period and can feel more relaxed going into the exam.'

Do you make lots of summaries when you’re studying?

'Well, I do read everything. And then I think: ‘what’s the most important question, and what’s the answer to that question?’ That’s what I then write down. So by the end of a course, I have a list of questions and answers that I can use to revise. That works better for me than just reading a full summary every time. Every week, I also go back and revise what I’ve learnt in that week. Then you don’t have to learn everything all at once at the end of the course.'

How do you keep the right balance between studying and doing other things?

'Looking back, in the beginning I spent too much time studying. But your grades shouldn’t come at the expense of your well-being. It’s important to do other things and to relax. Luckily, I’ve got better at that as time goes by. That said, I do spend time studying every day. Good results don’t come automatically – you have to work hard for them. Sometimes that means you can’t do everything and have to miss out on certain things.'

One final tip for students who are already in the middle of exams?

'Get enough rest when studying. Make sure you go into the exam feeling rested and try to relax on the day itself. That’s more important than cramming the entire day and night before an exam.'

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