Common mistakes and tips for international students who struggle at uni

tups for international students

Hy guys! Uni days are almost done! I am finishing my degree now and today I would like to share my uni experience in a foreign and challenging, completely new environment.

If you are an international student or considering to study abroad (e.g. In Australia), this post may clarify something for you and you’ll get ready and prepared. Also, if you are an international student, and you are struggling with your studies – you may find some tips and support here.

Mistakes that I’ve done and things that I’ve learned.

If you are an D or HD student, this is not for you. This post is for those who are struggling with the study. Just like I did.

Before I started my masters degree, I’ve been studying my bachelor of business and management in Tourism in Russia and my education process was completely different from masters degree in Sydney. The tutors and deans were pretty loyal and we did not have massive study load. Turnitin did not even exist back to that times when I went to uni. It was a long time ago, pretty easy and different comparing to what I am experience now.

insearchDifferent environment, foreign language, different requirements, a different system of grades and approach to study. Everything is very unfamiliar and scary.

Besides that, I’ve finished my bachelor 8 years before I’ve started uni again in Sydney. So you can imagine what you remember after 8 years. Not really much to be honest, just some common concept ideas, understanding of an industry, but not many details.

Starting a new student life in Sydney I struggled a lot, trying to manage my full-time study, understanding what are they saying and adapting myself to the life in the other country.

My first semester was pretty bad. I thought I was studying hard, spending hours at the library, reading all the textbooks and additional literature, going to all the classes without skipping. At the end of the semester, I failed one subject and nearly failed another one. Which was surprising, extremely disappointing, sad and unbelievable. Something was wrong, well, actually, everything was wrong… And I was not sure what exactly.

I was shocked, and I was crying closed myself at the ladies bathrooms when I’ve got first midterm results, and mine was one of the lowest in the group of about 60 people.

Before my midterm exam, I’ve tried to google how to pass the exams, looking for some easy magic tricks and tips, or some good advise , however, I did not find any information that really helped.

After a few semesters, I learned some easy steps and tips to manage my study better. I believe I was not he only one with this kind of problem and this information would help to some other students who struggle.

Then when I’ve started to understand more, I still felt like I am not good and smart enough to give the right answer even if I knew it :)

My self-confidence went dawn a lot. Furthermore, that stress caused some health problems, that I’ve even decided to have counseling to sort out my studies stress. Thanks to UTS they provide great support to the international students, you just need to ask for it and make an appointment.

Then I’ve also reduced a study load, and I started to think that I do not care so much about high grades. I begun to feel better and even surprisingly got better grades :)

More assignment tips:

First of all, I would suggest to get motivated to know more about the topic you study. Think of:

  • what can be in this particular topic interesting for you?
  • How you can use it in your future life?
  • and how this research could benefit you?

Find your motivation and grow the curiosity about the topic/subject. You will:

  • You will do it better, and you will write a better ‘story telling’ kind of assignment with a better flow and logic.
  • You will be more productive and will not procrastinate much and hopefully, use your time more sufficiently.
  • you’ll get your inspiration for studies.

You can try to visualize how does the particular research will affect your career. For instance, you can impress your future boss with the results of your findings and with your hard work that you’ve done on research, so he will hire you for an exciting project or a dream job :)  Why not? Can be a true story if you work hard and if you are passionate.


To improve the way you write in foreign language – read more, watch more educational videos and listen to the podcasts that are talking about your subject.

Get a book ‘On Writing Well’ by William Zinsser and use it as a tool. It refines the way you write. I’ve recently started to work on it and I understand more in writing now. Another good little book to improve your writing – is The Elements of Style by W. Strunk & E. B. White.

tips how to write better asseignments

It is still a long way to improve my writings, but I am working on it and I am inspired. I’ve found something that helps.

Simple tips on how to improve your wring skills:


“Communication is an ancient way of getting information” (Kvale).

Talk more to the peer students, discuss the assignments, study together, ask each others about various theories you’ve learned and exchange the knowledge. And I did not do that at the very beginning, because I was too shy, and It was wrong.

Manage your networks, find new friends and do not forget to call to old ones :) Socialize, attend the events and be proactive. Invite your class mates for lunch or coffee or whatever is interesting for you and your friends.

Another Assignment Tip – Make sure you answer the actual question that assignment asks you.

It sounds simple and even silly, but this is the thing that many people are actually fail at. I was working hard on one of my first assignments and I almost failed it.

The reason was – I was talking about the topic a lot and I provided lots of findings. But. I have not actually answered the question that was the underlying topic of the assignment. That might be tricky.  If you are not sure what the question is – ask a tutor. Or go to a librarian – they really can help!

Underline the key words. So you will not miss the important point!

Скриншот 2016-05-09 01.42.52

Now that is a next trick – underlying and highlighting the key words.

That is also something that helps you during the exam if you have a text to work with. Or, if you study a business case, an academic article or a textbook – you would not have to re-read it before the exam if you’ve forgotten something. Just see the keywords and you are the winner! Go straight to the main points.

So get a highlighter and add some colors!

One more thing:


Make sure your assignment has everything:

  • A cover page
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix (if necessary)

It may look like the first 2-3 points are not really necessary and not important. Why not to start straight to the point?

One time I’ve been into into topic so much and so excited about my answer, that I’ve started from the body – straight to the point and forgot the introduction and executive summary.

But is was incorrect and I lost mark because of such a silly and straightforward thing as a 2nd and the 3rd points.  The assignment is quite short – just about 2000 words, but it still suppose to have the correct structure.

So make sure you organize a beautiful structure even for the short assignment. It has to be easy to read and well-presented.

Understanding the main theories and academic articles is the key. You obviously have a many of the key theories that you are going through the subjects.

You have it in your assignments, on your workshop tasks and exams. But what to do if you struggle to understand how the theory works?

You read and reread a super smart academic text for many times, ask tutor various questions, but you still do not get the point? This happens to me and many of my peers. Sometimes you can not even understand a subject in your language, so foreign language explanation makes it even more impossible…

How to study

Well, the trick that helped me and my peers was:

Youtube tutorial videos.

Type in the youtube search the topic of the theory for example, “Balance scorecard” or whatever it is, and you’ll find lots of various explanations, including lectures, cartoons and more. Those videos are ridiculously easy to understand. I wish I new about it from a long time ago :) At least I’ve used those to get better understanding of  the concepts for a last couple of semesters. Sometimes you do not even need to read the article lol. No, actually it is still better to read it – it will give you more details and improve your skills in writing in the academic language.

Use Grammarly (for some uni students it is free, otherwise, get a free trial). Grammarly is a tool to check the spellings, it is also explaining why it is is a mistake and will offer a correction.

Furthermore, this service allows you to check the plagiarism before you submit your work to the Turnitin.

Grammarly helps a lot and works well. To go further and make a better correction – you might need to book a session with a librarian at your library, which suppose to be free.

At our uni (UTS) there is a librarian help available by an appointment and we also have HELPs services, which helps with your writings. They revise your assignment. Alternatively, you can look for a professional copywriter – for instance, there are plenty on for only $5! Sometimes I use their help too. It actually helps you to learn how to write better. After you see which mistakes you normally do (they correct it), you understand your weaknesses in writings and as a result, you start writing better yourself.

Look for previous semesters exam questions and assignments.

How? Some of those can be available at your uni library. Or you can ask if your tutor can provide those as an example and as an exercise to study for exam.  Often you can find those available if you try to find it. If you are sure you can not find those, find your peers who completed the subject and chat with them, ask what do they remember from they previous exam. Sometimes people remember what questions were about, which can help you.

Cool classroom

Ask for the old reports an assignments. But do not to copy it straight away – just use it as a guideline. Because you might have no idea about the approach and the structure of the assignment – I had no clue, and I’ve done lot’s of mistakes. Because in masters degree they believe you must know everything.

Ideally, firstly, you better write a structure that you think would be correct. Only then you can add or change something according to the other older works. Because if you see someone’s report first you might run out of your own ideas very quickly and will stick to the existing ideas and content to much – that can cause plagiarism and decrease your learning skills and grades. So, write it on your own and only then adjust it and add something that you’ve missed.

If you have any questions or your own study hacks- feel free to ask in the comments!

Let me know if it was helpful.

Good luck with your studies!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

− 2 = 4

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top