The UC guide to study shock

Expect some study shock

‘Study shock’ is the term given to the feeling many people have when they begin to study in a new environment. It is a perfectly normal feeling. Here are some of the feelings you may experience:

  • Confusion
  • Uncertainty
  • Frustration
  • Tiredness
  • Disorientation

All these feelings are perfectly normal and they do pass with time. Nobody has them all at once. Most people feel one or two of them in the first few months. What can help is to identify why you may be frustrated or confused. Usually, it is just because you expect something to happen the way it always happens for you at home but that happens differently here. That is why it is necessary to learn some of the new ways of learning and new styles of teaching.

Comments on the differences

If you find yourself needing advice, Student Care can help you adjust and settle in.

Learning to study in a new environment has some of the same challenges as learning to live in a new culture.

To begin with you might feel uncertain, unsure of what to do, who to ask and how you will be assessed. It is important to be prepared for this and to have considered how studying in New Zealand may differ from what you are used to. This information will help you to prepare.

What can you do to prepare for study in New Zealand?

  • Know as much as possible about studying in New Zealand.
  • Expect to find differences in the methods of teaching and learning.
  • Expect to feel ‘Study Shock’ but know it will pass.

Know as much as possible about studying in New Zealand

Go to your library, surf the internet, ask your friends. Find as much out as you can about studying in New Zealand. For instance:

  • Who are the Māori?
  • How long are lectures? How long are exams?
  • How much internal assessment is there? What do lecturers expect of their students?
  • What is the difference between a tutorial and a lecture?
  • How do New Zealand students study for exams? And so on.

Expect to find differences

Of course there are likely to be many differences between how you study now and how you will be expected to study in Christchurch. Perhaps you have thought of some already. Going to study in another country can be a bit like a journey into the unknown. Of course as this information is written for people from many cultures and countries some of the points below will be irrelevant to you. Nevertheless, we recommend you have a look at the table below and consider the excitement of discovering the unknown.

When did Columbus discover America? What did he find there? These are questions answered by facts. In New Zealand you would also be expected to research "Why did Columbus decide to go exploring?" or "What does it mean to say he 'discovered America' when there were already people living there?”

These are questions answered by opinions that are defended by good argument. Learning the skill of producing a good argument is important. Also important is learning to assess other people's arguments and trying to find the weak and strong points in them.

If you are studying Sciences or Engineering you may find there is less opinion based argument, but there may be some requirement to assess different methods of building a bridge across a certain river for example. In Commerce you might be expected not only to describe different marketing strategies but also to give an opinion backed by a reasonable argument on why you think one strategy may work best.

You might be surprised to find that there is not one "correct answer." Often your teachers will be more  interested in your ability to describe and argue for your own preferred answer.

Especially after the first year of undergraduate study classes are small and specialised. Surprisingly, they can be noisy places. You may be talking with other students and the lecturer about the topic being studied. Sometimes students even disagree with the lecturer. This is part of the learning process. It is not considered disrespectful, as it is in some cultures. Rather, all students are expected to participate in discussions.

There are special tutorial classes that are devoted to discussion. It is important to realise that the classroom is only one source of information. You will be expected to use the library, internet, and text books to gain further information.

Every subject requires a different exam technique. If you are used to multiple choice exams or learning most things off by heart and repeating them in exams, you will need to learn some new skills. These include how to answer essay questions or solve problems under time pressure. There are services on campus to help you make this adjustment.

Plagiarism means copying from a book, the web, or someone else's work and submitting it as if it were your own. In some cultures this is a mark of respect for the author of that work.  In New Zealand it is considered as a form of cheating.  It is expected that you read widely and that in your written work you quote from some other authors. However, the origin of these quotations must always be acknowledged and the length of quotation must be kept to a minimum. New Zealand teachers want to see your own work.

Assessment varies according to the course. Almost all courses are partly internally assessed by tests, assignments, labs or essays during the semester and then by a three hour exam at the end of the semester.  The weighting of each piece of assessment can be different. You may notice that your grades are lower than you got at home, particularly if you are from North America. This is not because you are doing worse, but because you are assessed differently. Here the pass mark is usually around 50% (A 'C' grade). 'A' grades are only given for exceptional pieces of work. 

It certainly helps to have a good memory at university. However, if you are used to memorising everything your teacher gives you will probably need to change your work patterns.  This is because it is highly likely that you will receive too much material to be able to memorise it all. Also, the test and exam questions will expect you to use some of this material, perhaps to solve problems that you have never seen before. This means adapting your learning style. We can help you to do that.

You may be used to working in groups most of the time. At university there is certainly some group work, but you will be expected to work on your own most of the time. This means that you will need to develop your own good study habits.

If you are not a native English speaker then you may find difficulties studying in English. It is also common for students who have learnt English in another country to struggle with the New Zealand accent. However, you can help yourself by becoming involved with domestic students as much as possible (eg join a club) or by listening to the local accent on TV and radio. You will be amazed at how quickly your ability to understand the Kiwi accent will improve. We also recommend that you explore the ways the Academic Skills Centre can help with workshops and seminars that can assist your study. 


The KnownThe Unknown
"What?" questions are important "Why" and "How?" questions are also important
Only material given in the classroom is important Wider use of resource material
Being correct is most important The quality of an argument is also important
Non-English speaking environment English speaking environment
Lots of group study Individual study expected
Memory skills most important Cognitive skills are most important
Students don't speak in the classroom Students are expected to speak in the classroom
Reproducing material from books important Reproducing material is unacceptable
A pass mark is 65% A pass mark is 50%
Attendance in class usually ensures success Attendance in class is not enough to ensure success
Exams have a high percentage of multiple choice Exams include problem solving and essay writing
Agent explaining to potential students in library