UCL Online: a guide on how to survive virtual learning

Online lectures aren’t background noise!!!

Whilst none of us signed up for online teaching events when applying for university, it seems to be the unfortunate reality right now The Tab London has created a small guide to show you how to get the most out of your degree alongside the most out of London.

Maintaining a routine, having fun and putting your mental health first can all be a challenge at the best of times, let alone during the midst of a global pandemic.

Do NOT snooze your alarm

Ok, we’re all guilty of this. When you have nowhere to be it can be very easy to get into the habit of snoozing alarms. But this habit is proven to actually make you feel more tired.

The science behind it: The body ends the REM cycle of sleep and begins waking up before your alarm goes off. By hitting snooze repeatedly, you will return to and continually drift into and out of REM sleep. Once you have stopped snoozing your alarm and decide to wake up, you will end up waking up mid-REM cycle, which is the worst time to wake up. This results in you feeling groggy and also messes with your body’s natural sleep cycle. You can read more about this here.

Routine, Routine, Routine

A good way to switch to a productive mindset is to have a consistent morning routine to help you wake up. Some suggestions we do: cook a nice breakfast, go for a morning walk (this is where having a pet dog would come in handy), or do some morning yoga or exercise to start your day. It may be difficult to remain consistent at first, but once you start doing this every day for a week or two, it will become a natural habit that you do without even realising.

Get dressed for the day (simple, but effective)

Top tip we’ve been given for the morning is ‘get dressed immediately’ because it’s much less tempting to get back into bed once you’ve got your jeans on, because you can’t get comfy again. This will help you to be more time-efficient in the way you study – remember, ‘work smarter, not harder’.

Say no to studying in bed

Seriously, DO NOT DO IT, it’s a slippery slope into mid-lecture naps.  One of two things will happen if you study in bed:

  1.  You’ll end up in another mid-lecture nap.
  2.  You will find it harder to fall asleep at night as your brain will be more alert, because your body now associates the bed with studying in the ultimate form playing of yourself

You need a separation from sleep and study; if you have a desk in your room, use it! If not, try and find a quiet room in your home with a table.

View from the top of the UCL Student Centre


Not having any face-to-face commitments can make you fall into a trap of not having a schedule. But the upside of having mostly lecture casts is that you can create a schedule that works for you.

You can set working hours (with breaks) that suit when you study best and how long you can focus for (e.g. 9am-5pm, 12pm-6pm etc). If you don’t want rigid working hours, you can instead follow the rule of 8. Break up the 24 hours in a day into three sections: 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of study, 8 hours to do whatever you want. This will help you to have a consistent work-life balance. There may be some days where you need to adjust those hours (say if you have more/less work that expected), but the basis of the rule of 8 can be extremely beneficial.

Lists, lists and more lists

In addition to finding a schedule that works for you, you can use daily or weekly to-do lists to keep track of the work you plan to do. Write it on a piece of paper and leave it somewhere you will see it. The popular alternative is to make a to-do list on your phone. But if you feel like you may forget about it on your phone, why not screenshot it and make it your phone wallpaper? That way you will always notice it!

Keep your workspace tidy

You’ve probably heard your mum say “tidy room tidy mind” before. Keeping your workspace tidy is important for giving you more space to work whilst also clearing your headspace. Make sure your room is clean and a comfortable working environment.

Probably a good idea to pay attention…

Make this year a fresh start, remove all distractions and actually pay attention when studying. Try only using your phone to look at your to-do list. Put your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ or airplane mode (or turn it off if you have a to-do list written elsewhere). If that is still too tempting, put your phone in another room or give it to a family member or flatmate to look after until you are done. If your laptop tempts you, try blocking certain websites like YouTube or Twitter during a set time frame.

Time for a study buddy?

If you get easily distracted or lazy when working by yourself, having a friend or flatmate to study with can be a massive help.  If you are living with friends, you could study with your flatmates in your living room/kitchen, study outside or book study spaces on campus together. This could help you be more consistent with studying, as you have someone else who is relying on you to be present. They can also hold you accountable if you miss a day of studying, so hopefully, you will be more inclined to attend your study sessions and actually get work done.

If you want to kick it up a notch, you could even exercise together, or go for walks together. That way you can also be held accountable for keeping healthy.

Self-care is crucial

Try and make time to socialise if you can!! Face to face interactions are fundamental to prevent you from feeling isolated. With the rule of 6, the 10pm curfew, and London now being classed as a Tier 2 area, there are some restrictions on socialisation if you are living in the capital. But this just gives you all the more reason to get creative! You could organise a cocktail night or a come dine with me with your flatmates, or go out to a restaurant or pub together. If you want to see friends outside of your household, you could do something more chill like meeting up outdoors (socially-distanced) for a picnic, an outdoor coffee morning or even a yoga session.

Make sure you try and get outside and get some fresh air. Make a more active effort to go outside and take a break to clear your head. Whether you are following a gym work out, going for a run, or going to take in the sights of London (or wherever you are living), it can massively benefit your physical and mental health rather than staying cooped up indoors.

Try to get on that good vibes train

During times like this, it is very easy to think negatively and have a ‘what is the point’ approach to everyday tasks. Whilst people experience this on various levels of severity, if you feel yourself starting to slip into a negative headspace and are able to do something about it, try and actively seek out positivity. Take the day off from studying to have some time for yourself, or treating yourself to your guilty pleasure every once in a while.

Of course, if you feel the need to seek professional advice regarding this, UCL provides accessible mental health and wellbeing support for all students. More information can be found here.

Regular catch-ups with your pals

If you are not living with friends this year, for example if you live abroad or have decided to stay in your parental home in the UK, message them and regularly plan video calls. This will help reduce feelings of loneliness or FOMO. Whilst the Zoom call pub quiz trend may not be as popular now as it was during lockdown, it is always nice to have a visual catch-up with friends!

Join clubs and societies online

UCL clubs and societies have been working hard to adapt to the current situation. Many events which cannot take place in person now have online alternatives. The main example of this which has already taken place is the Freshers’ Welcome Fair. Hopefully, most of you were able to virtually attend the fairs and hear about various clubs and societies and what they are planning this year.

If you then want to join a club or society, you will need a membership. Whilst some are normally paid memberships, they are now offering free remote membership for students who are not able to make it to campus. This is a great opportunity to get involved in UCL student life, by using your spare time to try out clubs and societies and interact with a wide variety of people.

There are plenty of events being organised by various clubs and societies throughout this term. More information about this can be found here. Some are setting up podcasts, online quiz nights, and film nights.

Make the most of London if you are here

London Student Sightseeing normally consists of working your way round the club circuit: XOYO Monday, Ministry Tuesday, Loop Wednesday, Fabric Student Thursday, Roxy Friday, Heaven on a Saturday, and a break on Sunday. Covid currently presents a new set of circumstances where this isn’t possible, but in a way, it also presents new opportunities.

Now that you’re not blowing hundreds of pounds a month in Loop, there is an opportunity for you to visit bars, museums and London experiences that are currently open and following government guidelines. Many of London’s best restaurants do deals on weeknights or for lunches so it is definitely worth exploring. Similarly, many fancy/insta-worthy bars do 2-4-1 and happy hour deals on weeknights and they make for a huge upgrade from Phineas Twisted Tuesdays.

Understandably with the current situation, you may not feel safe or comfortable going out to these places, and that’s okay! But if you do feel up for exploring, you have the whole of London at your doorstep.


Whilst there are some downsides to remote learning, remember to try and look at the positives. At least you won’t catch Freshers’ Flu this year!