The shift from sixth-form to university-style learning is a big one, so it’s natural to feel a bit daunted at first. Your lectures and seminars will give you the key information, but in between you’ll be expected to do your own research and preparation.
This may sound like a challenge, but with a bit of planning you’ll be fine. Once you get the hang of it, independent study is great – you can work how you want, when you want. Here are our top five tips!
1. Figure out what type of learner you are
Psychologists all agree that we learn differently, and the VARK model sums up the four main modes:
- Visual learners like diagrams, charts and symbols. They might also use lots of colours in their notes.
- Aural learners get the most from lectures and discussions, in person or online.
- Read/write learners prefer to read and research information, and benefit from writing about it.
- Kinaesthetic learners favour information grounded in reality, such as demonstrations, videos and practising things themselves.
You probably already have a good idea of which you are, but a quick VARK learning type questionnaire can confirm. Many of us learn in a combination of ways, so consider the scores you get for each type.
Your learning in class is dictated by your lecturer’s approach, but in your own study you can make the information your own – in whatever form you choose. If you’re a visual type you can turn boring notes into bold mind maps, and if sound if you why not organise a discussion group? Readers and writers can conduct their own research, and if you’re kinaesthetic try watching demonstrations on YouTube.
2. Organise your studies
Notes, handouts, reading lists – by the end of term you will have collected a mountain of paper, so save time now by sorting it out as you go along.
Have a different folder for each subject, and try to file everything away at the end of each day. Just spending a couple of minutes looking over your notes will boost your memory, and when it comes to revision time you’ll know exactly where to find them. Same goes for digital stuff – keep your documents organised.
Planning your time is another important part of independent study. It may sound like a drag now, but you’ll thank us when you’re out partying at the weekend, whilst your flatmate is pulling an all-nighter to meet a deadline.
Having a routine will make it easier for you to resist cute animal videos, Call of Duty marathons and daytime TV. Plan roughly which subjects you’re going to work on each day, leaving time for breaks and rewards. Productivity apps such as 30/30 allow you to schedule your time in as much or as little detail as you like, giving you clear tasks and time limits to work with.
Set yourself clear goals for each session – something as simple as ‘read 20 pages’ or ‘make a mind map’ is fine. This will give you focus and direction, and reward you with a sense of achievement when you’re done.
And finally, sort out your workspace so you’re in the zone the minute you sit down. If you like to work in your room, make sure there’s a nice clear space for you concentrate in, and maybe have some music ready. If you’re a library worker, come armed with plenty of water and healthy snacks to limit distracting trips to the vending machine.
3. Take time out from work
If you were training for a marathon you wouldn’t try to run for twelve hours a day, so don’t try to study that way either!
Most people can only concentrate for about 30 minutes before their mind starts to wander, so unless you take regular breaks the hours you force yourself to work will be worth less and less. If you’re struggling to get your head round a formula, or at a loss writing your conclusion, a cup of tea and quick chat in the kitchen could be all you need to kick-start your brain again.
Doing something completely different will provide the most effective break, so if you’re already staring at a computer screen, checking your social media might not be that beneficial. Going for a walk, listening to some music or doing the washing up are more likely to give your mind the change of scenery it needs.
Make sure you give yourself quality time to relax after you’ve finished work too. Some people like to get everything done in the week so they can make the most of the weekends, whilst others would rather do shorter periods every day. Whatever is best for you, set clear boundaries between work and play, and don’t feel guilty about giving yourself time off.
4. Do your research the smart way
Many courses will expect you to do research as class preparation and for essays. Faced with a massive university library and almost limitless online resources, finding the most relevant and authoritative information can seem like an impossible task.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel though, and if you know where to look you’ll find the searching has often already been done for you.
Your lecturers have been reading this stuff for years, so their recommendations are a good place to start. Check your lecture handouts, course information and university library website for reading lists – the books and articles on here will be just the right level of difficulty, and should be readily available.
Google is most people’s usual port of call when searching for information, but when it’s for uni work you’re better heading to your university library’s website. Most will now have a magical search box that will trawl all their digital and print resources to find exactly what you’re looking for, with direct links to many online articles. You can be sure you’ll find reliable, accurate sources this way.
Many people like to highlight key points, or make notes as they read. This is a great tactic, and is especially helpful for revision – but beware of going mental with the coloured pens.
If you’re highlighting every word except ‘the’, ‘and’ and ‘but’, or writing notes as long as the article itself, then you’re not processing the information properly. Concentrate on picking out only the most important points, and you’ll end up with a much better understanding.
5. Ask if you need help
You’re doing degree level work now, so there are bound to be times when you just can’t quite get to grips with something. When this happens, it’s important to ask for help and not just struggle on in silence.
Talking to your friends is a good place to start, as they will probably be able to explain in your terms. Remember you’re paying for your course – so don’t be afraid to ask your tutor too. Most will have weekly office hours where you are free to come and talk to them, or you could just drop them an email instead.
Writing a full-on essay can be a challenge, so many universities now offer courses and drop-in sessions to help students with academic writing. Your tutor, library staff or the Student’s Union should be able to tell you about what support is available.
The perfect place to come home to
When you’re working and playing hard, it’s important to have the right place to come home to. In Student Housing Company accommodation you can enjoy a stylish, relaxed environment, with handy services like free wifi, Freeview, and utility bills included in your rent.