The National Extension College (NEC) is working in partnership with UCAS on a series of study skills guides to help students successfully make the transition from school or college to higher education. The first four guides, covering how to present an argument, time management, proofing and editing, and academic essay writing, have recently gone live on the UCAS website.
NEC and UCAS believe that everyone needs to invest time in learning the skills needed for independent study if they are to become confident students and get the most out of their course. Here are our top seven ways to develop the habits of a successful independent learner.
1. Get to know how you study best
Do you prefer detailed instructions, or trying things out for yourself? Are you someone who needs solitude while you are studying, or do you like to work with other people around? How well do you cope with your surroundings being untidy? Understanding the best way for you to study will help you plan when and where to study to make the most of your time.
2. Understand what motivation is all about
Daniel Goleman, author of a number of best-selling books on emotional intelligence, identifies four elements that make up motivation:
- the personal drive to achieve
- being committed to personal or organisational goals
- initiative or ‘readiness to act on opportunities’
- optimism to keep going in the face of setbacks
Understanding how self-motivation works will get you started and keep you going when things get tough.
3. Keep tabs on your time
How wide a gap is there between how you think you spend your time and how you actually spend it? To find out, try logging your time in half hour blocks for a week. Taking a hard look at how you spend your time will make it easier to decide what you can cut out to make more time for studying.
4. Identify key verbs and key ideas
Cut to the chase when you have an essay to write by identifying the key verbs and key ideas in the title before you do anything else. Do it by choosing two highlighting pens in different colours – use one for the verbs and one for the key ideas. Taken together, they will help you focus your approach to planning, reading, and note-taking.
5. Brainstorm your ideas
Brainstorming ideas by making notes on your tablet, phone, or a scrap of paper makes it easy to sort out strong ideas from weak ones and put them in a logical order. You can brainstorm whenever you have a spare five minutes.
6. Be a disciplined note-taker
When you’re trying to make sense of new ideas, facts, and concepts, it’s discouraging to be faced with piles of disorganised notes. Establish good note-taking habits as soon as you start your course and you’ll feel the benefit all the way through. Good habits include: only taking notes on material you might use, writing down points in your own words, and jotting down questions you can follow up later.
7. Draft and redraft
Stop worrying about a perfect final version of your work by writing a first draft, then a second, a third, and even subsequent drafts. Forget about spelling, grammar, punctuation, and paragraphing for now. Instead, concentrate on presenting your material clearly. Then, when you’re producing the final draft, spend time on the details.
Want to know more?
To find out how NEC can help you to fit more learning into your life, browse their wide range of flexible distance learning courses – from GCSEs and A levels, to professional qualifications in management and childcare. You can also get in touch and speak directly to their friendly team. They can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.