Go Higher: Your academic work need not be a worry

There are many techniques for helping students keep up with their studies, writes Tamsin Smith
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Work life at university or college is very different from school or anything you may have experienced through work. It can be a worry to mature students. Academic study depends on a number of factors, the subject discipline, the particular teaching methods used and the personal preferences of the student.

But there are techniques you can use to fit in with the needs of your course.

"Your role, as a student, is to be an active learner. The lecturers' role is to guide, advise and to stimulate learning," says Anne Wyatt, a study methods adviser at the University of Exeter.

"You will need to seek out relevant evidence and evaluate it in the light of questions posed, to work through material presented in lectures so you understand it and to carry out tasks and assignments independently setting your own schedule for completing them.

"You will be expected to be responsible for organising your own learning around lectures, laboratories, seminars and tutorials.

"If you need advice, ask. There is support for students who need it and a few helpful pointers about how to organise your time and make the most of your lectures and seminars will go a long way to boosting your confidence."

She suggests the first thing you do is draw up a timetable of what you are required to do and by when.

"Make notes during lectures for reference later on, but be careful to select the main points, not to jot things down verbatim as it will be impossible to read back."

After the lecture go through your notes to check you can understand them and mark them out for easy reading. Then date and file them away neatly.

Seminars or tutorials are made up from much smaller groups of students and are organised so they give you an opportunity to learn things through discussion.

Your tutor will guide you through the seminar and give each member of the group a discussion paper to present at one of the meetings.

"To aid your confidence, read around the subject and make notes of other students' papers so you have something to talk about," says Anne. "Remember discussion is not about being right or wrong, it is simply a way of swapping ideas."

The most important part of your academic work will be reading. You will be expected to read at least two or three books as research into essays and to read in preparation for seminars.

You will be given a book list, which is not a list of all the books you have to read, but merely a list of books that are available, so be selective.

"To help you read efficiently, ask yourself why you want a particular book, and what you expect to get out of it as it will help the way you read," advises Anne. "For example, some books will need to be read to give you an overall picture. Others will have certain chapters which are relevant."

As for essays, they are designed to make you think, so your response should be logically argued and justified by your evidence.

Writing Tips

Before you begin, think about what you are being asked to do, so you know roughly what your answer will be and think about where to go for your research and evidence.

Select, read and make notes from some of the books on the book list.

When you have enough material start drafting your essay in rough.

Write your conclusion first and then think of the points which lead up to it and arrange them in a suitable order.

When writing concentrate on the ideas and the argument.

Read it through and correct the style, grammar and spelling, and finally add a bibliography of the books you have consulted.