Smart ideas for effective studying

If your New Year's resolution is to hit the books hard, don't forget that quality is just as important as quantity

The start of a new year can bring with it plenty of resolutions. Work less. Actually go for a run rather than just looking at the shoes. Whatever the specifics, we often think about how we might improve our lives. The same ethos applies to your education. It's a chance to consider how to be a more effective postgraduate, whether that's through smarter study, better networking or another initiative.

Tweaking the way you use tech is a good place to start. Regardless of whether or not Santa Claus brought you a tablet this year, you can make the wired world work harder for you, especially online. "We're as much a part of the social web as anyone else," says Simon Kear, a learning technologist at Goldsmiths. "The modern postgraduate is missing a trick by not being a part of that."

Simply following academics in your field on Twitter or academia.edu may point you in interesting directions, for example. Creating a custom homepage (using iGoogle or similar) will also allow you to see regular updates from relevant blogs, news channels or other institutions, automatically filtering information onto a single page so you don't feel overwhelmed, says Kear.

Your university could also have a virtual learning environment offering forums and other useful tools. "I use a university app to deliver alerts and notifications for course and university-related issues," says Emma Forest, currently a PGCE student at Birmingham City University. "I also use the university's online learning site to access further reading and learning material."

But the critical thing, whether you use a smartphone, tablet or laptop, is to go mobile. "You should be able to access your learning anywhere in the world, at any time," says Pete Roberts, also a Goldsmiths learning technologist. "It will help you utilise the time you have available for study."

Once you're plugged in, there are other good habits and sound academic practices to develop. The foundation is a good working relationship with tutors and supervisors, according to Dr Stella Cottrell, director for lifelong learning at Leeds University and author of The Study Skills Handbook. "Be prepared when you go to see them, do the pre-thinking and reading to make the best use of the time you have with them so that you get to the heart of things very quickly."

Simple techniques can be the most effective. A diary – paper or electronic – will help you schedule time with your tutor and can help wrangle your hours in other ways. The distant deadlines, but higher workloads, of postgraduate study can trick those used to undergraduate schedules (or those balancing work and study), so time management is vital. Laura Cavanagh, who has a Masters in PR and communications from Leeds Metropolitan University, used checklists to keep track of her objectives and broke longer deadlines up into smaller tasks in her diary. "It's good to give yourself timeframes within assignments," she explains. "Giving myself milestones and reasonable targets really helped me see my progress."

For some, though, that's not the issue. It's the starting work in the first place that stalls them every time. Whether you're lacking motivation or inspiration to begin your writing, one solution is to send for reinforcements. "Use others around you to give you a push," says Cottrell. "It might be your supervisor, family or friends; work out what you want from them in order to help you."

You're aiming to establish a routine. With your supervisor that might mean regular deadlines. With friends and family, it's about balancing study with seeing them. Cottrell recommends writing what you're going to do in your diary, then talking to your support team "so they understand why you're doing what you're doing" and will encourage you to work. Be clear when you'll be available to family and friends, she continues, "so they feel there's a trade-off: you may not be free during your allotted study time, but you will be free other times. Particularly with children or spouses, that can be important."

However many people you have around you, the work only gets done on your own, which can leave some students feeling isolated – especially those undertaking their course remotely. Overcoming those feelings by maintaining contact (in the flesh or via social media) with other learners can make for a more pleasant study experience. "Online discussion groups are vital support, so join them," suggests Open University alumni representative Dr Petrina Stevens. "Your tutor will probably have other students with whom you can get in touch, too, as they will all experience similar problems."

Where possible, Cottrell recommends some face time. "If you don't create opportunities to chat with people engaged with study, you miss out on what has traditionally been a part of the postgraduate experience. You can get around it a bit with social networking, but it's not quite the same thing. Get out and meet people, make contact!"

This step could also help with life beyond graduation. Networking with students and tutors can help prepare you for future employment, with universities often well-placed to help students due to their industry links, careers events and guest lectures. You could even tailor your work to pique a potential employer's interest, says Dr Bill Nichols, senior lecturer in marketing at Bucks New University. "Frame the dissertation subject in such a way that the result will be a conversation piece for any interview," he says. "And design primary research that will require you to contact potential target companies or employers and start to build a helpful network."

Becoming a technophile, learning to love your diary, seeking support and keeping in touch with the academic community are all helpful ways towards being more effective as a student. But another aspect, just as important, is not trying too hard. "There's a balance to be struck between wanting to make the best of it and being over-anxious about that," explains Graham Clark, full-time MBA academic director at Cranfield School of Management.

For Clark, taking a step back and letting your curiosity take charge – by reading around a subject, for example – can lead to better outcomes for students. "It's not what you do, it's what you're learning," he explains. "If you're just doing more and more things, you're not actually learning. Some of our best students are the ones who challenge things, read more widely, do things that are irrelevant as far as assessment is concerned; they're often the ones I recommend to employers."

And finally, to be more switched on, it's also vital to let yourself switch off now and then to recharge your batteries. "One of the biggest challenges of a postgraduate course is the all-consuming pressure to deliver, which leads to that constant feeling that you 'should' be working," says Emma Brassington, a career and business coach. "However, don't confuse the quantity of time working with quality."

Going off and doing something completely unrelated to your studies will help keep you grounded in reality, and also give your subconscious mind the chance to do some processing in the background, with the result that you'll return refreshed, says Brassington. "It's amazing how much more creative you will feel when you come back to your work." So by putting the books down and lacing up those running shoes (or whatever your equivalent is) you'll work smarter, feel better and take care of two resolutions at once. Now that's being effective.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Technical Support Analyst

£23000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cuu...

HR Advisor (Employee Relations) - Kentish Town, NW London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor (Employee Rela...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment