Study skills online

An electronic guide to some of the best ways to study

Lectures, however good, are valueless unless you actively engage in learning. That means being there, in mind as well as in body!

    1. 2.1Lectures make it possible for you to learn efficiently; there are other ways, e.g. books, but you do need to attend lecturers - all of them, not just when you feel like it! OK? We cannot teach you anything if you are not there and staff will not take kindly to repeating material from lectures you have missed! Most will simply say no.
      One calculation you could make is to cost your lectures: at 9000 p.a. with, say, 15 contact hours (lectures, labs and tutorials) per week for 24 weeks that's 25 per lecture. Of course you are paying for other things too, but the most visible to you will be lectures ... so don't waste the chance to learn and all this money!
    2. 2.2Lectures are to :
      • give the logical structure of the module. (Include a copy of the syllabus in your notes.)
      • give detail and proofs. This will provide a solid base for the module so that methods are not just a series of recipes. Study this material, even if it is not going to be examined explicitly ; it will greatly aid your understanding.
      • communicate the interest of the subject.
      • give explanations and examples.

      Lectures are not entertainment requiring little effort from you! Pay attention. Thinking and formulating questions about the concepts involved will greatly aid your understanding and enjoyment of lectures.
    3. 2.3 Get to lectures and seminars on time and with your notes. You may be asked to print out notes from a VLE beforehand and bring them along to the lecture. This does not mean that you 'have the notes' and therefore don't need to attend! Also notes do not read themselves - you will need to study them as well. Having the notes may be comforting, but if you fail to make them your own, you'll learn nothing.

      Taking good notes is essential. Have a look at the note taking methods listed by Cal Poly's Student Academic Services and use one that works for you. Use A4 paper, with holes so you can file things properly. Write the date at the start of each lecture.

    4. 2.4 Pay attention to the lecture's introduction. In lectures staff will not mind being asked to slow down, write larger, summarise the main points again etc. especially if they know you are a committed student. Make sure you participate fully in the seminars and don't be afraid to ask "silly" questions they are often the best ones to ask.
    5. 2.5 Sit where you can see and hear properly. Contrary to popular belief, you will not catch anything from the lecturer by sitting in the first two rows!
    6. 2.6 In mathematics, and probably all science and technology subject modules, write down everything the lecturer writes on the board verbatim! Maths is a very succinct language and every bracket and comma means something. Write down some of what the lecturer says in shortened form alongside the formal notes copied from the board. Ask in seminars about anything which is not clear.
    7. 2.7 In more subjective modules, very little may be written down on the board and it will be necessary to summarise the spoken lecture in shortened note form; you do not need to write complete sentences for this - phrases or diagrams may be better. Tidy up and annotate these notes later with comments on e.g. what is going on in a proof or process; you will not have time to completely rewrite them but you should highlight the main results and arguments. Seek help with anything you do not understand from either the lecturer or friends. Add the date and page numbers when filing your notes.
    8. 2.8 Make sure you understand and can quote formal definitions of all mathematical and scientific terms.
    9. 2.9 Read your last lecture notes thoroughly before each lecture, so that you can understand the subsequent material better. Lecturers are unimpressed with students seeking explanations when they have not even read their previous lecture notes. Do so!

      Lecture recording (ask first and note audio alone is useless for maths) and taking pictures of boards with mobiles is of highly doubtful value what are you going to do with it afterwards and when will you have time to do it? Answers: nothing much and you won't!

      • Put question marks in the margins in pencil against anything you do not understand.
      • Read the notes again, and you'll be able to rub out some of the earlier ?'s.
      • Make sure you ask about any remaining ?'s in the seminars or lecturers.

      As a last resort, and only after you have attended the seminars and lectures, you can ask to see the lecturer and/or your tutor (but we will not be impressed if you haven't been attending and want private help as a substitute - most lecturers will then say no!).

      Show the sequence of the points and their relationship. Do this diagramatically as a

      • classification tree showing classes, subclasses etc.,
      • spray diagram with the main topic in the centre and consequences spreading out in all directions from it. This is good for showing what leads on to what.
      • skills tree, with inner topics depending on outer ones.
      • flow chart. This is very useful for describing logical sequences and is essential for writing computer programs of any complexity.

      red dot Click here to view an example of a FlowChart.

      red dot Related topic.
    10. 2.10 Take the trouble to learn the lecturer's and your tutor's name and title. "Sir" or, worse still "Miss" is not appropriate at university lecturers are not schoolteachers and are not responsible for your studies. Until you are invited to do so, stick to "Dr Death" or "Professor Strangefeatures" rather than first names. Staff are busy and teach a lot of students so don't expect them to know who you are at first. When talking to staff, state you name, course, year and what you want as precisely as possible, especially if you are emailing, phoning or faxing them.
    11. 2.11 In lectures, seminars, tutorials etc or when seeing staff, turn off your mobile phone! ... not on silent, not texting people under the desk, but off! It's very annoying/downright rude to have phones going off in class and it will be very disrupting to your engagement with the class.

      In fact, why not turn off your phone when you are at university? That way you'll meet new people instead of texting friends you already know - and some of them will be interesting to know!

    12. 2.12 Finally, I'll let you into a little secret! Whilst a lot of teaching takes place, very little learning takes place in lectures. Instead lectures provide the scaffolding for learning to take place elsewhere, usually in your private study time or perhaps in your study group if you have one. So you need to allocate at least an equal amount of time for private study, doing problem sheets etc. This doesn't mean that lectures are pointless - far from it. They provide a structure to the content, a timetable for learning and a social context in which teaching (and sometimes even some learning) can take place. If you do not go to lectures, you will not be able to pace your studies effectively and it will get very scary just before the exams! So just go ... and if you enjoy them, that's a bonus!

      Study groups can work well provided they are scructured and have a specific purpose - even a formal agenda and chairperson if need be. Otherwise they disintegrate into a social event - fine by why pretend this is somehow doing study? Set a time limit and arrive and leave with a set of questions to follow up on.