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Study Skills: the Essential Guide

Study Skills: the Essential GuideFind out how to improve study skills that will help you to succeed in any subject.


Key skills


Reading effectively means getting the key points out of a text, and being able to remember them later. Try these tips to improve your skills:

  • Try to get an idea of what a text is about before you start reading - for example, by looking at an introduction or contents page. This will help you to avoid getting lost when you start reading.
  • If you find yourself jumping ahead, try covering parts of the text with a piece of paper to keep yourself focused.
  • Underlining and highlighting the text can help you to pick out key points – but make sure you don't do it to a book you've borrowed from a library or from someone else.
  • Making notes in your own words can help you to remember important parts of the text, and gives you something to refer to later.

Find out more about reading skills:


However much you know about a subject, it can still be difficult to write about it effectively, especially in high-pressure situations like exams.

  • Take some time before you start to think about what you want to say, what the most important points are, and what order they should go in.
  • Include an introduction that explains what you are writing about and an ending that summarizes your key points.
  • Give yourself time to read over what you've written.
  • Keep track of your mistakes, such as words you often misspell, so that you know what to look for when checking your work.

Find out more about improving your writing:


Listening is about much more than sitting quietly. Good listening should be active, which means you are focused on the speaker and thinking about what they are saying.

If you're in a conversation, you should:

  • Avoid distractions, such as looking at your phone.
  • Demonstrate that you are listening by making eye contact and using body language.
  • Start your response by summarising what you think the speaker said, to make sure you have understood correctly.

If you're listening to a class or lecture, you should:

  • Avoid distractions, such as looking at your phone.
  • Make notes of key points, but don't try to write everything down as you'll lose focus.
  • Look over any notes you make afterwards to make sure you have understood.

Find out more about listening skills:


Research can be difficult, especially if you don't know much about the subject when you start out. These tips can help you to get started:

  • Start with a summary of the subject. This will give you background knowledge, and can lead you to more detailed sources. (For example, while you shouldn't use Wikipedia as a source for an essay, there are links to reliable sources at the bottom of each article that you can use.)
  • Try to narrow down the subject you're researching to something manageable, so that you can research that area thoroughly.
  • Remember that you won't be able to discover everything about a subject – you'll have to think about when to stop researching and start on the rest of your work.
  • If you can, talk to people who know more about the subject than you: they'll be able to recommend where to look and point out anything important that you've missed.

  • How do I write a research essay?

  • Using sources
  • Plagiarism explained
  • Improve your memory

Study space

Managing your study space well can improve your focus and make sure you don't misplace important work. A good study space should be:

  • Tidy: You should have a set place for everything you need, and keep anything you don't need to a minimum.
  • Distraction-free: Lots of noise or other distractions can make it difficult to focus.
  • Only for studying: Having a space you only use for studying helps you to avoid distractions. If space is limited, even simple things - like using a different seat at the table when you are studying, or creating a special study playlist - can help you to get in the mood.
  • Yours: Everybody studies differently, so don't worry too much about rules like this – use your experience to figure out what works for you.

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Independent learning

It's important to be able to manage your own learning, whether you're doing homework or getting through a university course. This means:

  • Managing your time so you get everything done.
  • Thinking about what interests you without being prompted.
  • Finding sources for the things you want to learn about.
  • Finding ways to tackle subjects you don't understand.

Find out more about independent learning: