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Study skills

Helping students develop the key skills they need to succeed in higher education.

Part- or full-time, distance learner or mature student, each method of study brings its own unique challenges and pressures. Stay sane and negotiate your way through the student maze of funding, work-life balance, special needs and career planning with our indispensable guides.

Giving a talk or presentation

Few things cause as much grief to students as being told that they have to give a talk or presentation. Yet forms of oral assessment are becoming increasingly common in higher education, for good reasons. Oral communication skills are among the skills most valued by future employers. Yet according to the UK body Association for Graduate Recruiters, 64 per cent of employers claimed that these are just the skills graduates lack.

Writing better essays

Two pieces on how to ensure your written work is presented as clearly and correctly as possible. This guide includes grammar and punctuation, and an appropriate writing style.

Getting organized

For many new students one of the most challenging aspects of the transition from school to a college or university environment is learning how to take responsibility for and manage their own time and studies. Days are less structured and more is expected of undergraduates in terms of working independently, to find and absorb the information they need. And, of course, there are far more distractions than there were back at home...

Effective note taking

Being able to take clear comprehensive notes, which allow you to understand and learn the presented material for your course assignments or exams, is a vital skill for students at college or university. It can also be a major challenge is you are coming up from school without having had to make your own notes on what was happening in class. The following are simple ideas for creating useful and effective notes from which you can learn more easily.

Filing for beginners

For everyone who wasn't fortunate enough to be born organized, here are some simple tips and advice on how to gain control of your paperwork and bring some order back to your life.

Mind maps

The traditional way of taking notes, whether for a lecture or when reading a book, is to follow the chronological sequence of the author's thought, and to summarize the content of the book or lecture, often using sentences and phrases instead of just key words. An alternative approach, and one which some claim works with both halves of the brain by harnessing its powers of visualization and association, and thereby improves both memory and creative thinking, is mind mapping.

Developing critical thinking

The ability to think critically is a key skill for academic success. It means not taking what you hear or read at face value, but using your critical faculties to weigh up the evidence, and considering the implications and conclusions of what the writer is saying.

How to make the most of your library

Traditionally, libraries were seen as a collection of books, whether publicly available or privately held. With the information revolution, however, libraries are increasingly being redefined, according to Wikipedia, as 'places to get unrestricted access to information in many formats and from many sources'.

Searching for information

Being able to search for useful information that is relevant to your studies is one of the key skills that will improve your marks, as well as the overall quality of your study experience. In this guide you will find where to look, and how to construct an effective search.


Academic writing is about debate. Whatever the subject or topic, if you are writing an essay or a longer piece of work such as a project, you need to read round the subject to research other people's ideas, and, if you use these ideas, give credit to the author. Referencing, also called citation, is about stating the source of your ideas, facts and opinions.

Understanding academic writing

If you are being asked to submit a piece of work for assessment and there is any uncertainty about the format you are expected to adopt for the piece, it is always wisest to check with your tutor, or the person marking the assignment, whether they require a specific structure, or whether this is a matter for your own judgement.

Getting ready to write

Good writing is a matter partly of organization, and partly of skill. The organization is both of yourself and your thoughts and ideas (including your critical appraisal of other people's ideas). The skill lies in your ability to craft your words so your meaning is clearly understandable to your reader.

Writing a dissertation

Most undergraduate business courses and post-graduate MBAs require students to complete a dissertation. This is an extended piece – often structured like a report – which usually involves undertaking research or a project (this may be based your placement or previous work experience) as well as reflection on and discussion of that work.

Making effective presentations

Few people feel comfortable standing up in front of their peers and explaining or demonstrating their ideas and nobody is born with an instinctive knowledge of how to make a good presentation. So how can you turn the heart-thumping, mouth-drying, brain-numbing panic that many of us experience before a presentation, into positive, dynamic energy that brings your work to a higher level?

Working in a group

Group work is an established part of most university courses, at both undergraduate and graduate level. Expectations and experience can vary from the fear and self consciousness to enthusiasm over learning from peers.


Many new students fail to understand that words and ideas are the property of the people who produce them. It is, therefore, an act of theft to take these words and ideas and re-use them elsewhere without giving credit to the original author. Stealing someone else's work in this way is called plagiarism and the consequences for those caught perpetrating this offence can range in severity.

A revision strategy

Because of its association with exams, the word revision often evokes doom and despondency, nights spent on last minute cramming of notes that can be regurgitated under timed – and hence stressful – conditions. However, effective revision has little to do with either cramming or rote learning. Rather it should be part of a planned and creative process that consolidates course learning.

Exam technique

The first thing to do if you have exams coming up is to demystify the process. Exams are commonly considered a mammoth test of memory and stamina under highly pressurized conditions, where, having revised until you drop, you answer impossible questions for cloven-footed examiners.

Surviving your Viva

In some countries, such as the UK, it is usual for a degree based on research (notably the PhD and MPhil) to be examined orally before the final award is given. The purpose is to allow the student to meet with examiners, who should be scholars of some standing in the field, and discuss their research with a view to explaining why they approached it the way that they did. It is called viva from the Latin viva voce, meaning living voice.

Managing a student research project

This comprehensive guide explains how to manage a student research project from beginning to end – selecting an idea, conducting the research and writing and presenting your results. Adapted by the authors from their book The Management of a Student Research Project.

Managing management research

The following guide is an adaptation of the MBA guide Managing Management Research by K. Howard and J. Peters. It takes a look at planning research – a guide for MBAs, topic selection – executive development and identifying an area of study on an executive development programme.

Studying in the UK: survival tips for international students

More and more students are coming to study in the UK from abroad and, whilst study in the UK may be an enriching experience in the long term, it is likely at first to be bewildering. Study methods in the UK are quite demanding and possibly very different from what you have known. This article, which is addressed principally at international students, will help to prepare you for what lies ahead.

Standardized admissions tests

A standardized test is one where all the elements – administration, questions, scores – are absolutely consistent, so that whether the student sits the tests in Beijing or Chicago the rules are exactly the same, the questions are open to just one interpretation, and are scored in the same manner. This article explains what you can expect if you have to take a standardized test, and gives advice on how to prepare.