eileen tracy
 
STUDY SKILLS

Maybe you’re a university student with an essay crisis on your hands. Perhaps you’re a school pupil worried about exams. You could be a mature student feeling a bit rusty. Or you might be a parent with a son or daughter in difficulty.

Or maybe nothing much is wrong but you just want to study more productively. And you can. The good news is that with a little know-how and some guidance, most students can learn to work extremely efficiently and boost their grades across the board. 

The study skills I can show you are extremely helpful. I learnt them when I was at university. They don’t take long to learn. They cut my workload by at least 30%. What’s more, I sat my exams in a very relaxed way, confident that I could remember everything.

Now I teach these techniques to my students. They’re also described in my book The Student’s Guide to Exam Success and in the e-books on this site. They include:

These study skills can completely transform the way you work. However, they are not a panacea. If, like many school pupils and university students, you feel under pressure to perform, this pressure may backfire unless you find an outlet for your distress. Perhaps you recognise yourself in some of the statements below:

  • If I fail or underperform, I have no future
  • I’ve lost my confidence now
  • I’ve got to do my best
  • I’ve got to be the best
  • I’ve left it all too late
  • I nearly walked out of the exam
  • I just want to give up
  • I have no idea what to say
  • I keep losing concentration
  • I went blank in the exam
  • I’m doing resits but I don’t understand why I failed
  • I’d be ashamed of getting a C

My work with students involves a good deal of listening. Sometimes that alone dissolves the problem. In addition I offer Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) when an emotional block or a traumatic memory is blocking progress.

EFT

EFT works extremely effectively for most students and can save hours of therapy time. It works a little like acupuncture in that it involves tapping on acupressure points to dispel emotional blockages. Properly done, EFT works in moments and has a high success rate estimated at 85%.   

EFT is a self-help technique that you can learn to do on your own. If you’re planning to work on the telephone or by email with me, you will find it helpful to use the diagram below.



You can download for free my Quick and Easy Guide to Boosting your Studies and Your Morale with EFT.

Learning Theory

Are you  losing concentration and forgetting what you learn? This may be because you don’t know how to use your brain. With a little learning theory adapted to your own personal needs, you’ll understand how often to take breaks, and when are the optimum times to revise what you’ve learnt. You’ll do active revision, not passive revision – active revision saves time and stops you getting those stressful memory black-outs. Learning theory shows you how to take in more information at each sitting, and maximise recall.

Time Management

Do you struggle to meet deadlines? Have you tried timetabling and failed? While there is (thankfully) no such thing as a perfect time-manager, there are various ways, some of them very structured, others much looser, to organise different types of workload. You can adapt them to suit your preferences so that you have a timetable that works for you. The point of time management is to give you time off too. Properly done, timetabling offers a balanced way of working, releasing you from the anxieties that go with disorganisation. Many students find that this improves their motivation.

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Essay Planning

Are your essays and essay exams not making the grade? You’ll get a better result if you plan your essays properly before you start writing. Part of the skill of essay planning lies in reading questions accurately and this includes developing an understanding of question instructions which ask you to carry out very specific tasks. (You can download, for free, my Quick and Easy Guide to Question Instructions.)

Planning takes time and practice, which is why students often try to skip this crucial stage in their hurry to start writing (particularly in exams). Beyond GCSE level this is counterproductive:  a well-structured essay, rich in analysis, well argued and relevant, scores many more marks than something that you try to work out as you go along. Examiners’ top complaint is that students don’t answer the question! That’s because most students don’t plan.

By learning to plan, you can develop your ability to read and interpret, to create logical links and  to think laterally. You can stop agonising over how to introduce and conclude your essay. All this will save you hours of redrafting. And in exams, you’ll to score points in exams by the power of thought rather than by purely relying on memory. Knowing that you can do this even under exam pressure is a great confidence-booster.

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Memory Tricks

Do you worry about going blank in the exam? Mnemonics are a huge variety of creative 'tricks' which stimulate your right brain, making it easier to retain all kinds of information than by rote learning. Mnemonics involve making imaginative associations, so students with good imaginations love these techniques. (They can also help you to regain your imaginative powers if these have been lost through too much schooling!) They are particularly useful in subjects such as Biology, Chemistry and History where names, facts, figures, dates and sequences need to be learnt by heart. However, they’re also helpful in other subjects: for instance, I used them in my English Finals exams to remember lists of key points and dates.

Mnemonics bring another benefit: they help you to observe what you remember best. This makes you wiser as to how you should process your learning.

Mnemonics take all the worry out of relying on your memory and can put some sparkle into your revision.

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Mindmapping

Are you spending too long on your work? Mindmapping offers a terrific shortcut to revision and essay-planning. You can also use it for brainstorming. It works for most subjects, particularly arts and humanities, but also some sciences. It’s effective even at the highest levels of university education. It involves sketching out information in a strikingly visual manner, using key words, colours and making use of shapes and space, stimulating your right brain. This encourages lateral thinking. Students who mindmap comment on how easily ideas come to mind with this technique. Mindmaps are also extremely easy to remember. Whether or not you’re any good at drawing, if you’ve got a creative streak, you’ll find mindmapping a liberation in your studies.

(Many students who have learnt mindmapping in groups complain that mindmaps 'don't work', which often signals that their thinking processes are obstructed in some way. Mindmapping is a technique best learnt in a one-to-one setting.)

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Note-taking

Are you getting lost in a sea of unhelpful notes? Perhaps you  read without knowing how to make useful notes, and find you need to re-read everything. It’s not always obvious how to take good notes from books and lectures: often they turn out to be unhelpful if they’re too wordy or too brief. Some students waste time writing everything out in neat or putting their notes into the computer. None of this is necessary. The art of taking good notes lies in identifying key points. This is a very active form of revision which enables you to summarise and absorb vast quantities of information quickly and easily. You’ll save yourself hours of time, and a small fortune on highlighter pens.

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Speedreading

Do you lose concentration as you read? This is normal: our eyes aren’t designed for the purpose. The good news is that you can read faster and more efficiently: many students find to their absolute astonishment that they can double their reading speed in as little as fifteen minutes.

The principle of speedreading is not difficult and you can keep improving your reading speed even if you just practise for ten minutes a day.

Contrary to expectations, speedreading generally enables students to take in more information, and concentrate better.  Speedreaders often gain a stronger sense of purpose and a more holistic view of their material than readers who trawl through detail point by point. Speedreading really takes the stress out of doing research and revision.

Exam technique

Have you ever underperformed in an exam and not understood why? If it’s made you feel very anxious about your future chances, or resits, let me reassure you that the examiner isn’t trying to catch you out. He or she has a score-sheet and is effectively looking for boxes to tick to award you marks. It’s easy to lose many marks for instance if you misread the question or question instructions, because then your examiner won’t find anything in your answer that matches the marking scheme. Another common mistake is to try and make the question fit your revision. There are a number of ways in which you can avoid such pitfalls in an exam, be it an oral presentation, an essay exam or a multiple choice exam.

The key is partly time management so that you make time to read, interpret, plan, write and check properly. It also consists in point-scoring skills – planning in exams is absolutely key. These are worth practising well before the exam.

Active revision is also a component of exam technique. If you know what the examiner is looking for, and you know how to deliver that, you’ll start to develop confidence in your ability to pass exams.

EFT helps to calm exam nerves and can be used in the exam.

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student's guide

case studies

"Andrea was an A-level science pupil who needed top grades to get into medical school. She was working very hard and getting As in her tests, but she was also getting tired and stressed..."
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"David dropped out of university when he was 20 and spent 10 years doing other work.
Then he got another place on a university course and wanted to be sure not to drop out again. So he came to see me to get study skills help. What worried me was how much he talked of making a good impression on his new course, resolving to give his work his 'one hundred per cent commitment' and to hand in every homework assignment 'on time every time'.  He planned to spend all spare time working and had already stopped seeing friends. This attitude was likely to lead to a breakdown especially because as a mature student David felt he had so much to prove..."
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"Jonathan was in his first year at university, studying Economics. But he was not working hard enough and this made him feel so guilty that he could barely look at a book. He was also smoking a lot of dope and feeling guilty about that too..."
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"Monica was working in Spain in industry. She called me a week before her Business Studies module with the Open University, which she needed to pass to get a promotion in her work. She wanted a few sessions on the telephone because she was feeling ‘scared stiff’ of sitting her exams. She didn’t think she’d even make it into the exam hall. We went through her papers piece-meal, discussing her exam technique and essay planning in detail, until she was confident of using a good method for tackling her paper..."
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12-year old Stan was extremely nervous about oncoming tests, partly because of his dyslexia diagnosis, partly because he found it impossible to work: like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, Stan would freeze at the prospect of work and find other things to do to distract himself from any academic demands.
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