Be organised! – There is the well-known saying – ‘More haste, less speed’ – being methodical and organised in the longer term will help to ensure that you use your available study time effectively and efficiently. Make sure that you have a supply of stationery – pens, pencils, erasers, highlighters etc readily to hand. Try to establish a filing system; it doesn’t have to be overly complicated, just one that you can work with and feel comfortable using. Labelled box folders, ring binders, dividers and R-kive
folders for storing your research papers, lecture notes and professional journals make good off-the-shelf resources. Knowing exactly where to find a textbook, periodical or a
specific research paper means you won’t waste time and energy searching for that elusive reference and incurring unnecessary stress!
Be enquiring – If there is a word or concept that is unfamiliar to you – look it up and record it in a note book for future reference. If you cannot find out what it means, ask one of your lecturers to explain it.
Relax – Stress and anxiety are counterproductive to concentration and being able to focus on the task in question. If you feel tense, try to take measures that help you to relax – clear your mind of troublesome thoughts, breathe deeply, relax your neck and shoulders, even take time away from your desk for some fresh air or a spot of
meditation. Never try and tackle two tasks at the same time – you’ll not be able to give either the attention that they warrant. If you have a large task ahead of you, try breaking it down into more manageable, less overwhelming, ‘bitesized’ smaller tasks.
Remain disciplined and focused on the task – It is human nature to procrastinate and avoid those tasks that we feel are too hard, we do not relish, or of less interest. However, where you delay tackling an assignment you can find yourself facing a rapidly approaching deadline which is likely to result in rushed work and careless mistakes. If you know that an assignment is going to take extra preparation and a literature review, build that extra time into your study schedule. Don’t be afraid to seek guidance and clarification from your tutor; they can’t give you the answers but they can help you to consider the salient points.
Listening – Try to be ready to listen; it’s often about attitude and making a conscious decision to embrace the subject being considered, and view it positively. If you know what the seminar is about, complete some background reading before you attend. Look at your notes from previous lectures/seminars and remind yourself of the salient points. Always try to remain attentive to what is being said; don’t allow your thoughts to wander or drift, but stay focused on the topic and use the opportunity to glean information from someone who is knowledgeable and experienced. While listening is important, it is also helpful to be interactive within the lecture or education session as this helps both active listening and interpersonal skills. This is important and helps you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, keep focused even when you find the information more complex and difficult to understand. Listen carefully and highlight areas that are difficult to understand – these can form the basis for questions or discussion at a later date.
Make effective notes – Regularly review your notes and edit out sections that aren’t relevant to the topic you’re exploring. Don’t be afraid to make detailed notes, as it can be very difficult to recall what was discussed at a later date; however, sometimes information is delivered very rapidly and it is then more a question of documenting key references, names, dates and using bullet points. You can then re-write your notes in more detail for future reference at the end of the day. Good notes can make completing future essays or assignments a far less arduous task. If you are a slow note-taker, you might find it easier to use an MP3 player or Dictaphone to record the seminar/lecture and then write up fuller notes later.
Reading – Do your heaviest reading when you are most alert, always ensure you have good lighting to avoid eye strain and try to avoid distractions or interruptions. Don’t
waste time reading irrelevant material! Be ruthless and scan (ie locate a specific piece of information) and skim (ie obtain a general idea/feel) articles to determine
whether the information contained within them is relevant to the work that you are undertaking. Can you discard it or do you need to read the full paper in more detail and
analyse its findings? Look at subheadings, bullet points and bold and/or highlighted sections to help identify key pieces of information. Try to practice reading in blocks of words (four to five words at a time), rather than reading individual words out aloud or reading them aloud in your head, this will make you a much slower and less effective reader. Be cautious if you like to use a highlighter! It is easy to wind up with a paper that is almost entirely highlighted with
attention directed everywhere rather than to the key points.
Make a detailed plan – Before you start writing an essay, make a plan of what you need to include and where – eg introduction, background/historical information, new
evidence/research findings, implications for practice, a summary. By making a detailed plan you are more likely to use your available study time more effectively, avoid
digressing and to stay focused on the information that should be included. You can also better prepare for the task and ensure that you have all the relevant papers, journals, textbooks and lecture notes to hand.
Estimate your time – Once you have read all the background information, you have to convert this into text. This often takes much longer than you had planned, so allow too much rather than too little time to do this. Each University has rules about submitting work; often you can be penalised for late submission, but if for some reason you
have tried to complete in time but a personal issue has prevented this, then you can ask for an extension.
References – Most academic pieces of work require supporting references. It is very good practice to note each reference in its entirety as you incorporate it within your
written work; this can be in either electronic or handwritten format, so that you can keep track of them. This will save you hours at the end of the assignment when you are
usually short of time.
University rules – You will usually be given information about these; they apply to social as well as academic conduct. It is very important to read these as deviation can
involve penalties, which could ultimately lead to your dismissal from the course. As well as abiding by the instructions that you are given for each assignment in terms
of focus and how many words you can use, there is an absolute rule about ‘plagiarism’ – this is the copying of work written by someone else which you are presenting as
your own. Most often, especially with access to a wide range of electronic reources, there can be a fine line between plagiarism and poor academic practice. It is
sometimes confusing to know how to make references work without copying them. If this is something you are unclear about, ask advice from the lecturer.
Never lose sight of your end goal – Midwifery registration requires educational success, and educational success is only achieved through study, hard work and effort.
NB Study Skills: Part 2 will include using reference sources, eg thesauruses, dictionaries and citations.