Independent StudyIndependent Study

At university you will need to make use of a wide range of core skills that are essential in a variety of different situations. Some of these skills you'll find easy; however, others might require a bit more effort. But it's important for you to develop effective independent learning strategies. In an environment in which nobody will hold your hand, or tell you precisely what you should be doing and when, the art of managing and meeting personal deadlines – both social and academic – must be mastered sooner rather than later.

Some people like to plan things early in fine detail so that everything is ready in plenty of time; others positively thrive on the pressure of meeting a last-minute deadline. Whichever kind of person you are, you will need to keep on top of a range of different tasks at the same time, so you will need consciously to manage your time and hit key deadlines one way or another.

Independent study doesn't necessarily mean that you need to be studying on your own. It is independent in so far as it is your own time that you are in charge of and it is up to you how you use it to your advantage. For some students, independent study will mean working together to share ideas as part of a peer network; for others it will mean adopting a proactive approach to their own work. However you prefer to work, the ideas outlined below should help you to get a head start and make the most of your independent study time. 

Interactive Resource

Independent Study: Interactive Digital Workshop

This interactive digital workshop provide you with ideas and strategies to develop your independent learning skills to help you to get the most out of your study time. 

Launch Digital workshop


Study Skills Hacks: SMART Goals

Setting goals is an important part of the learning process. What do you want to achieve this week, this semester, or this year? Use our goal planning template to set yourself goals in the short, medium and long-terms. And make sure you goals are SMART by using our SMART goals template. For more information about SMART goals, watch this short video:


For more ideas and strategies to help you get the most out of your independent study time, read more below.

Being Organised

Being Organised

Go into the offices of different academic members of staff and you will soon realise that there are many different ways of organising the resources you need to work with. The crucial thing is that you develop systems for planning your time, organising and retrieving resources that work for you.

Equally important is knowing when to stop organising your resources and to start working on them instead. Organising resources can be a work-avoidance strategy, but it is nevertheless a crucial step in any piece of academic work. The system you develop also has implications for what you do whilst you study, from the way you make and file your notes to the way you manage your time.

Building Self-confidence

Many of us don't focus on developing our own self-confidence because we spend too much time thinking that everybody else is more prepared, independent and self-assured than we are. Universities can be intimidating environments; everybody seems to have a firm view, to understand things immediately and without difficulty, and to know where they are going and why.

The reality is often different. Universities are in fact - and should always be - places for asking questions, for uncertainty, for trial and error, and above all for conversation and dialogue. So: ask the questions and make the mistakes you need to in order to develop. You will find that your self-confidence grows with your understanding.

Use Google CalendarGoogle Calendar

Using Google Calendar? If not, why not try it as a way to improve your forward planning and organisational skills. Google Calendar is available to all students via MUSE My Services and is a great way to manage your time and remind yourself of important appointments and tasks. For tips on how to use Google Calendar, visit Lynda.com for tips and training.


Further Information

Top Tips
  • Be organised – use a diary
  • Find a comfortable working environment
  • Structure your study time wisely
  • Know the essentials – read the course handbook
  • Be proactive and find resources and support
  • Reflect on your learning and keep going!
Links and Resources

Internal Links

  • The University of Sheffield Academic Diary available at the SU Shop
  • Google Calendar
  • DDSS - Organising Yourself

External Links

Understanding Motivation

Understanding Motivation

When you are strongly motivated, it is easier to stay focused, to keep to the task, to work long hours; however, it is natural to lose some of your motivation when a project lasts as long as a degree. It is therefore important to be aware of what motivates you to complete a degree, reminding yourself of what you have to gain. There are two motivational approaches:

Intrinsic Motivation

Stems from genuine interest and ambition

  • Assumes no reward
  • Desire to do something because it is enjoyable, it matters, it is interesting, it is relevant to life and the world, or it is part of something bigger
  • Deep motivation closely linked to independence and autonomy
  • Examples of intrinsic motivators: studying for a degree because you love the subject; choosing a dissertation because you find it challenging, interesting and exciting; completing a degree to achieve a personal goal/ sense of accomplishment

Extrinsic Motivation

Desire to do something to earn a reward or avoid punishment

  • Works when the task has a clear set of rules with a clear solution
  • Can provide a useful short-term stimulus
  • Examples of extrinsic motivators: studying hard for exams because you want to achieve a good grade or a scholarship; researching your dissertation thoroughly to meet parental expectations; working hard on a lab report out of a fear of failing

But extrinsic motivation is not always sustainable. As soon as you withdraw the punishment or reward, the motivation disappears; if the punishment or reward stays at the same level, motivation slowly drops off. Extrinsic motivation can remove the desire to do something because it is enjoyable - if a reward comes to be seen as the reason one is engaging in an activity, that activity will be viewed as less enjoyable in its own right.

What are your intrinsic and extrinsic motivators?

For some suggestions of motivations that other students have identified, see the word cloud below:

Motivation Wordcloud


Further Information

Top Tips
  • Identify a range of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators
  • Reward yourself! An incentive can be a powerful motivator
  • Keep your intrinsic motivators in mind when you are feeling challenged by the course
Links and Resources

Internal Links

Peer Networks

Peer Networks

Making the most of a network of friends or peers on your course can be a good way to maintain your motivation and to keep your approach to university study on track. Informal or formal study groups can help to provide structure and encourage you to commit to planned study time. It can also be helpful to share information within the group to make sure you stay on top of deadlines and important course-related updates. 

Study With Me

If you are looking for a way to motivate yourself to commit time to your independent study, you might want to consider using a Study With Me video as a tool to focus your attention and concentration for a defined period of time. Study With Me videos use the Pomodoro Technique to provide a virtual study partner to see you through a 25-minute block of focused study time. Check out the University of Sheffield Study With Me video and join Tianzi in Western Bank Library. 


Further Information

Top Tips
  • Share course-related information to make sure that everyone has access to the most up-to-date facts
  • Find a space that suits you as a venue for group study
  • Don't just join in because you feel pressured to do so - find your own independent study space if you need to!
Links and Resources

Internal links

Book a Workshop

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Academic Skills Certificate