Independent 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 one way or another.

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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 a system for filing and retrieving resources that works 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.

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 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
  • 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 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.

Top Tips
  • Take responsibility for your learning
  • 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
  • Keep going!
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