10 Top Tips for Independent Study Success: The Oxford Summer Courses Way

Date of Publication: 30 September 2015

At Oxford Summer Courses your tutor will set work for you to complete for the tutorial and we encourage a high level of disciplined independent study. This can be a tricky thing to master however once you have, it is a skill you will use for life.

  1. Set yourself up somewhere quiet and tidy with all the resources you need…
  • Don’t expect to do your best work J.K. Rowling-style in Starbucks, you will work and learn best with low noise environments. Indeed, studies have shown that background music decreases ingestion of reading material by up to 60%. If you do like to listen to music while you work try music without lyrics, and resist the temptation to belt along with Taylor Swift!
  • Libraries (bold) are hidden gems seemingly forgotten about by all but the local book club however they can be great places to work and have the added bonus of containing reading materials and often pertinent revision guides.
  1. “ Block” Facebook and other distractions…
  • Part of maintaining a productive study space is minimising distractions and we all know how tempting it can be to do that “Which Superhero are You?” Buzzfeed or have a quick scroll through your Home feed. None of us is immune to the calls of procrastination however you can get help with that! Try filters such as “Nanny” or “StayFocused” – Choose one to suit your focussing needs!
  • Don’t forget to put your phone to silent and hide it away somewhere.
  1. Set yourself goals…
  • Time management of different tasks is so important so formulate a timeline, compartmentalise your tasks and prioritise. Set yourself enough that you are productive and challenged, but don’t be too ambitious, or you’ll start to flag. NB don’t spend hours making a pretty timetable- many an afternoon has been lost that way!
  1. Set rewards…
  • It is crucial to keep yourself motivated and keep up your morale so when you achieve a goal give yourself a reward but keep it proportionate- don’t gift yourself a weekend off for learning ten words in French! Chocolate always works well…
  1. Study tips…
  • Learn how to “gut” a book or text. Some textbooks come with handy summaries and helpful hints boxes however some don’t. Keep in mind what it is you are working on and strip your reading down to just that- check chapter titles, use the index for key words, and try to skim large chunks where you can for the important bits!
  • If you’re finding a book tricky there are a wealth of study aids. Try Spark / Cliff Notes, online reviews of books or journal articles, alternatively find another book if you can!
  1. Vary your study techniques…
  • Different people learn in different ways for example there are kinetic, aural and visual learners. Try out talking to yourself, recording yourself, moving about or do a mixture of all of them! • As part of your goals set yourself quizzes, look up exam papers, and don’t forget often textbooks have practice questions at the back or end of chapters.
  1. Tips for revision and rote learning….
  • Let’s face it, much of our school work, and some at university is revising for exams and memorising information… here are a couple of tips to help you;

o Use mnemonics, pyramids and other memory techniques, you could even give the old Sherlock Holmes Mind Palace a go (the idea being you imagine a physical place where you put words or information in individuals spots or rooms).

  1. The old stopwatch trick…
  • To keep yourself productive and on point keep a timer or stopwatch next to you and only let it run when you are actually working. Pause it for every break, however small, and then see at the end of your study period how much of it you actually spent working. It can be quite the kick sometimes and push you towards better focus!
  1. Give yourself a break…
  • Sleep, food, and exercise are all essential for good brain function. Don’t get pulled towards the all-nighter, you will be unproductive and your brain will work much better after a good night’s sleep! If you feel your focus slipping get up and do some jumping jacks or make some tea!.
  • Stay positive!
  1. You are not alone!
  • “I am here with you”… Not really but do ask for help! Don’t be afraid to reach out to teachers, discuss your work with peers, research outside your set reading, look up templates e.g. for essay structure or even swap work with peers.

At Oxford Summer Courses we promote a healthy Work Hard, Play Hard ethic and we find students come out very happy with the work they have produced. A Creative Writing student left this testimonial of her experience in 2015:

“OSC was an unique experience for me: studying my favourite subject – creative writing – in one of the most prestigious universities of the world was a huge opportunity. I could have seminars with a passionate tutor in a very small group (we were only two students) and we had to write a short story and a poem : difficult exercises but with lot of satisfaction and good advices at the end! We had also lot of freedom and could make so many discoveries: day-trips, concert, play, museums, (and punting !) and above all meeting people from all over the world. Moreover, everyone in the staff was here if we needed any help or listening.” Alizee Cordesse.

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