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

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Date of Publication: 30 September 2015

Here at Oxford Summer Courses, we put a lot of hard work into making sure our students discover an authentic Oxford and Cambridge university experience. 

A huge part of this involves your academic sessions, which are curated around the renowned Oxford tutorial method of learning. 

When joining us for a course, any student in our 16-17 year-old or 18-24 year-old course groups will participate in these one-to-one tutorials as part of their learning experience. In preparation for this, your tutor will set work for you to complete, which requires a high level of disciplined and independent study.

Although this can be a tricky thing to master, once you have, it is a skill you will use for life both in higher education and beyond into the workplace. 

To help you make the most out of your course, we’ve collated our top 10 tips for independent study success. Familiarise yourself with them, so that when it comes to studying at university or at one of our summer schools, you will have mastered the ability of how to motivate yourself to study. 

 

1. Create a designated study space

The first step in working out how to become motivated to study is to set up a sufficient place with which you can study. 

Now, this doesn’t just mean clearing the desk in your bedroom free from piles of books and old coffee mugs. In fact, there are actually a few tips for creating the most productive and effective study area.

The first of these is to find an environment that’s quiet and others little disruption. As much as you would like to, don’t expect to do your best work J.K. Rowling-style in Starbucks, as studies have shown that background music actually decreases ingestion of reading material by up to 60%. So, it’s critical that your study space offers peace and quiet for you to concentrate.

In this instance, libraries are hidden gems. Not only can they be great places to work in terms of their tranquillity and quietness, but you also have the added bonus of them being home to thousands of reading materials and often pertinent revision guides.

Alternatively, this can be a quiet area within your home, where you can shut the door and enjoy minimal disruption for a few hours each day. Your bedroom can be a great place to work in, as long as you have a designated working area. At the end of your study session, you want to be able to walk away and switch off from the work you’ve been doing. And creating a study area that’s separate from your off-duty life is essential for doing so.

2. Mute your phone 

Part of maintaining a productive study space is minimising distractions. 

We all know how tempting it can be to have a quick scroll through your Instagram feed or reply to a message from your friend.

When you sit down to study, don’t forget to put your phone to silent and hide it away somewhere. If you can’t live without yours by your side, then you can try using procrastination apps such as Forest or StayFocused – both of them can help you focus your attention and minimise distractions. 

Even if after a short burst of concentration you have lost motivation to study, these apps will stop you from the inevitable – reaching for your phone for a moment’s distraction. Over time, your brain will learn to focus your attention for longer periods and make your study sessions much more productive.

3. Create an effective study schedule

When it comes to studying, you need to establish achievable goals to help give you focus and know where to direct your learning. Too often, we hear students ask; ‘why can’t I get motivated until the last minute?’ And it’s because your brain isn’t in a natural study rhythm and used to having to sit and focus its attention on academia at a set time each day. 

Overcoming this is very easy to do with great routine and structure. Not only does this routine mean going to bed and waking up at a reasonable time, but it also means creating an effective study schedule, one which outlines what you need to achieve and within what time frame – with designated time for study breaks. 

Time management of different tasks is critical to your academic success, so it’s important that you 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. 

Note: Don’t spend too much time trying to make a ‘pretty’ schedule. As productive as you may feel creating one, you can waste a lot of time trying to make them look visually appealing. 

teenager-laying-down-studying-on-laptop

4. Establish a reward system

One of the key factors in how to motivate yourself to study is to create a reward program for your success. Giving yourself rewards is crucial in helping you stay motivated and maintaining morale.

So, when you achieve a goal or complete a specific piece of work, give yourself a small reward as positive reinforcement. 

Of course, you need to keep it proportionate – you can’t suddenly take the entire weekend off revision because you created one mind map. You can try rewarding yourself with something as simple as a 10-minute scroll on your phone, a quick trip to pick up a takeaway coffee, or even a small square of chocolate. Whatever works for you! 

5. Make your work efficient

When it comes to working out how to get the motivation to revise and study, there are a few efficiency tips you can use to make your study period as efficient and effective as possible. These are:

  • 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 Sparknotes, CliffsNotes, online reviews of books or journal articles, or find another book if you can!

These are only a couple of tips to help you maximise efficiency whilst studying, so you don’t get bogged down wasting your time on tasks which don’t need to be focused on. 

As you get into the rhythm of studying independently, you may find your own tips and tricks for helping to maximise efficiency – be sure to share these with friends and family to help others in need.

6. Vary your study techniques

Different people learn in different ways, and you need to learn which learning style suits you if you want to find out how best to get motivated to study. 

There are four different types of learning styles; kinaesthetic, auditory, written and visual learners. If you’re not sure which one you are, try doing a mixture of activities to see which style works best for you. For example, you could practice talking to yourself, recording yourself, walking around whilst learning a new topic or writing out notes. Whichever method helps you memorise new material the best is the learning style which you should continue to use. 

But your study techniques shouldn’t just stop there. In order to find the motivation to revise and study, you need to keep your learning methods exciting. As part of your goals setting process, be sure to set yourself quizzes, look up exam papers, and practice the questions at the back or end of chapters in your revision books. All of these will help keep your learning fresh and keep you focused and motivated. 

girl-sitting-by-window-reading-on-laptop

7. Use Efficient Revision Techniques

A huge part of your learning experience at school and university will involve revising for exams and memorising information. To make your independent study time as effective as possible, try and experiment with a few revision techniques:

  • Use mnemonics, pyramids and other memory techniques
  • Practice past papers, end of chapter quizzes and online tests.
  • Record yourself talking about a topic in detail without notes
  • Create mind maps, revision notes and other information fact sheets
  • Debate a topic with your classmates without using notes

These are just a few revision techniques you can use to check your understanding of a topic. Practice using a few of them to see which work best for you, so you can challenge your memory and make your revision easier. 

8. Time yourself

Do you often find yourself sitting down at your desk to study, only to spend chunks of your time procrastinating?

A great technique for keeping yourself productive is to 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 you need when you’ve lost study motivation and need to refocus your attention.

9. Don’t forget to give yourself a break

As important as studying is for academic success, it’s only effective if you make it part of a healthy structure and daily routine.

Sleep, food, and exercise are all essential for good brain function. Make sure your study schedule includes plenty of downtime to allow for these things, as well as leisure activities. Even if you do find your breaks accidentally last longer than they are meant to, 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 during your dedicated study time, get up and do some jumping jacks or make some tea. A productive break is far more beneficial than wasting ten minutes trying to reread the same paragraph of text over and over again.

girl-sitting-at-laptop-typing-on-keyboard

10. You are not alone!

Finally, please remember that despite the name, you are not alone when studying independently. There are millions of students across the globe who are all trying to stay motivated and study effectively – you are all in the same boat.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to others; your teachers, discuss your work with peers, research outside your set reading, look up templates e.g. for essay structure or even swap tips on study forums or social media.

There are plenty of resources available, so make sure you are using them to the best of your ability. Your studying will be far more successful in the long-term, and you’ll also have a bank of tips and advice to share with other students who are struggling to stay motivated whilst studying independently. 

Independent study success: An Oxford Summer Courses testimonial

Here at Oxford Summer Courses we promote a healthy and balanced “work hard, play hard” lifestyle. One which balances challenging academic sessions with creative independent study time and exciting extracurricular activities. 

Over the years, we have found this careful balance allows students to leave our courses feeling very happy with the work they have produced and the fun timetable of activities they’ve participated in. Here’s a testimonial from one of our Engineering students from 2019:

I wanted to experience a university atmosphere with tutorials and seminars. I have enjoyed my classes because I’ve always liked Physics and Maths, and the classes have helped me to practice them in real life problems. The teaching and classes were beneficial, especially the tutorials, and the work set. I especially liked my tutorials with Matt since we were asked personalized questions, discussed energy solutions and worked on our problem sheet.

The highlight of my time in Oxford is the time I’ve spent with friends. I’ve gotten to know some unforgettable people from all over the world and enjoyed many activities with them such as punting, sports day, ceilidh and karaoke – which I enjoyed the most. The time I spent with my group was lots of fun, and I really liked getting to know our leaders Henry, Izzy, and Ellie who did a great job with us.” – Simon, Engineering student (2019)

Ready to take the next step? 

Take a look at the subjects we currently have available to study and discover where your summer course could take you!

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