In the autumn, a million young people in the UK will be immersing themselves for the first time in the hurly-burly of undergraduate life on a university campus. At the same time, online and distance learning students will start a new term studying in the peace and quiet of their own home. Two very different experiences of studying. But new undergraduates and distance learning students have something important in common. As well as getting to grips with their chosen subject, they have to learn how to take responsibility for how and when they study.

NEC is working in partnership with UCAS, the university admissions service, on a series of study skills guides to help students successfully make the transition from school or college to higher education. The guides will also give sixth-formers an insight into what will be expected of them if they want to study for a degree. The first four guides, covering how to present an argument, time management, proofing and editing, and academic essay writing, have just gone live on the UCAS website.

NEC and UCAS believe that everyone needs to invest time in learning the skills needed for independent study if they are to become confident students and get the most out of their course. Successful independent learners don’t trust to luck but learn how to study. Here are our top seven ways to develop the habits of an independent learner.

1. Get to know how you study best

Which do you prefer: detailed instructions, or trying things out for yourself? Are you someone who needs solitude while you are studying, or do you like to work with other people around? How well do you cope with your surroundings being untidy? Understanding the best way for you to study will help you plan when and where to study so you can make the most of your time.

2. Understand what motivation is all about

Daniel Goleman, author of a number of best-selling books on emotional intelligence, identifies four elements that make up motivation. They are the personal drive to achieve; being committed to personal or organisational goals; initiative or ‘readiness to act on opportunities’; and optimism to keep going in the face of setbacks. Understanding how self-motivation works will get you started -and keep you going when things get tough.

3. Keep tabs on your time

How wide a gap is there between how you think you spend your time and how you actually spend it? If you don’t already know, try logging your time in half hours blocks for a week. The chances are you’ll be surprised by how many hours you spend doing things you don’t really consider very important. Taking a cool, hard look at how you spend your time will make it easier to decide on what you can cut out to make more time for studying.

4. Identify key verbs and key ideas

Cut to the chase when you have an essay to write by identifying the key verbs and key ideas in the title before you do anything else. Do it by choosing two highlighting pens in different colours. Use one for the verbs and one for the key ideas. Taken together, key verbs and key ideas will help you focus your approach to planning, reading and note-taking.

5. Brainstorm your ideas

Get started by organising your thoughts. Brainstorming ideas by making notes on your tablet, phone or a scrap of paper makes it easy to sort out strong ideas from weak ones and put the strong ones in a logical order. You can brainstorm whenever you have a spare five minutes – waiting in a queue, on a train or when you first wake up or just before you go to sleep.

6. Be a disciplined note-taker

It’s discouraging when you’re trying to make sense of new ideas, facts and concepts to be faced with piles of disorganised notes. Establish good note-taking habits as soon as you start your course and you’ll feel the benefit all the way through. Good habits include: only taking notes on material you might use, writing down points in your own words rather than copying them and jotting down questions for yourself as you read so you can follow them up later.

7. Draft and redraft

Stop worrying about a perfect final version of your work by writing a first draft, then a second, a third and even subsequent drafts. Forget about spelling, grammar, punctuation and paragraphing for now. Instead, concentrate on presenting your material clearly. Then, before you hand your work in and when you’re producing the final draft, spend time on the details.

Want to know more?

To find out how NEC can help you to fit more learning into your life, browse our wide range of flexible distance learning courses – from GCSEs and A levels to professional qualifications in management and childcare. You can also get in touch and speak directly to our friendly team. We can also be found on social networks including Facebook and Twitter!

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