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Review your progress Strategic study techniques

It can be useful to think of learning as an ongoing process in which you advance your understanding step by step. See your learning as a spiral - starting with increasing your understanding and becoming aware of things you can't make sense of with your existing knowledge, then embarking on some studying. You'll take in new ideas as you read, listen, watch and so on. You'll think through the new ideas, fitting them in with the ideas you already have and using them in assignments. The new ideas will become absorbed into the way you see the world. You'll then begin to increase your understanding and becoming aware of more things you can't make sense of and embark on more studying.

As you follow the spiral you realise that the ideas you once had difficulty grasping are now clear, and you want to move on to take in new ideas and think them through. Look at the learning spiral diagram below and think about how it reflects your experience of learning.

Diagram showing a spiral shape with eight text boxes starting with As your understanding increases, you become aware of things that you can't make sense of with your existing knowledge; You embark on some studying; Taking in new ideas as you read, listen, watch and so on; Thinking through the new ideas and fitting them in with the ideas you already have; Using them in your assignments; The new ideas are becoming absorbed into the way you see the world; As your understanding increases, you become aware of the things that you can't make sense of with your existing knowledge; You embark on some studying.
Adapted from Northedge, A. and Lane, A. (1997) ‘What is learning?’ In Northedge, A., Thomas, J., Lane, A. and Peasgood, A., The Sciences Good Study Guide, Milton Keynes, Open University, pp. 20-2.

Having an appreciation of this process helps you to accept that you may not understand everything at the first time of reading, and that you need to continue developing your skills throughout your study. For example, modules at higher levels assume you have the basic study skills and focus instead on developing more advanced skills such as analysis, critique and judgement. If you go on to take a postgraduate qualification you will find that presentation skills are required and that you are expected to be able to read and assimilate research papers and even design your own research.

At the start of your studies

Near the beginning of your module you should think about why you have chosen the module and what you want to achieve, and identify any skills that need development for you to do well in it. Use this module-start review form (RTF, 63KB). Here is a completed example: Jon's module start review (67KB).

Each subject requires the development of particular cognitive processing skills (for example, the ability to construct an objective argument in a social sciences assignment).

Making a record of your thoughts and aims at this stage gives you something to look back on and may help you to devise coping strategies if study gets tough. It's also a useful resource for later when you want to review your aims and monitor your progress. Think about these points:

  • Why did you choose the subject?
  • What did you hope to achieve?
  • Did you have any concerns about studying?

When you first receive your study materials and look at the study schedule you may feel overwhelmed by the quantity and variety of different tasks. In order to manage your time and maintain your motivation, it's important to take stock of what you need to do. Devising a strategy can help you to plan ahead. This involves:

  • clarifying specific goals - deciding what you want to do, when and how
  • completing study tasks (for example, making use of print and electronic resources, meeting deadlines for assignments)
  • thinking about what you're doing effectively and monitoring your progress
  • reflecting on how you're learning as well as what you are learning.

At the mid-point of your studies

Do some critical thinking at this point by acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses, and make some positive and constructive plans. If you want to know how you've done in your marks so far, find out about estimating your module results. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How far have you achieved what you wanted from your studies?
  • Are there any parts of the module materials that you're worried about?
  • Are there any study strategies that you need to improve or change?
  • Any action points?

Use this mid-module review form (download, RTF, 60KB) to compare your plans to the review form you completed earlier. This is a completed example Jon's mid-module review (RTF, 69KB).

At the end of your studies

Towards the end of your module take a few minutes to think about where you are with your study. Reviewing your study so far will help you to:

  • think about what you've gained from your module
  • consider how this will be useful for the future
  • note down any study strategies or techniques you want to change in future study
  • find out about general assessment and exam matters.

To help you prioritise, work through this end of module checklist. You could keep this in your study folder and refer back to it when you're preparing to study your next module.

Getting organised

  • Sorted out admin and module material.
  • Met the cut-off date for all assignments.
  • Used a study timetable

Reading and note taking

  • Used appropriate reading techniques for different parts of the module.
  • Used appropriate note-taking techniques for different tasks.
  • Re-worked notes so they make sense.

Doing assignments

  • Set aside sufficient time for what I wanted to do.
  • Analysed the assignment questions and advice.
  • Used a plan to keep on track when doing assignments.
  • Asked my tutor for feedback.
  • Used my tutor's feedback

Revision and exams

  • Used a revision timetable.
  • Practised writing specimen answers.
  • Worked out my exam technique, end-of-module assessment of project in advance.

Last updated 2 months ago