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Study Guide for post-16 learners

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page 3

Time management skills

page 4

Why is time management so important?

page 4

Organising your study

page 5

When to study

page 6

Where to study

page 6

Research and note taking skills

page 8

Why research?

page 8

What is research?

page 8

Starting your research

page 9

Informal and formal research

page 10

Helpful techniques

page 11

Note taking and storage

page 13

Mind mapping

page 15

Writing skills

page 18

Good practice

page 18

Punctuation, spelling and grammar

page 19

Creating your first draft

page 19

Version control

page 21


page 21

Referencing your sources

page 23

Filling in forms

page 25

Presentation skills

page 26

Giving a presentation

page 26

Be prepared

page 27

Beginning, middle and end

page 28


page 30

What next?

page 32

Help from your tutor

page 33

Transferable skills

page 33


back cover


Introduction Welcome to this Study Guide, which looks at the following:

• time management • research and note taking • writing • presentation.

These are all skills you will be expected to develop during the course of your studies. You don’t need to read this guide from cover to cover, as it’s in sections that you can dip into as you need them. Remember that some of these skills will be useful in other situations, such as higher education or employment.


Time management skills

Time management skills Why is time management so important? Time management is one of the most basic study skills. Managing your time well will help you meet deadlines and avoid last minute panics – helping you to get a well-written assignment in on time! However, this essential skill is also a requirement for effective performance in the workplace, and highly sought after by employers.


Organising your study

• Make a timetable and stick to it. • Identify the things you need to do, by when and • • • • • •

Time management skills

prioritise them – deciding what has to be done first. Daily action lists help you focus on the priorities. Defining what is important is crucial because good time management is spending time achieving your goals. Allocate time but be realistic and don’t intend to study all day – too much work can be just as unproductive as too little work. Work for 50 minutes, and then have a 10 minute break every hour of your study time – this will help to keep your concentration sharp. Try to give each subject equal time; don’t concentrate on one subject at the expense of another. Make sure you schedule in plenty of breaks to get some fresh air, exercise, meet friends, and have fun. But scatter these breaks throughout your study – don’t do them all at once! These breaks can act as rewards if you’ve met a deadline and kept to your schedule for instance. Do difficult tasks when you are at your most productive. Be disciplined – stick to what you say you will do.

• • •


When to study

Time management skills

It is always best to study when you are most alert. For example, some people find they are fresher in the morning. Make sure you take this into consideration when you put your timetable together.

• Studying before lectures gives you a chance to read

some background information so you get to grips with the topic and understand the lecture better. Studying after lectures will help you review and reflect on the topic, checking your understanding. Try to ensure you will have no distractions when you are studying – switch off your phone! By getting into a routine of studying at set times, others will know not to disturb you. Decide a time to finish as well as start so you know when you are free for other activities.

• • • •

Where to study Although you should be able to study anywhere, most people need peace and quiet.

• Set up a study area for yourself – at a desk or table at

home for instance. The area needs to be quiet with few, if any, distractions. Keeping your study area tidy will make sure you can find things easily and not waste time looking for them! If your study area is tidy, well lit and warm – each time you return to it you are ready to start and feel more organised. Leave your work area completely when you are taking a break.

• • • • 6

Finally‌ Always review how well you are sticking to your timetable – are you spending too much time on relatively unimportant tasks? Spend more time on tasks with a higher priority on your list.

Time management skills 7

Research and note taking skills

Research and note taking skills Why research? Research is often essential to ensure you gain a better understanding of a subject or issue. It is a skill that people often use in day to day life, for example planning a journey can involve researching the various transport options and costs.

What is research? Research can take many forms but it is basically about finding out about things and gaining a greater understanding of a subject or topic. Sometimes it involves looking at what other people might have already said or written about a subject, this is often referred to as ‘desk research’. On other occasions though, research can involve carrying out your own studies, 8

surveys or experiments and then recording the results.

There is nothing wrong with using other people’s ideas to support your own arguments as long as you credit the original source properly – see the Writing skills section of this booklet for more information on copyright, plagiarism and referencing your sources. So, research can help you to:

• Gain an in-depth knowledge of the subject you are studying. Learn about different viewpoints and ideas. Gain a broader perspective. Find examples to back up your own arguments. Develop your own original hypotheses and ideas.

• • • •

Research and note taking skills

Academic and professional researchers will often use a combination of desk and original research. First they might review what is already known about a subject and then decide what other questions they would like answered. They will then design a piece of research that they hope will answer those questions. This might involve talking to people, carrying out surveys, analysing statistics, conducting experiments or using other research techniques.

Starting your research Take time to think about the work you have been asked to do and ask your teacher or lecturer if you are unsure about what is required. They may be able to suggest some sources of information or you may have been provided with a reading list.


Research and note taking skills

There are many sources of information you might want to use, including:

• textbooks • existing research reports • newspapers • magazines, periodicals and journals • DVDs/CD-ROMs • television/radio • exhibition catalogues • the Internet.

The Internet in particular has led to an explosion of freely available information on almost every subject imaginable. Not all of this, however, is accurate or reliable so treat it with some caution unless you think the source can be trusted.

Informal and formal research Some of your research may be very informal, for example using information you have learned from your own or a family member’s personal experience. You might also talk to your friends about their thoughts on a particular subject, or use general knowledge gained through books, newspapers or watching TV. More formal research will involve you finding the specific information you need – using course notes and handouts, research using a library, the Internet or other reference materials. It might also sometimes involve designing your own questionnaires, interviewing people or conducting experiments.


Helpful techniques If you have been carrying out desk research you may find that you have a fairly large quantity of information to read. The following techniques can often help you find what you need more quickly.

Skim reading aims to:

• tell you quickly whether a book, article, report or chapter is useful give you a basic knowledge of written material help you find parts that are relevant.

• •

Larger reports often have an executive summary that gives you the key points. Books may have sleeve notes that summarise the content. Flip forward and backward through a book to find the parts you need. Often the first and last paragraph of a chapter will give you an idea of the main points covered. If the chapter looks of interest it may then also be worth reading the first sentence of each paragraph.

Research and note taking skills

Skim reading

Tip – Make a note of sections you want to return to. Scanning The idea of scanning is to quickly find specific information within a text. Instead of reading every word the technique involves looking for particular words, phrases or numbers by allowing the eyes to quickly scan the content of a page. It might help to first think of some questions and then identify the key words or phrases that will help you to answer them. 11

Research and note taking skills

Scanning is basically the same technique you might use if you were looking up a name in a telephone directory – you know what you are looking for and you allow your eyes to scan the page in order to find it. In-depth reading This is the technique of reading important sections of text carefully and identifying what you want to use and remember. When reading it may be useful to:

• make careful notes of the main points you want to

remember use a highlighter pen to identify key phrases or passages (assuming you own the book or text you want to mark!) note down the information you need to reference the source of the information.

• •

Further reading At the back of some books and reports you may find a list of references used by the author. Make a note of any other sources that you feel may be useful. Adding your own thoughts As you research:

• Add your own thoughts. • Develop your ideas. • Note down how you might develop an argument or theory from the author’s ideas. Think about what you have just learned.

• 12

Note taking and storage Be there

Afterwards Remember that the learning process continues after your lesson ends. You could:

• write down the main points that you remember • discuss the lesson with other students – in this way you can exchange ideas and hear different points of view.

An extra brain Picture your notes as an external memory, a place where information can be stored until you need it. Good notes will help you focus on the important points and prepare for assignments and exams.

Research and note taking skills

Make sure that you attend all the lessons, lectures, seminars and practical demonstrations you should – this is the best way of getting much of the relevant information you need and finding out how you are expected to use it.

Tip – Set up a system early on for organising and storing your notes. This way you will find it much easier to find what you need later. Make sure you label and organise notes so that you can find what you need easily.


Some people find it helpful to use different coloured highlighter pens to colour code their notes. An example might be: Green - Key issues, themes or ideas.

Research and note taking skills

Blue -

Important dates, people or places.

Yellow - References to follow up, books, articles, reports or websites. Red -

Things you need to check or don’t understand.

Taking notes effectively You may find it useful to make your own notes even if handouts are available. Making notes whilst someone is speaking is a skill that often needs to be learned and practised. You need to try to capture the essential information in a brief format, but it is important that it makes sense when you read it back. The following tips should help:

• Keep it short. • Use headings and key words. • Bullet points might help. • Do not try to write down every word! • Read through your notes later and, if necessary, write them up neatly to make them easier to follow and understand. This will also help you to remember what you learned.

Making notes can help you to retain information, both during lessons and when you are researching or revising.


Mind mapping

In essence, mind mapping involves writing down a central idea in the middle of a page and then related ideas radiate out from the centre in ‘branches’. The ideas on each branch are usually written in the form of words or pictures on a line. Each branch has a number of smaller branches connected to it and the ideas in these smaller branches have a relationship or association with the idea in the parent branch. An example is shown overleaf. With practice, mind maps can be an effective way of taking notes and preparing for exams. It is claimed that mind maps have an advantage over traditional note taking because they stimulate more parts of the brain. This is because they make use of space, shape, colour, pictures and word association. Here are some tips to get you started:

Research and note taking skills

Some people find a technique called ‘mind mapping’ a useful way to record and organise information. The idea was developed by Tony Buzan in the late 1960s and there are now many books, websites and even software programs related to its use.

• Use colour, pictures and symbols if you can. • Use key words rather than sentences. • Vary the thickness of lines – use thicker lines for the main branches. Plan how much space you will need on the page.


Example mind map Gain understanding

Research and note taking skills

Different viewpoints Broader perspectives Support/develop own ideas Look at existing information

What is research?


Original research


Ask teacher/lecturer

Textbooks Reports Newspapers Magazines/journals DVD, CD-ROM Internet

Understand task

Starting points

Paper People


Desk research

Consider information sources


Research and

During lessons Helps retain info

During research During exams


Techniques – note taking

Attend lessons Write points you remember Exchange ideas Label notes Colour code


Talk with others After lessons Storage system Keep it short Key words Bullet points Rewrite notes


Why research?

Other tips

Radiate from centre Branches

Techniques – mind maps

Related to each other Words written on lines

Colour Pictures/symbols


Key words Vary line thickness

Decide if article is useful


Skim reading How?

note taking

Flip through chapters Inspect paragraphs Note important sections



Techniques – research

Find important parts

Quickly find specific info Key words

Look for




First Last First sentences

Research and note taking skills

Central topic

What are they?

Scan page like a phone book


In-depth reading How?

Carefully examine text Decide what to use Read thoroughly Note key points Highlight key passages Note references


Writing skills

Writing skills Good practice Before you start any piece of written work – an essay, report or assignment – make sure you are clear about what you are expected to write. You should also be aware of which format or layout (e.g. font size, margins) you should use for the document, and what the word limit is if there is one. Think of your reader when you are writing:

• Write concisely. • Avoid long words. • Use short sentences. • Use an appropriate writing style for your target audience.

Always think of your first effort as a draft that can be amended 18

as your thoughts become clearer. It is very rare for someone’s first attempt to be their final copy!

Punctuation, spelling and grammar

Make sure the spellchecker in your word-processing program is set to English: UK (or British) spelling and not to English: US. However, don’t always rely on your spellchecker. It won’t necessarily recognise technical terms and proper names, so be sure to check these yourself. Also, be careful with different spellings of the same sounding word which may have a different meaning, e.g. for and four. These will not be picked up as spelling mistakes but could be wrong in the context of your writing.

Writing skills

Your writing should flow – read what you’ve written out loud and add punctuation where your words naturally pause. Punctuation marks such as commas and full stops break up writing into chunks that are more easily read. If you have a really long sentence, see if it will read better as two or more shorter ones.

Don’t rely on these programs for grammar either. Read sentences out loud to ensure they make sense and are grammatically correct.

Creating your first draft First steps

• Write down a stream of ideas as they come into your

head – everything that occurs to you about the topic. Group these ideas – they will form the key points of your discussion. Summarise your discussion in one sentence – this will help form the outline of your introduction.

• •


Backing it up

• What information can you use to back up each of your

key points? Do you need to do any further research; perhaps from a reading list you may have been given? If you need to do practical work, such as a survey, think about how you will collect information to back up your theory. Once you have results (either from a survey or a literature review), make notes of your findings and do any analysis required. Add the evidence you will use to illustrate or prove each of your key points. Be sure to reference your sources (see the referencing section on page 23).

Writing skills

• • • • •

Building a structure

• Expand your introductory sentence (without waffling!)

to form your introduction. Expand your introduction by giving a bit of background and defining your terms. Arrange your key points into a logical order. Expand each key point into a paragraph with each point referring to the question. Your conclusion should summarise everything you have said. You may also want to state here if you think further research is required.

• • • •

You should now have your first draft! Read through and review what you’ve written; make any changes that may be needed and ensure it flows.


As you read through your first draft, ask yourself:

Version control Remember to save your work regularly and back it up after each writing session onto a CD or memory stick. Name your first draft appropriately, for instance “assignment version 01”. Once you have made any amendments, make another version rather than saving over the top in case you change your mind! So, make changes to version 01 and save as “assignment version 02”. This way you can return to earlier versions if you need to.

Writing skills

• Does it answer the question? • Are all key points relevant? • Does it tell the reader about the subject? • Have you left out anything important?

Once you have completed your final version, make sure you have used the appropriate format (font size, etc.) and that you have stuck to the word limit. You may be penalised if you go over the limit by too much.

Copyright Copyright is the ownership of an original work that has been produced by an author or creator. This ownership covers the reproduction of the work even in an altered state or using another media. For instance, you cannot download an image from a website and digitally alter it. In addition, scanning is not permitted as the process converts paper-based images, photos, words and designs into a digital picture that can be shown on a computer screen, and edited or manipulated. 21

What does it cover? Copyright applies to:

Writing skills

• works produced in paper form • sound and visual recordings held on tape, disc, or other format including the Internet.

These may be:

• literary, dramatic or musical works • photographs • audio and visual recordings • broadcasts • designs, illustrations and other artistic works • computer programs and data sets.

What can be copied? The 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act allows limited copying of copyright material for research and private study. Short extracts of work may also be copied for review purposes, but the original must be acknowledged. If you include someone else’s work without crediting them or pass off someone else’s idea as your own, this is plagiarism. You must acknowledge your source. Remember, many colleges and universities have plagiarism detection software to check a student’s work! As a guide, you may copy 5% of a work or:

• one complete chapter of a book • one article per issue of a journal • up to 10% (maximum 10 pages) per short book (without chapters), report or pamphlet


• one poem or short story (maximum 10 pages) from an anthology one separate illustration or map up to A4 size short excerpts only from musical works but not for performance purposes.

• •

How do we know something has a copyright? Published work usually contains the following information:

• The copyright symbol ©. • The word copyright with a date. • The name of the copyright owner or licence holder.

Writing skills

If in doubt, ask! Infringing the Act can be a criminal offence. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for failure to obey.

Referencing your sources Your written work should be a balance between what you think about a topic and evidence you have taken from other sources to support your argument. You must distinguish between your own thoughts and what other people have said. Within your text you should put the surname of the author(s), editor(s) or director(s) followed by the year of publication or release next to your quote about their work. At the end of your piece of written work, you must list all these references in alphabetical order and give further information on them. In this list, you can also include material you haven’t directly referred to.


An example:

Writing skills

Within your text – Smith (2007) states that “climate change is irreversible”. In the list at the end of your work – Smith (2007), Climate change and the future. Environmental Journal, vol. I, pp. 2-4. Therefore you need to give:

• Name of author(s), editor(s), director(s). • Year it was published/released. • Title of the article or chapter if relevant. • Title of the book, journal, website, programme or film. • For books – which edition; for journals – volume number, issue number, month, page numbers.

There are different ways of laying out references. You may need to follow a particular format, so check out which one you should use. Your reference list will show:

• where you have obtained your information • that you have researched the subject • that you’ve not tried passing off someone else’s work as your own!

It will also help others who read your work to follow up their own interests. Tip – Note down all the information you will need to reference a source at the time of doing your research!


Filling in forms (e.g. application forms)

• Make a photocopy of the form so you have a rough

copy to practise on. Keep the original form for your final version that you will submit. Read through all questions first so you know what information is being asked of you. Answer all questions and fill in all the information you are asked for on your rough copy. Leave the form for a while (perhaps overnight) before you check it through. Read through what you’ve written – check it is accurate and that you’ve completed all sections. Make any amendments or improvements as necessary. Use all the information on your rough copy to help you complete your final version on the original form. Check through your final version thoroughly. Take a photocopy of your final version so you have a record of it.

• • • •

Writing skills

• • • •


Presentation skills

Presentation skills Giving a presentation As part of your studies you may be asked at some stage to research, prepare and deliver a presentation. This may take the form of an illustrated talk or a demonstration, either on your own or as part of a group. You may be feeling nervous about doing this, but don’t worry as lots of people dislike talking in front of an audience and are often concerned they will make a mess of it. Remember it’s these nerves that can lead to a poor presentation. If you know how to cope and are well prepared you will be much more relaxed and it will boost your confidence, allowing your audience to enjoy listening to you.


Be clear

Choosing your subject If you get to choose your own subject make sure you pick one that interests you. If you are keen about a topic it will be much easier to research and your audience will see your enthusiasm and enjoy your presentation even more. Always remember to think about how easy it will be to get materials and facts to illustrate your subject. Getting it right from the start helps you avoid difficulties later on.

Presentation skills

The very first thing you should do is re-read what you have been asked to do and write down any initial thoughts and concerns. You may have already been given a subject to talk about but often you will be allowed to choose your own subject from within an overall topic.

Be prepared

• How long is your presentation expected to last? • Who will you be delivering it to, fellow students, tutors, examiners, or the public? How big will your audience be? How old are your audience, the same age as you, younger, older? This will make a big difference to how you structure your presentation and what you say. What do you think your audience will already know about your subject? Where will it be delivered, a classroom, a lecture theatre, a library? What style has it got to be in, formal or informal?

• • • • •


Presentation skills

One of the most important things you have to be clear about is what you want your audience to get out of your presentation. What do you want them to learn or to think about? Knowing the answers to all of these questions will be important as you start to decide what you’re going to say and what you’re going to show to them.

Beginning, middle and end Now that you have decided on your subject and know more about your audience, it’s time to structure your presentation. Decide on the main points you want to get across and how you’re going to illustrate them with facts and the use of visual objects. It’s important to see how one topic leads logically to the next and how you’re going to keep your audience interested. Remember don’t be too ambitious; make sure you have time to cover all your points. It’s better to highlight a couple of points rather than whiz through lots of facts, as this can often confuse or even lose the attention of your audience. It generally takes 10 minutes to cover three points well, so think about the amount of time you have between your introduction and your ending. Beginning

• Briefly introduce yourself. • Find out if everyone can see and hear you. • Give the audience the title of your presentation, an

outline of what you’re going to cover and how long it’s going to last. Don’t forget to let them know if they will have the chance to ask you questions at the end.



• This is the section where you get to put across your

key points and use any visual materials. If you are using any technical or difficult words make sure you can pronounce them, it’s always better to use your own words than to copy others. Try to avoid using slang and remember that you may need to explain any technical words to your audience. Be careful about using jokes, remember not everyone’s sense of humour is the same and these could be met by an embarrassing silence.

• End

• Give your audience a brief reminder of the points you covered. Ask them if they have any questions for you. Don’t forget to thank them for listening. You may want to leave them with an interesting fact to think about, as this can often be a good way of ensuring your presentation sticks in their minds.

Presentation skills

• • •

Now look over your presentation and check once more that it flows logically.


Practicalities It’s now time to make sure that you have the following sorted:

Presentation skills


• Have you booked out any specialist equipment you

intend to use, such as flipcharts, a projector or a DVD player? Have you collected all the materials you are going to use to illustrate your presentation, such as charts, photographs and objects? Have you prepared all your notes?

• •

Your notes Notes will be important for you to take into the room just in case your mind goes blank or you begin to waffle. But don’t fall into the trap of reading from them, as this will make you sound wooden and you then risk your audience becoming bored. Simple words, phrases and facts written onto small cards are the best way to jog your memory but remember to put them in the right order. Support

• Have you made sure that you have some back up

just in case your computer software doesn’t work or an OHP bulb blows? This could be provided by a tutor, a technician or even a friend.

Handouts and slides

• Have you prepared them in advance? • Do you have enough copies?


• Have you spellchecked them? • Are they easily readable? If you are using slides it’s

best to use a font size of 24 point or larger. Will you need to dim the lighting in the room for slides or a DVD to be seen?

Visit the space where you are going to give your presentation.

• Walk around it and look at where you will be standing

from lots of angles. Will everyone be able to see you and any visuals you will be using? If there is a podium, is it at the right height for you? Will it be difficult to hand objects around? Will you be able to be heard? Is there traffic noise, the hum of an air conditioning unit or a busy corridor outside? If you have a soft voice are there facilities to use a microphone? Try to do a run through in the space, practise talking and switching your slides at the same time, as this can be more difficult than it sounds.

• • •

Presentation skills

A location visit

• •

Try and get someone to listen to you and check your timings, as it often takes longer to deliver your notes than it does to read them. Get them to offer you advice. You may want to ask a tutor to help you with this or you may prefer to use a friend or a member of the family; you may even want to record it and watch it yourself. But whoever you use get them to be honest, as positive criticism can make all the difference between a good presentation and a brilliant one.


What next? The night before

Presentation skills

• Go through your presentation one more time and make sure you have everything ready to take with you. You could practise visualisation, imagining yourself giving a successful presentation. Close your eyes and smile as you think about what you are going to say. Many people find that this helps turn the experience into a positive one and boosts their confidence. Decide what you’re going to wear. Get a good night’s sleep.

• •

On the day

• Arrive in good time – try not to rush, allowing yourself

plenty of opportunity to set up will help you feel relaxed and in control. Nerves – don’t forget that most people will be feeling nervous about public speaking. If you make a mistake simply forget it and carry on with your presentation. Breathing – when you’re anxious, you tend to take shallow rapid breaths. By taking deep calm slow breaths this will help you to feel more relaxed, help the pace of your presentation and allow people to hear your voice more clearly. Look good – stand tall, look confident and simply enjoy being there. Eye contact – as you give your presentation try to make eye contact with a few people, but try to avoid staring at anyone in particular. This tactic will make the audience respond to you better and you will notice a more relaxed atmosphere.

• •

• •


• Speak slowly and clearly – remember to pitch your

voice loud enough to be heard at the back and if you’re using a microphone watch your levels. Don’t mumble. Avoid pacing up and down – don’t fiddle with your clothing or props. Try not to touch your face too often, flap your arms or have your hands in your pockets.

Help from your tutor Don’t forget if you get worried about your presentation or your confidence at any stage ask for your tutors support and guidance. They will be only too happy to discuss ways to prevent it from becoming stressful.

Presentation skills

Enjoy it, you will be brilliant!

Transferable skills

• The communication skills you learn from giving a

presentation will be really useful to you in real life situations, such as interviews. Remember most jobs involve working with people and your presentation will have given you the opportunity and confidence to express yourself and interact with others. The experience of planning, preparing and delivering the presentation will also help you to gain the valuable skill of time management.

• •





We hope you found this guide useful. This Study Guide was based on an original publication called the Learning Companion, produced by Plymouth Learning and Work Partnership.

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Study Guide for post-16 learners