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Ten top tips for successful study at university

Whether you are coming from school, college, or employment, you may be wondering how university will be different from what you are used to. Of course, many things will be the same, only at a higher academic level. The main differences are:

  • You have more control and independence over what, when and how you study.
  • Understanding and critical thinking are more important than remembering.

This page explains some of the things that will help you succeed in your academic studies at university and provides links to further information.


Firstly it's up to you to – both how you're going to do things and when. You may find that all of your assignments are due at the same time, so a bit of forward planning for staggered deadlines will save you a lot of panic at the last minute. There's plenty of help and advice available if you're unsure about how to do anything – your programme tutor, Personal Tutor or the Study Advice team are all good people to ask – check out the SOAR website for more.


Get yourself informed about things like timetables, room locations, deadlines and guidelines for assignments. It's your responsibility to do this – no-one will remind you! Your programme handbook is the best source of information about your programme of study. Make sure you know where you've put it, or how to access it online – you'll probably need it later in the term.


Don't expect to read everything on your topic – it would take a lifetime! Be an – think about what you want to find out before you start. Choose a few texts to read thoroughly rather than trying to skim read many. If you find that all the books on the reading list have been taken out, ask the library staff for help to find something that will be equally useful.


Make useful notes, not copious ones – if you try to write down everything the lecturer says you won't be able to focus on listening. Take notes on selected points and underline or highlight the important ones to make them more obvious. Add any thoughts of your own that arise, but make it clear that they're your own ideas. Check what's going to be in the handouts – you may not need to note things like dates and figures.


Develop your own arguments – always start by asking yourself "what do I think about this?" then ask yourself why. It might be something you've read, or something from your own experience, or just plain logic. That way the argument you develop will always be your own and will have good evidence to support it, even if you find later that someone else has come to the same conclusion. When you write it up, for every statement or argument you need to provide evidence and demonstrate critical thinking. So you write what there is to say, then where you found that out, how you think it works and why you think that.


At university it's not about how much you know, but how well you understand it. That usually means knowing the major issues and debates and putting what you've found out about the topic into that context. It also means being able to communicate your understanding, so knowing  and  is really important.


Think critically about everything you read, see or hear – consider whether you agree or disagree with it and then (most importantly) work out why you think the way you do. Remember that just because it's in print (or your lecturer says it), doesn't mean it must be right.

Read more about critical thinking>>>


Get referencing right – you're expected to include every source you use while researching an assignment in your bibliography, and to add a  to your text whenever you use a direct quote, paraphrase or idea from someone else's work. Lots of long quotes are a bad idea – get used to using mini-quotes of a few words wherever possible. Always ask yourself, "have I shown how this quote supports my argument?". Check your Programme Handbook for your department's preferred style.


Know when to ask for help – and where to get it – there's a lot to get used to when you come to university, and no-one finds it all easy. One of your most important responsibilities is to yourself – to recognise when you need help and to know where to get it. There are plenty of people whose job is to help you get yourself sorted. You can talk to your personal tutor, a Study Adviser, a Counsellor, or one of RUSU's Student Advisers.


And finally... grow your skills! Just as you will grow and flourish at university, your study practices will need to develop too. You can help this process by learning from the feedback from your tutors, and by reflecting on what you do well, or could do better. Reading this page is just the start.

Good luck, and enjoy your time at Reading!

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