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Concentration and Time Management

All students have to manage and balance the many conflicting demands on their time:
  • lectures, seminars, tutorials and practicals;
  • assessed work;
  • independent study, reading and thinking;
  • family life, social life and relationships;
  • sports, music and other interests;
  • travel;
  • cleaning, laundry, shopping, cooking and eating;
  • part-time work;
  • just relaxing with a book, music, game or the TV;
  • catching up on sleep.
It is obvious that knowing how to manage your time and make the most of the study time you have are really important skills to learn!


You will be doing a lot of studying on your own. So it's worth making your room a place in which you find it easy to study. Here are four suggestions:
a. The room where you study
b. Managing the surroundings
c. Routine
d. Pacing

a. The room where you study

Make sure you won't be distracted while you're studying.
Avoid facing an interesting view. This is specially important if you are a visual learner.
  • Make sure you have good lighting.
  • Work at a table or desk where you can lay out your books and papers.
  • Choose a chair that gives you proper support. Lounging in an armchair is not a good idea.
  • Make sure the environment is comfortable, not too hot or too cold.

b. Managing the surroundings

If you're sharing accommodation, arrange times when the house will be quiet for studying. This is specially important if you are an auditory learner.
You may find it helps you to study if you have music playing in the background, but you may find music distracting. Do what helps you concentrate.

c. Routine

You will have a lot of freedom about how you spend your time. On the days when you don't have early lectures or classes, make it easy for yourself to get down to study by treating it as a job with set hours when you do it.
You will know if you're someone who works best in the mornings or late in the evenings. Whichever part of the day suits you, be disciplined about when you do your studying.

d. Pacing

Set yourself goals for each study period. Make the goals ones which you can achieve. And reward yourself when you have.
Keep a reminder pad by you when you're studying so you can jot down ideas which could otherwise distract you, like phone calls you need to make, things you need to buy, and so on.
Stop at intervals to move around and give your eyes and brain a rest. This is specially important if you are an active learner.

Time management

To make the most of your time at university you need to balance:
  • your academic work;
  • building up the Key skills which employers are looking for, and
  • making friends and having a good time.
This is discussed in the section Why are you here?
At university you're given much more responsibility for organising your own schedule. We're going to give tips on planning your time and using your time.

Planning your time

What do you need to do? Course work, taught sessions, private study?
When are the deadlines for these things to be done by?
How long are they going to take?
Your course information will help you on this.

Make plans

Enter your commitments for the semester on a planner. That's things like lectures, classes, deadlines and exams.
Choose a planner that suits you: a wall-planner, Filofax, scheduling software, whatever. Keep it somewhere obvious so that you can refer to it. Use different colours to show different activities.
If you're a visual learner it will help to put the scheduler up where you can easily see it.

Organise your study time

Organise your planner a week at a time, deciding what you want to achieve each day.
Mark in your contact time (lectures, tutorials, lab classes).
Decide how you will use the unscheduled slots of time, and mark them in on the planner:
  • reading
  • research projects
  • preparing written reports
  • writing reports.

Organise your social and personal time

Try to balance the different demands on your time. Be realistic: if you get over-tired, you can't study. Schedule time for things you have to do:
  • building up your Key Skills
  • part-time work to earn money
  • time for your family
  • relaxing and social time
  • shopping, cooking, laundry, sleeping.

Pace yourself

If you've got to do something demanding (like plan a major essay) schedule it for when you're at your brightest and most energetic.
You'll need to study in vacations too, but the timetable will be different. Decide how you are going to use the vacation:
  • how much study do you need to do?
  • will you have to work to earn money?
  • are you going to have a holiday?
  • how much time will your family need?

Set priorities

One thing you can be sure about your time at university is that there'll be lots of things you could do. You'll probably find it helpful to use a priority graph to help you work out what's most important for you to do each week:
A priorities chart [D]
Check your progress to make sure that your planning strategy is up to date.
Plan ahead so you get things done before everything ends up in the ‘Urgent and Important' square.

Using your time

Here are five tips on making the best use of your time. Check that you've read the material on Planning your time first.

Getting started

Set clear, realistic goals. Split a big task into smaller ones. If there are study tasks that you don't like doing, try putting them at the start of a work session. Get them finished while you're fresh, and then reward yourself with things you enjoy doing.

Keeping going

Variety is important when you're studying. Try not to keep doing the same thing for hour after hour: your eyes and brain will get tired, and you'll stop being productive.
Break up long periods of activity by reviewing how you're doing.
Don't push on if your concentration is flagging.

Taking breaks

Take breaks when you need to; when your concentration is slipping, or when you've been looking at the computer screen too long.
But try to avoid distractions like interesting TV programmes or chatty friends. Stay focussed on your work. It's best to make yourself a drink, move around a bit, then get back to study.

Knowing when to stop

When you've achieved the goal you set yourself, stop and reward yourself.
Take the time to do something interesting but not essential. Don't start a new task when you know you won't have the time or energy to finish it.

Knowing what gets in your way

If there are things that get in the way of your studying, such as noise, poor concentration, or lack of motivation, be active in working to overcome them.
If you know you try to ignore difficult or less interesting tasks, then tackle them straight away and then reward yourself with something you like more.

Gathering information and using the Library

There is more to gathering information than a quick Web search using Google and cutting-and-pasting some of the text you find. In fact, that method counts as plagiarism (copying other's work) if you submit it for an assignment.
Read on to learn how to make the most of the Library and the printed or online information that you find.

Gathering information

You will spend a lot of time gathering information for use in essays and dissertations. We offer tips on:
a. Where to start gathering information
b. Is this text relevant?
c. Finding information again
d. Making notes to help you select important information
e. Making notes to help you understand
f. Making notes to help you remember
g. Further tips on making notes to help you remember
h. Organising your notes
i. Key points and detail

a. Where to start gathering information

You will start your course with a Reading List of books and articles.

Buying second-hand

You can buy some books second hand (make sure they're up-to-date).

Buying new

You can buy books new (make sure they'll be useful to you).


Most of the books you will come from the library.

b. Is this text relevant?

When you know the essay question or topic, check that possible texts are relevant by examining:


How up-to-date is the information?


Are there specific chapters devoted to your topic?


Are there specific references to your topic?


Does it give a promising overview of the text?


Scan the beginnings and endings of likely chapters: do they seem to be worth reading?

c. Finding information again

When you do research reading it's crucial that you're able to find the information again.
Top tip: Note the sources of quotations as you find them.You don't want to be running around looking for references when you should be finishing your essay. Once you've decided that a particular text has the information you need, start by recording the details you will need for your bibliography.
For a quick overview, here is an example of bibliographic details for a book:
Turk, C. and Kirkman, J.
Date of publication
Effective Writing
Place of publication
Chapman & Hall
This will make it possible for you to give a correct reference to the work when you quote the ideas in it:
Turk, C. and Kirkman, J. (1989) Effective Writing, London, Chapman & Hall.
You will find comprehensive advice on bibliographies, referencing and citation styles on the Library's website

d. Making notes to help you select important material

Once you have noted bibliographic details, you can make notes on the text.


Note down points that are relevant to what you're working on.


Note the chapter and page number so you can reference the material in your essay, and retrace your steps if you need to.


Write down all quotations exactly, using inverted commas. Check that the quotations are accurate.

e. Making notes to help you understand

Your own words

Putting the information into your own words helps you to understand it.

You understand?

Compare your notes with the original text to check that you have understood it.

Your comments

Add your own comments to any quotations you write down, to remind yourself, possibly in six months time:
  • why you think they were important, and
  • if you agree with them.

f. Making notes to help you remember

When you're revising for exams, you'll want to make sure you remember the information.

Help your memory

Don't try to learn whole sentences: use keywords to represent the facts.


Choose keywords which you will associate with the main facts and central concepts.


Practise using some keywords and remembering the facts they represent.

g. Further tips on making notes to help you remember


Visual images and colours will help trigger your memory, particularly if you're a Visual Learner. Use diagrams and pictures to represent facts.


You'll find it easier to remember images which are funny or which mean something to you personally.

Mind maps

You can use mind-mapping when you are summarising information.

Index cards

Copy the most important information onto index cards which you can carry around and refer to at any time.

h. Organising your notes


Organise your notes to help you understand the material.


Use headings and numbered lists to organise your notes.


Write keywords in the margin to summarise each point.


Highlight and underline your notes in colour to make key points stand out, and to show links.

Key points and detail

One of the skills which is essential to success both in studying and in most careers is distinguishing between key points and details: ‘seeing the wood for the trees'.
A tree is a good analogy for acquiring this discrimination:
  • the trunk - represents the key central concept
  • the branches - are less fundamental concepts
  • the leaves - are the details
At the end of listening to a lecture, or reading a chapter of a book, you should know what is important (the key points), what is just detail, and how the two relate together.

Using the Library

The University Library contains hundreds of thousands of books and learned journals and provides access to a huge range of online journals and other academic resources.
The Library has an excellent website and printed guides which will help you make the most of the information and resources available.

Seminars, tutorials and group projects

Almost all careers require you to work as part of a team, so learning how to make a positive contribution to group activities is a crucial key skill to acquire.

Seminars and Tutorials

For many subjects, small-group teaching is a characteristic of university education. You get as much out of tutorials as you put in. So:

a. Prepare

It's essential to prepare before a tutorial. You will probably be asked to do some reading beforehand.
Bring your notes along and highlight anything which you need to have answered.

b. Take part

You will learn by taking part. Specifically:
  • Listen to other people's ideas and arguments
  • Put forward your own ideas and arguments
  • Listen to other people's responses to your arguments
  • Try out new ideas
  • Carefully analyse people's ideas and arguments and criticise the weak points

c. Logic

It's more civilised to criticise weak arguments and poor logic rather than to attack the person who presents them.

d. Notes

Take notes if you can. You may have to wait till afterwards, but it's worth noting the key ideas which emerge.

e. Key skills

The skills which you learn by taking part in tutorials make graduates highly valued in the work-place. Employers are really keen to hire people who can:
  • Analyse a line of reasoning
  • Spot flaws in the argument
  • Persuade people of the value of their own argument (without attacking others).

Group Projects

On some courses you will be expected to take part in a group project, often taking up most of your final year.

a. Benefits of group projects

Working on a group project is very useful experience.

b. Key skills

Group work helps you develop several skills which your employer will want you to have:
  • leadership
  • working in a team
  • negotiating with people
  • motivating people.

c. Self-awareness

Working in a group helps you identify your own strengths and weaknesses. You will discover if you are best at:
  • innovating
  • leading
  • completing things
  • writing reports
  • resolving conflicts
Again, it's something your employer will want to know.

d. Results

Effective groups can achieve much more than individuals working alone: you can apply a wider range of skills to a problem, and you can learn a lot by sharing and discussing ideas.

e. Stages of group projects

Effective groups go through four stages:
  • Familiarisation
  • Preparation
  • Activity
  • Completion


The group members get to know each other and their skills and interests. They work out what they want to achieve:
  • the product, which might be a report, presentation, poster, etc.
  • the time scale
  • the assessment; how will your product be assessed?
Good communication will be very important, so the group members share addresses, phone numbers and Email addresses.


The group decides:
  • what needs to be done
  • how to do it
  • how to divide up the tasks fairly, and at the same time
  • how to make best use of people's skills and interests


The group members get on with their allotted tasks. While this is happening, communication is crucial; regular meetings are very important.


You will probably have to give a presentation and/or write a report.
Committees are lousy at writing anything, so it's best to delegate the first draft to one of the team.
If the report has a chapter written by each team member, one of you needs to be the editor to make sure the overall style is consistent.

Giving presentations

Many people are nervous about talking in front of an audience, usually because they are afraid of making a mess of it. Ironically, it is uncontrolled nerves that are most likely to lead to a poor performance - so building confidence through preparation and practice is really important.
Giving presentations is one of the skills that employers expect graduates to have, so you should make the most of any experience you can get at university. You may need to give presentations:
  • in tutorials
  • as part of the assessment of projects
  • in Union activities or staff-student committees.
We cover:
a. preparing your presentation
b. practising your presentation
c. giving your presentation.

a. Preparing your presentation

There are eight stages to preparing a presentation.

1. Objectives

  • Why are you giving this talk?
  • Who will you be talking to?
  • How much do they know about the subject already?
  • What effect do you want your presentation to have?

2. Limitations

  • How long have you got?
  • Do you have to follow a certain format?
  • Where will you be giving your presentation?
  • Can you change the room around to suit your preferences?

3. Main points

  • Decide on your main points: no more than three points in a 10-minute talk
  • Is there a logical connection between these points?
  • What evidence can you produce to support your points and make your case clear?

4. Beginning

  • Briefly introduce yourself
  • Check that they can all see and hear you
    (see: Giving your presentation)
  • Let them know if you are going to take questions as you proceed or invite discussion at the end?
  • You may want to give an outline of the structure of the talk, so the audience know where it is going
  • You'll need to gain the audience's attention, so think carefully how you will introduce your topic - for example, you could start with an anecdote, a question or some contradictory statements

5. Middle

Prepare your talk so you lead the audience through your main points in a logical and interesting fashion. It helps if you plan for variety in the ways you present your case.
Where they are appropriate, you could plan to use:
  • examples, anecdotes and case histories
  • charts and graphs
  • handouts (will you issue them at the start? in the middle? at the end?)
  • slides
  • video clips
  • artefacts which people can pass round.

6. End

Summarise what you have said: ‘In this talk we have discussed...'
Make your conclusions: ‘It is clear that...'
Plan to leave the audience a parting shot to stimulate their thoughts.

7. And then...

When you have written your presentation, look it over carefully, from the viewpoint of your intended audience.
  • Does it meet the objectives?
  • Is the structure as logical as can be?
  • Is the content right for the audience?
  • Is it too long?
Then revise the presentation.

8. Visuals

Prepare your visuals (PowerPoint slides, Overhead Projector foils, etc).
Make sure they are clear, and that any text is big enough (24 points or larger).

b. Practising your presentation

Once you have prepared, you need to do five things before you actually give your presentation.


Practise giving your talk on your own:
  • get used to the sound of your own voice, ideally in a room of the size you will be using.
  • check how long your talk is.
  • when you're happy with it, try the presentation out on a friend.


Are your visuals effective? Practise using your visuals:
  • talking to the audience, not to the screen
  • combining giving your talk with changing the slides.


Unless you are good at reading stories aloud, it is best not to read from a script - it can sound very 'wooden' and the fact that you are reading it distances you from your audience.
A far better solution is to write key words, phrases and facts on index cards. Make sure that the writing is large enough to read at a glance and take care to keep the cards in sequence.


Arrive in good time. Spend a few minutes getting familiar with the room and any audio-visual equipment you'll be using. Allow yourself time to get comfortable in the space — this is your space where you will give your talk.


When people are nervous, they tend to take quick, shallow breaths, which makes their voice sound weak. This makes them feel even more nervous. Here's how to overcome this, and feel more relaxed:
  1. Breathe in slowly and deeply, concentrating on filling your tummy with air with each breath
  2. Breathe out slowly, getting rid of as much air as you can
  3. Repeat five times.

c. Giving your presentation

There are four things to remember during your presentation:


As you get up to give your presentation, make a conscious effort to stand tall, take a deep breath and look as if you're going to enjoy being there.

Eye contact

Make eye contact with people in your audience in a friendly way. People respond much better when they think you are talking to them.
In a small room, try to make eye contact with each person in the audience; in a larger hall, make eye contact with different groups in the audience.


  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Speak loudly enough so everyone can hear
  • Remember to breathe slowly and deeply


You are allowed to move as you give your presentation, but avoid pacing up and down or fiddling with your hands, spectacles or pen. Keep your hands out of your pockets and away from your face.
It can help add variety and interest to come to the front of the podium to deliver a telling point. Try to avoid hiding behind the lectern.

Revising for and taking Exams

Last-minute 'cramming' for exams is the worst of all worlds - it is very stressful, is unlikely to lead to good marks and you won't be able to remember much of it within a few days of leaving the exam room.
It makes much more sense to start exam revision in plenty of time - all it takes is a little planning and self-discipline to avoid those late nights, cold sweats and so-so grades.

Revising for Exams

Here are nine tips on revising for exams:
a. Make use of your learning style when you revise
b. Plan in good time
c. Active revision
d. Old exam papers
e. Pace yourself
f. You’re not alone
g. Reward yourself
h. Trust
i. Look after yourself

a. Make use of your learning style when you revise

Tips for Visual Learners

  • Rewrite your notes as mind-maps
  • Use colour to highlight important things
  • Draw diagrams and sketches to help you remember points.

Tips for Auditory Learners

  • Read your notes aloud
  • Record yourself on cassette reading key points of your notes aloud, then listen to the tape afterwards
  • Revise with other students if you can
  • Sing the main points. Linking them with a tune may help you remember them.

Tips for learners who are readers and writers

  • Copy out your notes.
  • Read your notes silently.
  • Rewrite the key points using different words.
  • Write down key points from memory.

Tips for Active Learners

  • Move around the room
  • Revise while you do kung-fu moves or other physical activity
  • Mentally review what you’ve been revising while you’re swimming or jogging.

b. Plan in good time


  • How much time have you got?
  • What do you need to do?

A week in hand

Aim to have your revision completed by a week before your exams. This gives you:
  • flexibility in case of illness
  • a chance to spend longer on something that proves difficult
  • a break before you sit your exams.


  • What topics do you need to revise?
  • How much time do they need?


Be realistic about:
  • the targets you set yourself
  • how much time you will need.


Aim for a balance between subjects you’re strong in and those which you’re less confident about.

c. Active revision

It’s not enough just to re-read notes, make your revision active! Here’s how:


Have plenty of paper and a pen handy.


Study a section of your notes, and memorise the essential points.


Put your notes out of sight, and write down from memory the essential things you learned.


Check with your notes.


Note any points you omitted or got wrong, and learn them.


  1. Reduce notes to essential points, either by highlighting or underlining.
  2. Use these points to make memory aids on index cards or similar-sized pieces of paper.
  3. Use a separate card for each topic.
  4. Write down important points to remember about each topic.
  5. Carry these cards with you wherever you go. Review them in your spare moments.

d. Old exam papers

Look through old exam papers
Make outline plans for the answers
Note carefully the slight differences in how questions are asked from year to year.

e. Pace yourself

Use your time well.
Don’t try to do too much at once. Take a break from time to time in each study period.

f. You’re not alone

Revise with other people sometimes; if you don’t feel that you’ve entirely grasped a topic, or don’t have any ‘new’ ideas on it, discussing it with other students can be helpful. This is specially useful for Auditory Learners.

g. Reward yourself

Recognise the targets you have achieved. Mark your progress on your revision plan so that you can see what you are achieving.

h. Trust

Trust your memory.
Once you know a subject thoroughly, move on to the next. Don’t keep checking your memory to see if it’s doing its job.
It’s like a filing system, and it will produce what is required at the appropriate time.

i. Look after yourself

Sorry to sound like your Mum, but...


Try and eat a healthy diet, not just chips and burgers! Take time out for meals; don’t try to work while you’re eating dinner.


Too much tea and coffee can increase your anxiety levels and induce insomnia. Caffeine tablets have the same effect.


Get some exercise! You don’t have to go mad. 20 minutes exercise 2-3 times a week will give you more stamina, help reduce stress and help you to sleep.


Don’t try to work through the night before an exam.
Go to bed in good time and get as much sleep as you can.

Taking exams

Here are eight tips for helping you cope on the day of an exam:
a. Eat
b. Trust
c. Organise
d. Comfort
e. Nerves
f. Instructions
g. Questions
h. Preparing

a. Eat

Have a reasonable amount to eat before the exam. Some people find it helpful to take sweets or chocolate into exams as they help maintain blood sugar levels. But don’t rustle those wrappers.

b. Trust

Don’t get into conversations about the exam just before the start; other people may make you more nervous or start confusing you. If you’ve prepared thoroughly, trust your own knowledge.

c. Organise

Get to the exam room in good time.
Make sure you have all the equipment you need.
Remember that pens run out, and pencils break. Always have spares. Make sure that you know beforehand whether dictionaries, calculators and other pieces of equipment are allowed.

d. Comfort

Remember that you will be sitting still for some hours. Make sure that you will be warm enough.

e. Nerves

If you do get nervous or anxious, take some time out; getting a glass or water or going to the loo can help.
Don’t give up. it’s always worth going back in and trying again.

f. Instructions

Read through the instructions, make sure you understand them.
Read through all the questions and decide which ones you can answer.
Divide the time available by the number of questions you have to answer, to work out how much time you can give each question.
Allow five minutes at the end of each period for reading through your answers.

g. Questions

If they ask you to answer four questions, they will allocate marks to each one. So there’s no point in spending all your time on just two questions, you’ll never get more than 50% of the available marks that way.
Attempt the number of questions you are asked to answer.

h. Preparing

If you are giving essay-style answers, spend the first 5-10 minutes of your available time noting down the ideas you wish to include.
Put them in a logical order and write your answer.
It is a good idea to practise writing this kind of timed answer as part of your revision routine.

Writing scientifically

If you are studing science, medicine or engineering, most of your assignments and reports will require you to 'write scientifically' using a clear, objective style.

Writing about science

Effective writing about science is clear and interesting. Here are seven tips to help you achieve this:
a. Quality scientific writing
b. Abbreviations
c. Objective language
d. Active or passive
e. Past or present
f. Sentences
g. Paragraphs

a. Quality scientific writing

Try to make your writing:


Avoid unnecessary detail.


Use direct language. Avoid vague and complicated sentences.


State where and how you collected your data.
Support your conclusions with evidence.
Avoid assumptions and unproven statements such as "Everybody knows that..."


Present the information in a logical sequence.
Divide the text into sections with clear headings.


Avoid vague and ambiguous statements.

b. Abbreviations

Use standard abbreviations when you can. Define other abbreviations the first time you use them.

c. Objective language

Use objective language rather than subjective:


the experiment took two hours...


the experiment was such fun that time just flew by and we couldn't believe it had taken two hours...

d. Active or passive

Scientific language often uses verbs in the passive voice rather than the active voice:


10ml of acetone was added to the flask


I added 10ml of acetone to the flask.
The passive voice is useful:
  • when it's not important who performed the action
  • when you don't know who performed it
  • when you want to be formal.
But there are many cases when an active verb is much clearer than a passive one. Which of these do you prefer?
Difficulty was experienced in persuading people to take part in the experiment...
We had difficulty persuading people to take part in the experiment...
Or even:
We found it hard to persuade people to take part in the experiment...

e. Past or present

Write in the past tense when you're describing the procedures which you carried out, or the observations you made:
The temperature was recorded at 10-minute intervals.
Write in the present tense when you're writing about general principles, or your own conclusions:
Increases in temperature generally occur when this reagent is added.

f. Sentences

Help your readers by varying the length of your sentences.
Sentences which are more than 25 words are cruel to your readers; split them up into smaller sentences.

g. Paragraphs

Break your text up into paragraphs.
To have less than two new paragraphs on a page of double-spaced A4 paper is cruel to your readers.

Writing scientific reports

Scientific reports often follow this 12-part format:

Title page

  • the title
  • your name
  • the date
  • who the report was written for
  • terms of reference (a brief note of who will read the report, with how and why it was written)


About half a page which gives a clear and concise overview of the report.

Table of contents

A simple list of sections with the pages on which they begin.


  • explain the aims and objectives in detail
  • give background history
  • outline problems or limitations in the report.


  • what you used: the equipment, materials and procedures
  • problems you encountered
  • changes you had to make.


Summary of results with tables and graphs (save your comments until the next section).


In which you analyse and discuss the facts and evidence.


Summarise and re-state the most important points you have made and the significance of your findings.


All the supporting material you have used which have not appeared so far:
  • tables
  • graphs
  • questionnaires
  • transcripts, etc.


A list of the published sources you have referred to, in alphabetical order by author.


People or organisations who helped.

Glossary of terms

Definitions of technical terms, if needed.