If you are starting university this autumn, apart from making sure you get the A Level grades needed to take up your place, you’re probably starting to think about accommodation, what to take, student loans, and maybe even Freshers Week! But another important thing to get your head around before starting is that learning at uni takes a whole different set of skills to do well than you might have used whilst doing your GCSEs and A Levels.

At school or sixth form, you’ve probably been used to being guided in your studies – what to learn and when – but at uni you are expected to be an independent learner. What’s that I hear you shout? Well, it means that ultimately your success (or not!) is entirely up to you; you decide exactly what, when and how you learn, with no recourse to anyone but yourself!

Depending on what subject your study, and, indeed, what institution you attend, your actual contact time on campus will probably involve a combination of lectures, tutorials, seminars, workshops and practical or lab sessions. All of these will teach different subject knowledge and skills, but the study skills needed to make an effective use of the opportunities are the same, whatever aspect of the theory you are studying!

1. Organise, organise, organise

The first challenge is organisation! With no parents or teachers there to nag you, it’s your responsibility to make sure you know when and where you need to be, to have the right equipment to study (including the right texts and any photocopying!), and to know when any important course/university dates and deadlines are.

There’s going to be a lot of demands on your time – from classes, friends, societies, and maybe even a part time job – so make sure you set your priorities, leaving time for both work and play!

2. Optimise your contact time

With tuition fees currently around £9000, you should make sure you get your money’s worth!

It can’t be stressed enough that making sure you attend your scheduled sessions is important. At the start of your studies, it might feel not to challenging, but the depth and intensity soon ramps up, and it’s difficult to catch up on missed sessions. Another important issue is that sometime important information related to your programme is given out during timetabled sessions, and this could mean missing out on deadlines or other important opportunities. Timetabled sessions are also a great way to network with your peers and university staff!

3. Your studies are more than your contact time!

So, as mentioned previously, school studies are pretty much guided, and you are instructed as to what to learn and when, however uni is all about you being in the driving seat. The basic level of your programme might seem easy, but to develop the depth of knowledge needed to get a top classification, you’re going to need to do much more than the basics!

Reading around your subject can be helpful to gain an understanding and depth of knowledge, as a first-class degree will need more than just lecture notes! Further reading expands on the core material (more about this in an upcoming post!) but you also need to evaluate what you have learnt – both in-class (so don’t be afraid to ask questions as you can be sure others are thinking the same!) and more formally – by deciding what you know well, and what areas you would like to develop further, you can make the most of your time and abilities.

Ultimately, there’s no “one fits all” approach to learning, however by keeping these basics in mind during your time at uni, especially during your first year, you can help keep your studies on track and help to avoid feeling overwhelmed when it all becomes real – usually some time in the lead up to your first set of exams!

Want to know more? These websites have some useful info of study skills at uni:

General Study Skills from The University Of Worcester – This website offers some interesting (and useful) information sheets on various aspects of study skills whilst at university.
UCL Study Skills – Breaking down study skills into five different learning areas, there’s some top information to develop your skills further, with some subject specific advice to help