Preview of Course

Here you can Preview selected areas from the course. Use the navigational diagram below to access the section you want to view by just clicking on the appropriate circle. Or you can just scroll down the page to view the preview sections in order. At the end of each section, there is a series of questions to test the student's understanding of the module.

The Preview contains selected texts to give a flavour of content.  They may, therefore, appear to be out of context - please remember that they are just EXAMPLES.

Examinations Note-making
Essay writing
Critical Thinking & Analysis
report writing

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Reading techniques
Can one improve the ways one reads, or is reading ‘just’ reading, with nothing more to be said about it?


Can you think of reasons why an overview of any subject you may be studying could make reading easier?

Think of the following situation:

When builders start building a house, where do they start? Do they start on one wall and build that up brick by brick before going on to the next wall? Or do they lay the foundations for the whole house first and gradually work towards building the single rooms and laying the bricks for those? I think you’ll find that builders first lay the whole foundation and work from this to smaller and smaller divisions of the building.

Now jot down any similarities between laying a foundation for a house and developing reading techniques for a book or the chapter of a book.

Answer (click to reveal)

Many study skills authors are in favour of getting ‘the big picture’ first before studying a subject in detail. Various explanations have been suggested for why we sometimes remember things we read and why we sometimes don’t remember them afterwards. One that I find convincing is for us to imagine that we have something like hooks attached to our brain cells. When we read something we already know something about (that is when we already have a hook to attach this new information to) we understand and remember it better.

If we don’t know anything about a subject it can be difficult, as we know, to understand and remember what we have read about it. So it is a good idea to try to develop those hooks.

How can we do this?
One way is to get an overview of the subject, as this will give us the main topics or foundations of the subject.

How do we get an overview?

Exercise 3:

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Linear notes

Linear notes have the advantage

If you have to choose between linear notes as sentences or in note form, which do you think would be more effective?

Answer (click to reveal)
Linear notes in note form are quicker to write, easier to read and faster for finding information than sentences or whole paragraphs.  

Using the same text, try making both linear and diagrammatic notes and see which you think works better:

The disadvantages of linear notes are that you cannot use them as flexibly as diagrammatic notes

The advantages of mind maps are that the ideas can easily be divided up and clearly seen.   It encourages independent, active learning as you decide how to make the divisions.   The information and connections are there on the page – they are completely clear and visible at just one glance.   It also gives you freedom to organise the material as you think is useful, rather than writing down one point after another from the way it is ordered in the book or article you are reading.   Mind maps also allow you easily to order information into different categories – as with headings and subheadings.   This can also be done with linear bullet points, but the advantage of mind maps here is that you can often add on points later.  It is also fun to do – you can do drawings along with ideas and use different colour pens.   You can also easily draw connections between different ideas.   Look at the way I have ordered the main points and also made connections between them in the above mind map.

Diagrammatic notes – mind maps  

Look at the mind map below setting out the advantages of mind maps.

Note-making mind map

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Essay writing
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Now jot down what positive experiences you have had writing essays:

A. Planning and structuring your essay

Aspects of essay writingDiagram 3 Aspects of essay writing

What are the advantages in doing this?

Answer (click to reveal)
  • you will be less tempted to use others’ ideas and structures uncritically if you have thought about the essay yourself first, and written down ideas and an essay plan
  • rather, you would be using others’ ideas to support your own analysis rather than mindlessly copying from them
  • you are therefore less likely to plagiarise others’ work
  • it will be easier for you to use information and ideas you read about in your own framework rather than in others’ frameworks
  • your work is likely to be more interesting and relevant to the question asked if you use your own ideas and essay structure as a basis
  • you are likely to enjoy this kind of research and writing more as you are using your own mind and intelligence to make your own choices about what material to include and where to use it in your structure
  • using your own ideas and structure (even if they need to be modified later) gives you the opportunity to be an independent learner

Exercise 1

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Report writing
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Exercise 1:

Below is an example of a set of terms of references that you might have to write a report on:

“Calculate the increase in the number of international students in English universities between 2003 and 2010.   Give some reasons for this increase.”

Boundaries of the terms of reference:

What have you been asked to investigate / analyse?

Write your answer on your computer, smart phone or in your notebook:

Answer (click to reveal)

You have been asked to do 2 things:
i) to calculate how many international students were recruited in English universities between 2003 and 2010
ii) to give reasons for the increase in the numbers

What issues / aspects must you include?

Answer (click to reveal)

You must include all international students whether they are undergraduate or postgraduate students who have studied at English universities between 2003 and 2010.

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3. If we repeat someone else’s work but use our own words, does this constitute plagiarism?

This again is not clear cut, for as with question 2, it depends on how much you are going to do this.

What is not acceptable is if you take someone else’s text wholly or largely and simply repeat it using your own words.

Again this means that you lose the opportunity of working out your own arguments, your own essay structure and doing your own research.  

It also means you do not effectively do your own writing.

So again, it is fine to use someone else’s ideas AS PART OF YOUR OWN ARGUMENT, STRUCTURE AND WRITING.   

It is not okay to paraphrase large sections of someone else’s work, as it is then not your own work.  

You are then passing off someone else’s work as your own, even if you have used different words – and that is the definition of plagiarism!

4. What are the consequences if you are found to have plagiarised?

Answer (click to reveal)

This depends on the policies of your school, college or university.  

The consequences can be serious.

Sometimes you may simply fail the unit or module in question.  

A more serious penalty would be to suspend you for a semester or a year from the institution.  

Most serious would be if you were expelled.  

Another very serious consequence could be a note on your record that you were found guilty of plagiarism.  

This note could be there for a certain time or in the worst case it could be there as a permanent record on your file.  

Given these consequences it is best never to plagiarise!

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Critical Thinking & Analysis
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What is Critical Thinking?

Much of what has been written above about knowledge is also relevant to critical thinking.

It is NOT about being critical in a negative sense, for its own sake, though it is all right to disagree with some of what you read.

There are different levels of critical thinking and, following on from critical thinking, critical analysis:

Basic level:

You must ensure that:

Deeper levels:

Exercise 3

This is another exercise comparing two different writers on the same subject:

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This could affect:

For example:

Subject matter:

Academic subject matter: How will you ensure that you know your subject thoroughly?

Answer (click to reveal)

For an academic presentation these suggestions are similar to those for preparing for an essay:

  • work out everything you know about the subject and questions you want to ask
  • choose your reading carefully
  • read critically (see section on Critical Thinking and Analysis)
  • make sure you have a clear, logical structure (see section on Essay Writing)
  • make independent notes easy to access

Is this enough and, if not, what more is needed?

You need to summarise these notes for...

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How to revise

Principles to follow - you must be:

How to achieve these principles?

Making revision notes is a way to:

What kind of notes will you make?

Answer (click to reveal)

See Note-making section:

  • you need to make the type of notes that will help you revise:
    • they should be easy to find
    • they should be easy to read
    • they should be able to be easily sorted according to topic

After making sets of notes - what then?

You need to arrange the notes so that together they make sense for each topic:

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