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Unit Title: Study Skills in English
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2  Introduction
2.1  Why have a study strategy?
2.2  Studying and learning
2.3  Making a plan
2.4  Making productive use of your time
2.5  Having the right tools
2  Summary
Department of Computing, Goldsmiths College
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Section 2.4 - Using your time effectively

If you have worked through this chapter so far, you should by now have worked out a weekly timetable of when you are able to study. However, carving out time is one thing, making productive use of it is another. Because the activity of studying is unfamiliar for many of us, we tend not quite to know how to go about it, and consequently do not make the best use of our time. This is partly because the goals of studying often seem enormous - like creating a program when you haven't managed to download the necessary software, or writing an essay. At work, you may have a very clear list of precisely defined tasks to achieve: collect information for a meeting agenda, fix a number of computers which are not working very well, etc. By contrast, the tasks involved in studying are not always so well defined, involving, say, becoming sufficiently proficient at mathematics in order to pass an exam, or writing a computer program, an essay, or a report. In other words, they are major tasks.

One way of tackling major tasks, which you may be familiar with from other areas of your life, is to subdivide the task into a series of smaller tasks. Here are some examples of 'smaller tasks', or subtasks:

  • working through a set number of pages in your Subject Guide
  • filing your notes
  • downloading a piece of software
  • planning an essay or report
  • carrying out an internet search
  • making a 'first stab' at a computer program, or working through some exercises designed to equip you with the right skills
  • reading a chapter in your chosen text book, and carrying out the suggested exercises.

Note: most Subject Guides are divided into sections, which should help you manage your study time.

Having prepared a list of tasks, the next thing is to allocate time to these tasks. This may be difficult, because studying is essentially ill defined and unpredictable, so be realistic, don't set yourself too much to do in any one week, and be prepared to refine your study plan through experience. Remember, too, that some tasks inherently take a lot of time, such as writing a report or essay, or reading a difficult section of a book, and particularly need time when you are feeling mentally fresh. Other tasks require a much shorter period of time, say, working through a short section of a Subject Guide.

Activity iconActivity 24

Imagine that you are required to write a detailed study plan of how you will complete this Unit, showing when you will study, and how and when you will complete the required assignments. Make a list of the smaller tasks that will be required in order to complete this major task.