New to University Study?

New to studying at university? We can offer helpful hints and tips that focus on key skills that will set a foundation for your learning.

You may be more used to being told what and when to study, having fairly short deadlines, and being guided to the best book or readings to use for your coursework.

At university, the decisions about these things tend to be left up to you. You may have a certain amount of guidance in some modules, particularly in your first year, but overall, the basic job of planning and carrying out your study tasks is left up to you. This is the everyday bread and butter job of being an effective student, and can take a bit of practice. It won’t be straightforward at the start, so be prepared to spend several weeks, even the whole of first year, finding out what works for you. This is normal!  Take your time, use feedback and ask for advice. There’s plenty available!

Plan out a semester, using a wall planner or similar.

  • Map in lectures and seminars – these may change on a regular basis, so make sure you keep up with this.
  • Add in assignment deadlines, once you know them. Deadlines can be several weeks away, but creep up quickly – so keep them in view.

Schedule study time

  • No-one tells you how to do this, so you need to organise it yourself! Start modestly – 2 hours per lecture, for lecture follow-up, and try to stick to this.  Mark the study hours on your timetable, so that you feel more motivated to get started. 
  • Decide the best place to study – try the LRC, your room…and try different places. You might prefer background noise for some tasks and total silence or music for others.
  • Gradually increase study time, depending on what is needed. Many people find short study slots more effective, so try breaking up a 2-hour study period with short breaks. 

Be your own boss

  • This approach works well for many people. Basically, treat your uni day as a work day, as you would in a job.
  • Start each day with a brief sort-out of what needs doing. Make a ‘to do’ list of things to get done, but keep them realistic: not ‘write essay’ – too ambitious! ‘One hour to find two good sources for essay’ is far more realistic, and you’ll know if you have achieved it at the end of the study session. 
  • At the end of the day, have a quick recap of how things have gone. What went OK? What needs following up tomorrow? Make a quick plan for the next day’s work.
  • Have a definite end point for the study day. Taking breaks during the day, and building in social/family/relax time is important in helping you deal with your studies.

Do study admin

  • One of the main features of studying at university is the amount of information you’ll be receiving every day: emails, messages about what’s going on, and a lot of important information on the Hub (the QMU VLE) about your programme lectures and assessments.
  • Try and keep a few short timeslots in the day when you sort through any new messages. Not all of them will be important, but a few will. It’s also a good idea to have a ‘study admin’ time in the day when you sort out lecture notes, seminar tasks, and generally recap the day. This way, you can feel one step ahead, even when things are getting busy.

Lectures are the springboard for your own study. This makes them different from class teaching, which you may be used to at school or college, and where you might have been given important subject information that you then learn, and reproduce in an essay.  Lectures at university may give you a broad introduction to a topic, and it is up to you to explore that topic in your own reading. Reading and note-taking after a lecture is when you actually study the subject.  The lecture points you in the right direction and gives you important starting points.

So the best way to deal with lectures is to think about what you do before, during and after lectures.

Key tips:

Before: Focus and engage!

  • Get the picture – how does this lecture fit in to the whole module/ relate to last week?
  • check the slides, look quickly over, print off if needed…
  • Engage – highlight/note any topic you want to concentrate on, feel is key to your understanding
  • Decide – what kind of note-taking helps with this lecturer? Listen or note?

During: listen more, write less

  • Listen: spot key areas, new topics, repetition, summing up points
  • Watch: lecture body language, emphasis of points, eye contact.
  • Keep notes brief: use symbols, doodles, develop your own shorthand, note points for later use…? ! * Ask…Check…
  • Think: questioning helps concentration – jot down queries, unclear points
  • Pace yourself: Don’t worry if your attention wanders…that’s normal! You can recap later.

After: do something to build on notes

  • Quick process: look back over notes briefly, as soon as you can. Jot down extra points and add queries. Highlight key points.
  • Talking helps: a quick chat with another student about the lecture can help you understand more than reading over your notes.


  • Follow-up study: :1-2 hours per lecture/ timetable this so you make it ‘official’.
  • Re-working notes, making a diagram, re-writing, re-ordering: this helps understanding.
  • Reading follow-up: try to find and read one or two short extra bit of reading related to the lecture – take a few notes – keep it all short! It’s all research and writing practice!
  • File your notes somewhere helpful and clearly labelled!


The most useful and important reading skills for university study are the skills you use every day: skimming through the internet, magazines, social media… you quickly spot and read what you want. Skimming, scanning and selecting are the key reading skills you will need. Once you become more familiar with the books and journal articles on your programme, you will get to know how best to get an overview, spot the key points, and read selected parts in detail if necessary.  The key is to do regular, but short, bits of reading and note-taking from the start.  It’s all about practice!

Key tips


What to read?

  • Start with your reading list – this is suggested reading from your lecturer; so it’s all useful, but you don’t have to actually read it all! Pick a few titles and explore.
  • Check out your subject section in the library – familiarise yourself with range of texts, types, where information is stored –so you find things more easily for that future essay…
  • Lecture slides: follow up sources referenced on the slide
  • You can’t read everything in detail – develop skimming and scanning skills to get a quick overview of a text
  • Be selective – why should I read this? How would I use it?

Useful questions to help your reading decisions

  • Why am I reading this? On reading list? Looks useful?
  • What would I use it for? Background? Key information? Latest essay?
  • Is it straightforward or difficult? Should I read it later?
  • What’s the best way to read it? Skim? In detail? Scan index?
  • Should I take notes? What kind? What do I need?
  • Shall I come back to it? Take details and read/use later in course?

SQ3R: Five steps to effective reading when you want to read in-depth

  1. Skim and scan - Scan text quickly to get an overall impression. Look at it quickly: notice headings, key words, images, pictures. Get an overall impression. Flick backwards and forwards; glance at first sentence of each paragraph.
  2. Question - Make up questions to help engage: Who? What? Why? When? How?
  3. Read - If you want to, read the text more carefully. Try to read in a relaxed way – don’t worry about difficult words or ideas. Have breaks- read in short bursts.
  4. Recall - Look up, check you have an ‘overview’. What’s it about? Key issues?
  5. Review - Read carefully again, taking brief notes, paragraph by paragraph. N.B. Make a note of key details for your reference list/bibliography.

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The ELS is based in room 1153 in the Library.

Opening hours:

Tuesday to Friday
09.15 a.m. - 16.15 p.m.

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ELS Support Enquiries

Effective Learning Service
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