Exam Time – Productive Revision

open pen on notebook and book

With exams approaching, revision is paramount. But when it comes to revising, you need to aim for quality, not quantity: revising effectively, rather than revising excessively. Rather than moving into the library for the next few weeks and revising for 10 hours a day, it is important to set yourself realistic revision goals, while also having time for yourself. Below are some tips for how you can achieve this.

  1. Make a list of what you need to revise for each exam. You should have access to a practice exam paper and/or past exam papers which will help you to determine this.
  1. Determine which topics you need to revise more. You could “traffic light” the topics:

Green – topics you feel comfortable with / have already revised

Amber – topics you need to re-familiarise yourself with / revise more

Red – topics you lack confidence with, and need to spend time working on

  1. At the beginning of each week, determine when you are going to revise. If possible, rather than putting aside whole days for revision, put aside a few hours each day, spread out as much as possible. Rowena Murray talks about writing snacks rather than writing binges – writing is more productive in short bursts (even just 30 minutes) than when we put aside time for a writing binge of multiple hours in one sitting. The same applies to revision – putting aside 8 x 30 minute revision slots a day is more productive than 1 x 4 hour session. Make the most of 30 minute revision windows.
  1. Once you have identified times in the week you are going to revise, commit to revising in these times. Put them in your diary / calendar, and treat these times as immovable. If someone asks you if you want to go for a coffee in these times, say no, and arrange an alternative time.
  1. Allocate topics to each of your revision slots. Ensure that the time allocated to a topic is proportionate to how much of a priority it is. For instance, topics that you have colour-coded red should be allocated more time than those allocated green.

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  1. If you have put aside a long time for revision in one sitting, have lots of mini-breaks. For instance, divide a two hour revision session into 4 x 30 minute slots, with 5-10 minute breaks in between these half hour revision bursts. This is the Pomodoro Technique, which is really useful for time management as well as boosting productivity. It involves setting a timer to work for a given amount of time (usually 25 or 30 minutes) – each one of these is called a Pomodoro. You have a 5 minute break after each Pomodoro, but after 4 Pomodoros you have a longer break – traditionally 30 minutes. You can amend these times however you like, as long as the principle of having short breaks and a longer break after four Pomodoros stays the same – for instance, working for 40 minutes with 10 minute breaks might work for you, with a long break of 50 minutes (so you can watch an episode of a TV series, or go for a walk). Make sure you have planned what you are doing during each Pomodoro before you start. You can buy tomato timers to help you with this (Pomodoro is Italian for tomato!) but there are also online versions or downloadable apps that have this function. Finding the timings that suit you might require a bit of trial and error.
  1. Make sure that your revision goals are realistic – don’t try to fit too much into a 25-30 minute session. Finding the right balance might take some time. For more about getting SMART goals, see our earlier ASP blog post on goal-setting.
  1. Once you feel more prepared, do practice exam papers in timed conditions. This will help you to identify if there are any areas you need to revise more, while also giving you practice answering within the time limits ahead of the real exam. After doing this, you could return to the traffic-lighting task (Step 2 above) and amend the colours according to how prepared you now feel.

screen grab from swansea university page explaining essential, permitted and non-permitted items for exams and rules for coats, bags and valuables

  1. Before exams, make sure that you familiarise yourself with the examination guidelines at Swansea University. One of these is taking your student card with you to exams. You can read about Essential Examination Preparation here and about DOs and DON’Ts for exams here.
  1. Finally, after the exam try not to worry about your performance, and avoid talking to your peers about the paper. You can’t change your answers, and as long as you did your best, that is all you can do. How you revise constantly changes and improves with practice, so it is important to reflect on how you learn, and what does and doesn’t work for you in order to revise more effectively in future years.

Heidi Yeandle

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Another successful Gower trip

Due to popular demand, the Talk Club instructors organised another trip to the Gower. What better way for international students to practice speaking English, meet new friends and enjoy new scenery?  Like last year, the weather was absolutely stunning and the group was comprised of students from all over the world. This year, we decided to take advantage of public transport and hopped aboard the 8 then 118 buses to Swansea Airport.  We then trekked up a winding road to the Rose Hip Tearooms at the Wildflower Cafe where we enjoyed a delicious high tea while sitting in the sun.  It was fun discussing what each of the items were and how one is meant to eat them (scones for example, are best when lathered with clotted cream and then topped with jam).  As is usual for the ladies at the Cafe, the food was outstanding and plentiful.

After eating, we walked back down the road and hopped back on the 118 to Penmaen.  Once there, we walked along the tops of the cliffs and enjoyed breath-taking views of Oxwich Bay, Tor Bay and Three Cliffs Bay.  After surveying the view from up top, we decided to head down to the beach at Three Cliffs.

After two hours of fresh air, sun, exercise and tons of sand in our shoes, we returned on the 118, then 8 bus to the University.  It was agreed that once a year is not often enough for Talk Club trips, so make sure to look out for emails from the Academic Success Programme for information on future trips.  For more information on Talk Club and all the courses offered by ASP, go to our website.  Until then, we wish all our students who are in exam revision mode the best of luck on your exams.

Nicole Chartier

Better Time Management #1. The Power of a To Do List

Richard Branson has spoken many times of the one tool he could not have built his business empire without. It doesn’t cost much. It doesn’t need to be plugged in. And you can take it with you anywhere.

If you haven’t guessed yet – or you didn’t click on the link – it’s a notebook, carried with you at all times and used to write down any ideas, new appointments or commitments and random thoughts. Successful people the world over swear by this simple system – and anyone can use it to become more productive.

Before we look at how to use it, here’s why using a notebook is so effective.

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In his brilliant book ‘The Organised Mind’ Daniel Levitin tells a story of the time he met the presidential candidate Jimmy Carter:

“He spoke as though we had all the time in the world. At one point an aide came to take him off to the next person he needed to meet. Free from having to decide when the meeting would end, President Carter could let go of those nagging inner voices and just be there.”

The nagging inner voices he means are the constant worries you’ve forgotten to move that dentist appointment, the idea you’ve just had for a better way to write that report, trying to remember whether it was 7 or 7.30 that you said you’d meet your friend for a drink.

The less of these kind of thoughts you have to deal with, the freer your mind can be to focus on what’s important. As David Allen, author of getting things done says in this brilliant talk:

“Your brain is for having ideas, not holding them”

Imagine how much clearer your thinking would be if every little decision you had to make through the course of a day was taken care of by a team of staff. If you never had to look at your calendar because someone would always tell you where you needed to be.

Unfortunately, not all of us can justify a team of staff to run our diaries. But we can take one important concept from this, and apply it to our own daily routines.

Externalise

This simply means taking the items occupying your mind out of your head and into the world.

Here’s Levitin again:

“When we have something on our minds that is important – especially a To-Do item – we’re afraid we’ll forget it, so our brain rehearses it, tossing it around and around in circles in something cognitive psychologists actually refer to as the rehearsal loop… The problem is that it works too well, keeping items in rehearsal until we attend to them.”

Writing things down solves this problem. One of the first steps to great time management is to write down everything.

By writing down your thoughts as soon as they come to you, you are telling your mind that you will come back to them when you choose to. You’re reassuring it that it doesn’t need to worry about holding onto them for you.

One of the reasons we feel stress is that our minds are trying to remember too many things at once. Psychologists have found that we can only effectively hold around 4 items in our working memory – any more than that and we start to become overwhelmed.

Almost all of us encounter more than four things we need to remember throughout the course of a day. Writing them down is the first step to becoming less stressed and more productive.

Of course, the system only works if you come back to your notes. So make it a habit once a day to return to your notebook and deal with all the things you’ve written down. Add those dates into your calendar. Call back the dentists. Spend some time expanding on the idea for the lyrics you had for that song.

Aim to make this a habit over the next month and keep note of how you feel. Possible effects might be that you feel less stressed. That you become more on top of your work. Or that you have an idea that launches a multi-billion dollar business.

time

Want to improve your own Time Management? Our popular Time Management workshop is running at different times throughout the term. Book here: (then write down the date!)

 

Ben Martin

ASP on Tour- Llangennith

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The ASP team are constantly brainstorming ways to support student success, so when a group of Talk Club regulars mentioned wanting to know more about Wales and Welsh culture, the idea to go on tour was born.  The Gower Peninsula was the logical choice; it is close to Swansea, is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and makes for a great day out.  The decision was made to go to Llangennith, on North Gower.  While there, we were able to sample a variety of Welsh dishes courtesy of the King’s Head, while Danielle, a Welsh foodie blogger from Lovely Appetite, spoke about Welsh food and traditions.

Afterwards, G, a former Gower Scout leader and current photographer at Gower Images Works, led us on a guided walk over part of Rhossili Down to the beach.

In addition to practicing speaking and listening to conversational English, students were able to connect with other international students while learning a bit more about Welsh food and traditions.  We really lucked out with the weather; the week before rain was forecast for our trip, however, on the day, it was sunny and beautiful.

For anyone who wants to try making a popular local dish, Danielle swears her family’s recipe is the best:

Corned Beef Pie

And, since the Welsh cakes were a favourite, why not try making them at home?

Welsh Cakes

If you missed out on the trip, fear not; we are in the process of planning another ASP adventure.  Follow us on Twitter to find out more about this and all the ways ASP can help you be as successful as possible.

A big thank you to all the students who came along to Llangennith- it was a lot of fun.  Thanks you also to Abi at the King’s Head for creating a special Welsh menu for us, to Danielle for the input and suggestions for the day and to G at Gower Images Works for not only speaking about the local history but for documenting the afternoon as well.

The Centre for Academic Success has a new Home!

Come and see CAS in their new home in the Faraday building on Monday 25th January for some coffee, cake, and chat about how we can help students of Swansea University get even better grades in 2016! The event is for both students wanting to find out ways they can improve their grades and staff looking to learn more about how the Centre for Academic Success can help them help their students.

Following a successful move over Christmas, the Centre for Academic Success are now settled in to their new offices in the Faraday Building. The move has allowed all three CAS departments – The Academic Success Programme, Specialist Tuition and Reaching Wider – to be housed together for the first time since CAS launched in 2014.

The objective of CAS as a whole is to help students across the university reach their full potential. Tutors from all three departments will be present at the launch event on Monday 25th January to answer questions about just how they do this. As well as free refreshments and giveaways, there will be competitions and prizes to be won. Test your memory, see how many of our maths problems you can solve and add to our ‘tree of knowledge’.

The CAS launch will run from 1pm until 4pm on Monday 25th January. If you can’t make it along but have questions about how the Centre for Academic Success can help, visit CAS reception in Faraday 124 or ring 01792 606613 (6613 internally)

 

 

 

Is There such Thing as a Natural Student?

Perfect Student

Does the naturally perfect student exist or is it something we can all learn?

As educators we often hear comments like “I can’t write” or “I’m bad at maths” which suggest that we are born being either good or bad at writing or maths.  Indeed, much of the way we praise children in the classroom supports this notion.  We praise results rather than practice.  Studies show however, that we should really focus more on practice and less on results (because in the long run, better practice will mean significantly better results).

Malcom Gladwell wrote a book called Outliers and titled one of the chapters “The 10,000 Hour Rule”.  He argued that people become experts in their field after 10,000 hours of practice.  He noted many famous people/groups (Bill Gates, The Beatles, and sports personalities) to highlight this rule.

The 10,000-hours concept can be traced back to a 1993 paper written by Anders Ericsson, a Professor at the University of Colorado, called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.

It highlighted the work of a group of psychologists in Berlin, who had studied the practice habits of violin students in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

violin

All had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age 20, the elite performers had averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only done 4,000 hours of practice.

The psychologists didn’t see any naturally gifted performers emerge and this surprised them. If natural talent had played a role it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect gifted performers to emerge after, say, 5,000 hours.

Anders Ericsson concluded that “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”.

While many of us do not have 10,000 hours (roughly 10 years of intense practice) to spend improving our academic work, what this does highlight is that none of us are really born good or bad at anything.  Anders Ericsson argues instead that while natural talent does play a role in how good or bad we are at something, it is how often and how well we practice that make the difference.  Rather than focussing on getting through a paper, focus on how to write well.  Not sure how to do that?  Come to one of our writing courses!

From the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26384712

What a German waiter and a Russian student can teach you about the best time to start your essays

Why starting your essays early gives you a much better chance of a good grade, increases learning and makes life more interesting.

We all have friends that claim to have sat up all night, done a 3,000 words essay in one sitting and come away with a decent grade. Among some less modest individuals, this can even be a matter of pride – “Look, I spent way less time on this that you and I still got a better grade!”.

cramming

Turns out the all-night-coffee-and-cramming approach might not be the best way to tackle your essays after all

But last-minute Larry is actually missing out on some pretty essential learning experiences and opportunities – the kind of thing that university is actually really about. (If you hadn’t guessed it already, no one is going to look at the mark you got for a second year assignment 2 years down the line and base a job offer on it.)

The cognitive difference between starting your essay early and burning the midnight oil the night before D-Day can be explained by a famous piece of cognitive psychology known as the Zeigarnik effect.

Zeigarnik was a Russian research student in Germany, and together with her professor and other students, she would frequent a local café after lectures. They noticed that the waiters in the café never wrote anything down – they could remember entire orders and often for long periods of time. However, once the bill had been paid, if someone questioned it, the waiter, without fail would have forgotten the items on the order.

waiter&student

One might conclude that this was a sneaky way of syphoning off a bit off extra cash for the weekend, but Zeigarnik and her colleagues were scientists, so naturally they thought it might be indicative of something else. They hypothesized that when a job remains unfinished, it stays at the forefront of their mind.

So it proved in lab tests, where recall on a number of tasks proved much better when the participants had been prevented from finishing.

So why is that, and how does it apply to us at university? Well, scientists think that when a job is unfinished, the brain is working hard behind the scenes to help us finish it. Our brain is picking up on all sorts of external cues that relate to our topic that we might not have otherwise noticed. It’s a bit like when you buy a new car and suddenly see you’re seeing it everywhere. In the case of a student writing an essay, it might be that material from your lectures starts to spark ideas you would never have had or conversations with fellow students inspire new routes for investigation.

Procrastination, therefore, can actually work in our favour, as long as the job has been started. Apply this to your essays, and a good approach might be to look at the title, do some reading and perhaps write a first draft, but then put this to one side for a few weeks. You may find that things in lectures, fragments of conversations or even scenes from films or TV programmes all spark off ideas you would never have had otherwise.

For more on how cognitive science can help organise your study schedule, check out out ‘User Your Brain’ workshop. Dates and times for the next course are available here.

A Guide to Setting Goals this Academic Year

Last week for arrivals we ran an ‘I will’ competition. Students wrote down their goals for the year on a whiteboard. It was great to see so many ambitious students;  you can check out a few of the different ideas we saw on our Twitter feed.

The competition made us think about the idea of setting goals. With this being the first day of a new academic term, we thought we’d share some of the tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way to help you set, and achieve your goals for this term. Goal setting is a really useful tool beyond university too, so it’s a great practise to get into.

Why Set Goals?

Everyone from professional athletes to top businessmen and women set goals in their careers. It focuses their energy, allows them to measure their progress and helps them become more productive. All of which are really useful things for students too,

finish line

Ain’t no doubt she’s getting to the finish line.

Defining your Goals

Think about what you want from this year. Are you looking to get a first? Do you want to manage your time better? Or do you want a better work/play balance, so you’re not studying all the time?

Think big – have fun – imagine your perfect end to this academic year and how it will look. This is a really enjoyable stage. You can even get creative and draw or cut out pictures of your ideal end of year.

Break Them Down.

This is a really, really important stage. So many of us set ourselves huge targets, but don’t think about the necessary steps we need to take to get there, which can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and a lack of motivation. For example, getting a first is definitely an admirable goal, but you need to follow this up by defining the different ways you will do it. This could mean starting essays nice and early, making a point to talk your ideas through with your lecturer or friends, coming to see ASP with your essay plan, or a host of other steps.

Break every goal down into micro-goals. Define one, small thing that you will do every day to get you where you want to be. Make a list and tick it off. Whenever you achieve a small step that takes you closer to your target, be it reading a chapter of a book or writing a couple of hundred words of a draft, make sure you reward yourself with something you enjoy.

You see, the one problem with setting ourselves huge goals is that they can seem so far off and difficult to achieve that motivation wanes. Motivation comes from seeing measurable progress, so this stage of creating mini targets within your larger goals, and rewarding yourself when you achieve them is a really important one.

Be SMART

A useful tool to help you when setting goals, both large and small, is to use the acronym SMART. So your goals should be:

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Realistic

Timebound

By approaching your large goals this year in this way, breaking everything down into small, achievable chunks, you can make this year a really successful one!

As well as offering support on your academic work, ASP can help you with areas such as your time management and goal setting. If this is something you struggle with, or would like help setting goals for a successful year, book an appointment with one of our staff.

Our courses are filling up fast too – have a look if there’s one for you here.

How Writing a Research Blog can help you ace your Dissertation

This month we are pleased to announce our first student guest blog post. Emma Garland is a History MA student who has attended some of our writing courses. Emma’s post is about writing a research blog and how it has helped her get some useful feedback and keep her research on track.

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Writing a Research Blog

Writing a research blog is a way of clarifying your ideas. As you write, you begin to know your own arguments more. Therefore, any expression of what you are researching will be beneficial to your work. Additionally, blogging places your work in a public arena. Whilst this may seem daunting, it is useful. Most people will never receive negative comments, only perhaps some constructive criticism. The vast majority of the online community (whether it is people you know, or those you do not), will only want to support you and your work being online allows more people to engage with you. Suggestions could be taking a slightly different angle or approach to your topic, or people could recommend sources that would help you.

A blog can also help on a practical level. Sometimes, even though you may feel that you have not made enough progress, you will have done a significant amount of work and a blog post can remind you of this. It is important to remember that how much work you have done and how much progress you have made are not necessarily the same thing. Sometimes writing flows easily or you find that one source you were looking for, but sometimes every last word is painful to write and the source you found is not as great as you hoped. Do not feel despondent. You will find the confidence to keep going if you are sure that you are doing the right thing. Glancing at your blog posts should remind you why you are studying and should remind you of how far you have come. Most of the time things go well when you are researching and it is just a case of plodding on, but when times are tough a blog should help you.

Finally, writing a research blog should be enjoyable. Being able to talk about your topic in a brief way will help when friends or family ask what you are studying. Also, it is handy to have somewhere to signpost people to if they want to find out more about your work. Good luck!

Inspired? Check out Emma’s personal blog too at https://fluteandnut.wordpress.com/

How to Reduce Your Word Count!

If you are like many other students, your first thought upon receiving a new essay title is something along the lines of ‘How on earth am I going to write 2,500 words about that!?’ But once you get going, it turns out you have the very opposite problem – you just can’t fit in everything you need to say!

Many of the students who come and see us for 1:1 appointments have this problem. They have finished a draft, and need to lose words – sometimes as many as over 1,000!

Very often the problem can be solved without changing the main thread of the argument or losing any important points. Most writers, whether they are professional novelists, professors submitting a paper or a student writing a dissertation, will always overwrite in a first draft. A thorough proofread, checking for redundancy and repetition can help take the word count down a significant amount.

(This, by the way, is why it’s always a good idea to finish your essays at least a day before the deadline)

Redundancy

This means using words that you just don’t need to. Some students do this because they feel it sounds more academic, but there’s nothing academic about wasting words. A few common examples would be:

The paper was a total of seventeen sides in length.

Improved: The paper was seventeen sides.

Another argument that is also made in Smith’s essay…

Improved: Another argument in Smith’s essay…

The scientists conducted a review of…

The scientists reviewed

We can see from the above examples that very often we use many more words that we need to make a point. Just totalling up the difference between the original and improved versions above we have lost 12 words. Going through your essays in this manner and asking yourself whether each word is essential to the meaning of a sentence can yield surprising results. Try it next time you’re over the word limit!

Repetition

If you record and transcribe a spoken conversation, one of the things you will notice is how many times we repeat the same point, sometimes in different words, sometimes using the very same words. This is natural in speech, as we are keen that our points are understood, and most people need to hear something more than once to process the information. Not so in academic writing. While you will need to remind the reader of the main argument of your essay, and how it relates to the title more than once, you should avoid repeating the same point over and over again. Have a look at the following paragraph and see how many examples of unnecessary repetition you can find.

There are many reasons why the economic policies of Japan led to the crash of the mid-nineties, including overspending by government agencies, excessive lending by banks and an attitude that ‘the bubble was too big to burst’ (Smith 2003). Of the multitude of causes for the eventual burst and the crash of the Japanese economy, however, one is often overlooked, namely; the outsourcing of much of the country’s industry to other Asian countries. So why did Japan choose to begin manufacturing in other countries within Asia, and why do people often not consider the outsourcing of labour when not looking at the reasons behind the crash of the mid-nineties?

110 words

While everything in the above paragraph makes sense, we can definitely find ways to tighten it up. The idea of the crash or the bubble bursting is repeated 3 times, as is the idea that it outsourced its manufacturing . The fact that this is often overlooked in analysis is mentioned twice. A second draft would see the writer replace repeated phrases with referral worlds like ‘this’ or simply eliminate unnecessary repetition, and might look something like this:

There are many reasons why Japan’s economic policies led to the crash of the mid-nineties including overspending by government agencies, excessive lending by banks and an attitude that ‘the bubble was too big to burst’ (Smith 2003). One cause, however, is often overlooked: the outsourcing of labour to other Asian countries. So why did Japan choose to do this, and what is the reason that studies continue to overlook it as a cause of the crash?

76 words

The reduction in words gained by eliminating the repetition is about 30%!

If you struggle to fit everything into the word count, going through your essays looking for repetition and redundancy could well be the answer!