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How Can We Learn Effectively?

Guidance on effective strategies for learning at University

Your optimal learning recipe

mixing bowl, whisk and ingredients

For each of us, there are likely to be certain kinds of environments, strategies and tools that best help us to learn, and these will probably be different for everyone. It is worth reflecting on, and getting to know, what your 'optimal learning recipe' might be. This may take a little while to work out, and you can try different things to see what seems to suit you best. The kinds of things you might consider include:

  • When do I learn best?
    • For example, have you noticed you find studying easier in the morning, afternoon or evening? Could you try and use your optimum time to do the most taxing tasks? And use other times for less challenging tasks?
  • Where do I learn best?
    • Do you like to work on campus, in a cafe, at home, or elsewhere? You can explore the University's many different study spaces to perhaps see what might suit you best.
  • Do I prefer silence, or sound?
    • Do you prefer a little background noise or total silence? Apps such as coffitivity. and rainymood provide gentle background sounds whilst studying. Or if you prefer, the library provides silent study areas.
  • What helps me remember things?
    • Have you noticed particular study and revision strategies work well for you, such as talking to others about your ideas, writing them down, visualising them or something else? If you're not sure yet, try different techniques to see what may or may not suit you. Often a combination is most effective!
  • Do I find studying with others helpful?
    • Would you benefit from having a study buddy (or buddies!) to work alongside for motivation and support? Or do you find this too distracting and you prefer to study alone? Or perhaps planning occasional study meet-ups with others will help give you a focus and deadline.​​​​​​
  • What format do I prefer?
    • Do you find it easier to read digital materials, or read hardcopy books? Via the library catalogue Findit@bham you can filter your searches by 'physical' or 'online' items
  • Are there any tools or resource I find particularly helpful when studying?
    • You might find that you would benefit from some time management tools and apps to help you use your time effectively, such as Focus Keeper or Forest. Would Onenote help with your note-taking, or perhaps you would find Google Reader view helpful to declutter your screen when studying and reading? Stay on track of your references using Endnote Online. There are a huge amount of tools and resources available to help you. Why not explore some new digital skills resources
  • Is there anything else that might help?

When you are learning, try to emulate these optimal conditions, where possible.

Equally though, it’s important to accept that there may be times when your studying environment isn’t optimal, and you will have to be flexible and adapt to this too. For example, you might know that you generally work best in the afternoons, but one day you have an exam in the morning. You could therefore do much of your revision in the afternoons, but perhaps start to practise papers in the mornings as you get closer to the exam itself.

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