The passport workbook incorporates materials from the following sources:
University of the First Age (2002), Brain Friendly Revision, Network Educational Press
Stella Cottrell (2003), The Study Skills Handbook, Palgrave Macmillan
University College for the Creative Arts at Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone and Rochester
Information & Library Services, University of Greenwich
Materials have been put together by:
Isabel Gill, University of Greenwich
Mark Hertlein, University of Greenwich
Andrew Sinclair, University of Greenwich
Naomi Young, Prospects Services Ltd
London Borough of Greenwich
The passport workbook is offered as part of “On Course”, an initiative that supports post-16 students
in making a successful application and progression to university. On Course is a partnership scheme
between the University of Greenwich and a number of local schools and colleges.
To find out more about “On Course” and the activities and arrangements on offer through
the scheme, visit: www.gre.ac.uk/on-course
PLEASE COMPLETE DETAILS BELOW BEFORE SUBMITTING THIS WORKBOOK
School or college:
Date of birth:
Deciding to go to university is one the most important decisions you will make in life. As such, it is vital that the
decisions you take are both informed and considered. This means finding out as much as possible about higher
education (HE), available courses and places to study.
However, making the right decisions is only half the story. Once you have identified which courses to apply for, you
still need to do what it takes to get on to one of them. This means writing a UCAS application that makes you stand
out from the thousands of other students applying to university and getting the grades needed to meet the entry
requirements for one of these courses (ideally your first choice).
But even then, the job’s not done. You still need to make sure that you arrive at university with the necessary subject
knowledge and skills to succeed.
What you need to do
The key to making a successful application and progression to HE is effective research and preparation. Between
now and leaving sixth form or college, there are a number of things you can do that will enhance your chances of
getting on to your chosen course and succeeding once on it.
Making an informed decision about HE
• Research careers – determine whether HE will help you make it into your chosen profession.
• Gain an understanding of HE – find out about the costs and benefits, the terminology used, and the
qualifications on offer.
• Find out about the range of courses on offer and the institutions offering them – determine what’s the right
course and institution for you.
Making a successful application to HE
• Reflect upon your qualities, skills and experiences – think about what your have to offer and what makes you
• Consider whether gaining additional qualifications or work experience, or attending preparation for HE activities,
will enhance your HE application.
• Produce a personal statement that shows you understand the courses you are applying for, and that you have
what it takes to be a successful student.
Preparing for HE study
• Develop effective study skills, in for example note taking and essay writing, and higher level skills, such as
critical thinking and independent learning.
• Enhance your key personal skills, such as communication, team working, and time management.
• Acquire the subject knowledge and understanding expected of first-year undergraduates.
Your passport to success
Although this all might sound overwhelming, the good news is that there is plenty of help at hand. There are
workshops and events you can attend, people that can advise you, and a range of printed and online resources to
This workbook is one such resource. It is designed to support you in making it to university by giving you an idea of
the sorts of things you need to consider, and telling you where to look for further information. It contains activities
and exercises, as well as guidance notes that will help you to think about, apply to, and prepare for HE.
Learn and earn
This workbook has been produced by the University of Greenwich in partnership with local schools and colleges,
and the Connexions service. All the information contained within is impartial, meaning you will find it useful whichever
universities you are thinking of applying to.
However, for those thinking about applying to the University of Greenwich, there is an additional benefit of the
workbook – passport points. You earn 10 passport points for each section of the workbook you complete. If you
complete all three sections, you receive an additional 10 points. This means you could earn up to 40 points.
To complete a section of the workbook, you simply need to complete all exercises within that particular section.
Once you have done this, you need to meet with the passport co-ordinator in your school or college. He or she will
help you to complete an activity record sheet summarising what you gained from completing that section. You must
fill in an activity record sheet for each section you complete.
Using your passport points
Once a passport co-ordinator has signed off your completed activity record sheet, he or she sends a copy to the
University of Greenwich. Details of the number of points you have earned are then added to the university’s
admissions database. When your final results are released, these points are included when determining whether
you meet the entry requirements for the programme you are holding an offer of a place on. For example, if the entry
requirement for your chosen programme is 200 UCAS points, and you gain 160 points from your A-levels/National
Diploma, the 40 points you earned through passport are added, meaning you would meet the entry requirements.
It is important to bear in mind that some university programmes have specific requirements, which you will still need
to meet. Similarly, some programmes, such as those in nursing, midwifery and teaching, also require you to attend
an interview. As such, gaining passport points does not guarantee you a place on a particular university programme.
Section 1 Find out more about higher education
About this section
This section will help you to make an informed decision about higher education (HE), both in terms of whether or
not it’s for you and, if it is, what and where to study.
General information on HE Information on courses/universities
I www.dfes.gov.uk/aimhigher I www.ucas.co.uk
I www.dfes.gov.uk/studentsupport I www1.tqi.ac.uk
I www.connexions-direct.com I www.ukcoursefinder.co.uk
I www.push.co.uk I http://education.guardian.co.uk/universityguide2006
I www.uni4me.co.uk I www.timesonline.co.uk
I www.merlinhelpsstudents.com I www.xb4u.co.uk/universities.asp
Activity 1 Understanding HE terminology
The first step to finding out about HE is understanding the various terms used. Using the brief guide to higher
education at the end of this section, as well as www.ucas.com and university websites and prospectuses, provide
definitions for the following terms:
Activity 2 How much do you know about HE?
Completing the following quiz will help you gain a better understanding of HE. To assist you, use the brief guide to
higher education, www.aimhigher.ac.uk, www.ucas.com and the websites listed at the start of this section.
What’s it all about?
Approximately how many HE course are available within the UK?
Name two types of institutions that offer HE courses.
Approximately how many institutions within the UK offer HE courses?
List three “study modes” available within HE.
Which of these awards is not a recognised entry route in HE?
b. Applied A-levels
c. BTEC National Diplomas
d. Access to HE courses
e. Cycling proficiency badge
Why go, and what’s it going to cost?
Give three reasons for studying an HE course
What is the average starting salary for a graduate?
On average, how much more over the course of his or her life can a person with an HE qualification expect to earn
than a person without an HE qualification?
How much is the maximum tuition fee for a full-time degree starting in 2009–10?
What are the two main types of financial support provided by the government, and what is the maximum amount
available for students entering HE in 2009–10?
How to apply to HE
How much does it cost to make an application through UCAS?
How many UCAS tariff points are three ‘A’s at A-level worth?
What is the earliest date that you can apply through UCAS in 2009–10?
What is the official closing date for the main UCAS cycle in 2009–10?
What is the maximum length your UCAS personal statement can be?
a. 3,000 characters/37 lines of text
b. 4,000 characters/47 lines of text
c. 5,000 characters/57 lines of text
And finally ...
List three ways to find out more about HE.
Activity 3 Will HE get you into your chosen career?
One reason for studying in HE is that it greatly improves your career prospects. For some professions, a degree
increases your chance of finding a job, or helps you to get a better job at a higher level. In certain professions, such
as nursing, law and architecture, you must have a specific HE qualification to practise.
The first step in deciding whether HE is for you and what to study is to determine whether HE will help you achieve
your career goals, and, if so, whether you need to do a specific course in order to qualify to practise in your intended
profession. The following exercise will help you to make a start on this”
Using www.connexions-direct.com/jobs4u, identify three jobs that interest you, providing the following information.
Job title 1:
Brief description of job:
Personal qualities, skills and interests required:
Working conditions/starting salary:
Job title 2:
Brief description of job:
Personal qualities, skills and interests required:
Working conditions/starting salary:
Job title 3:
Brief description of job:
Personal qualities, skills and interests required:
Working conditions/starting salary:
Having identified three jobs, state which one best reflects your personal qualities, skills and interests, and explain
why. Give details of the entry route into that job (i.e. whether or not HE will help you get a job in that profession
and, if so, whether you need to do a particular course).
Entry route(s) into this job:
Activity 4 Choosing the right course
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding what course to study. However, ultimately, you need to choose
a course that is right for you. Using the brief guide to higher education, www.ucas.com and university websites and
prospectuses, identify four courses you are interested in studying and provide the requested information.
Course 1……….......……………...................………….. at…………………………………………...............
What does the course involve?
What qualifications are required?
Why do you want to do it?
Course 2……….......……………...................………….. at…………………………………………...............
What does the course involve?
What qualifications are required?
Why do you want to do it?
Course 3……….......……………...................………….. at…………………………………………...............
What does the course involve?
What qualifications are required?
Why do you want to do it?
Course 4……….......……………...................………….. at…………………………………………...............
What does the course involve?
What qualifications are required?
Why do you want to do it?
Activity 5 Which university is for you?
As with choosing what to study, the key to choosing where to study is to select a place that’s right for you. Using
the brief guide to higher education, www.ucas.com and university websites and prospectuses, identify five
universities you think you would be interested in studying at, giving details of why.
Activity 6 Getting the most from a university Open Day
Although you can find out a lot about HE courses and universities using the Internet, the only way to truly find out
what’s right for you is to visit universities for yourself. However, it is important that you make the most out of your
visits. Attend an Open Day and use the following checklist to record what you find out. For details of Open Days,
Name of university
Find out the following:
Options for studying abroad
How the course is assessed
Suitability of university
Accommodation type and costs
Travel distances and costs
Mix of students
Part-time work opportunities
A brief guide to higher education
Higher education explained
Higher education – often abbreviated to HE – provides courses at a higher level than A-levels, National Diplomas and
Access Couses. You can take an HE course at a university, an HE college or at many further education colleges.
Why should I take an HE course?
Here are just a few reasons.
• Graduates are less likely to be unemployed.
• The Average starting salary for a graduate is £19,000 per year, which is greater than the equivalent starting salary
of a non graduate.
• People with an HE qualification can expect to earn more over the course of their working life than those without
(approximately £160,000 more).
• Over the last five years, graduates were given double the average number of promotions at work compared with
• An overwhelming majority of HE students – 95 per cent – agree that going to university is a worthwhile experience.
• Whatever you want to do in life, your career opportunities will be greatly improved if you have a degree or
diploma from a university or college. If you want to work in certain professions (such as law or medicine) you
must have a relevant degree.
What kinds of HE courses are available?
With 50,000 different courses on offer, there should be a suitable academic or vocational course out there for you. In
some popular subjects, such as business studies or computing, there are literally hundreds of courses to choose from.
Where can HE courses be taken?
There are over 300 institutions offering higher education courses. The most commons of these are universities and
further education colleges.
How long does an HE course take?
The majority of courses last between two and four years, depending on the qualification, though some, such as
medicine, can take up to six years to complete. You can often take an HE course as a part-time student over a
What kind of qualifications can I get?
As an HE student you’ll be working towards one of the following:
• an Honours degree leading to a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Engineering
(Beng), or Bachelor of Law (LLB). These usually take three years to complete;
• an Honours degree course including one year in industry or a year abroad. These are called sandwich courses
and usually take four years to complete;
• a two-year Higher National Diploma or Diploma of Higher Education course. These are both popular qualifications
in their own right and have the option of being “topped up” to a degree at a later stage if you want to;
• a foundation degree. This is a relatively new qualification that is geared towards a specific job.
Student finance explained
If you are planning to enter HE, it is important to know what it is likely to cost. The two types of financial costs you
will face as a full-time or part-time student in HE are tuition fees and your day-to-day living expenses (maintenance
How much does HE cost?
From September 2006 universities have been able to charge variable tuition fees for full-time HE courses up to a
maximum set by the Government. In 2009–10 the maximum tuition fee students can be charged is £3,225 a year.
However, fees vary from institution to institution.
As a student, you will also have to manage your living expenses. These will be higher if you live away from home,
and higher still if you live away from home and study in London. Expenses to consider when getting an idea of costs
include accommodation, food, household bills, clothes, travel, socialising, leisure and sport, and study costs such
as books and materials.
What kind of financial support is available?
The good news is that there is plenty of financial support available. This include money you pay back after your have
completed your studies (student loans), and money you don’t pay back (grants and bursaries).
There are two types of loan available. The first is a maintenance loan to help towards the costs of general living
expenses. The amount of loan available to you will depend on your circumstances, as well as where you live while
you study. For example, the maintenance loan rates for 2009–10 are:
• a maximum of £6,928 for students living away from parents and studying in London;
• a maximum of £4,950 for students living away from parents and studying elsewhere;
• a maximum of £3,838 for students living with parents and under 25.
Students can also take out a loan to cover their tuition fees. The amount students can take out is linked directly to
how much their college or university charges for their chosen course.
Both of these loans are paid by the Student Loans Company. They are not commercial loans like those offered by
high-street banks or building societies, who aim to make a profit. The interest rate is linked to inflation so that the
money you repay is the same in real terms as the money you originally borrowed. More importantly, you do not start
to pay back the loans until you have left university and are earning above £15,000. You will then pay back 9 per
cent of your earnings over £15,000 a year. If you are earning £20,000 a year, for example, you would repay around
£9 per week.
Grants and bursaries
The Government also provides non-repayable grants for full-time students from lower income households. For
example, students starting their studies in September 2009 with a gross family income of less than £25,000 are
guaranteed to receive the maximum amount of grant, which for 2009 is £2,986. Families with incomes of between
£25,001 and £50,000 per year will qualify for a proportion of this grant. If you currently receive the full amount of
Education Maintenance Allowance you are likely to qualify for the maximum grant. Students who receive an element
of grant will not be eligible for the maximum loan. For every £2 of grant they receive they will be eligible for £1 less
in terms of a loan. So, if a student receives the full grant, he/she would be eligible for the maximum loan minus
For more information regarding the eligibility for student funding, to get an idea of your entitlement before applying,
to apply online and for information regarding repayment, visit www.studentfinancedirect.co.uk.
Most universities also offer bursaries. These are reductions on the tuition fees they charge. They can either be offered
to all students or specific students (e.g. students on certain courses, from certain schools or colleges, or above a
certain age). For more information on busaries, visit http://bursarymap.direct.gov.uk.
As well as the standard financial support package, some courses, such as those for initial teaching training and pre-
registration health professional courses, have there own financial packages. A number of financial grants and
allowances are also available to students with additional costs to cover. For more information on these, visit
Getting into HE
How do I get into HE?
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is the central organisation that processes applications for
full-time undergraduate courses at UK universities and colleges. Applications are made online using the secure
“Apply” link on the UCAS website (www.ucas.com). The cost of making a UCAS application is £17.
The main cycle begins in September for applicants who wish to begin studies in the following September. You can
make up to five choices on one application. For students applying to enter university in the 2009–10 academic
year, the main closing dates for applications is 15 January 2010. Universities and colleges are not permitted to fill
their places before this deadline. If the application is submitted after the deadline but before 11 June 2010,
universities may consider it, but do not have to (it depends if they have courses with spaces on).
Once UCAS has checked that your application is complete, it will send a printout to each university and/or college
you have applied to. Each institution will have only the details of the course or courses that you have applied for at
that university or college. UCAS will send you an application number and will include advice on the next step.
Each university or college you apply to will decide whether or not to make you an offer. If you already have enough
qualifications to be offered a place, you may receive an unconditional offer. If not, you may be made a conditional
offer and asked to achieve certain grades in your level 3 qualifications. Such conditions are often expressed in terms
of the UCAS tariff or UCAS points (you can access a tariff calculator on the UCAS website).
UCAS will ask you to decide which offers, if any, you want to hold. You can hold only two. One is called your firm
acceptance and is, in effect, your first choice. The other is your insurance acceptance, which is usually an offer linked
to easier conditions.
Once the university or college holding your firm acceptance receives details of your final grades, it decides whether
or not you have met the conditions. If you have, your place is confirmed, and your offer status becomes
unconditional. The university or college will then write to you with joining information. If, however, the institution
holding your firm acceptance does not confirm its offer, UCAS will pass the application to the university or college
holding your insurance acceptance. This too will make a decision as to whether or not you have met the conditions.
If you have, the university or college will write to you with joining information.
If neither of your acceptances are taken up, you will be eligible for Clearing, when you can apply for other courses.
These include those at universities and colleges to which you have already applied and which still have vacancies.
A diagram outlining what you need to do in terms of the UCAS process can be found at the end of this guide.
How do I decide what to study?
Think carefully about long-term career plans and find out if you have to study a particular course for your chosen
profession. If you are unsure about what career to pursue, you need to choose between studying a favourite school
or college subject, and trying something new. If you continue with one of your current subjects, you have a wide
range of options. For example, if you are studying a BTEC National Diploma in business, HE courses open to you
may include business, business administration, business computing and business culture.
You may be inclined, on the other hand, to take a new direction. Your first step is to find out as much as possible
about the subject. Many students are surprised by the number of courses it is possible to study with no significant
previous experience. Whether it’s a subject familiar to you or a new one, you need to know that courses with the
same name can have very different content.
You may not realise is that over 60 per cent of graduate jobs are open to graduates in all areas. Employers are most
interested in the class of your degree, and in the transferable skills and work experience that you can offer.
www.prospects.ac.uk has information on a range of graduate topics, including average graduate starting pay and
what employers are looking for from graduates.
Once you have decided what to study, you need to consider what type of qualification to apply for, e.g. degree,
Higher National Diploma or foundation degree. You must decide whether to study one subject or combine it with
another, and whether to include a work placement, i.e. sandwich course, or study options abroad.
You also need a clear idea of what grades you expect to achieve, so you are realistic about which courses to
How do I decide where to study?
Having identified the right course, you need to research which HE institutions offer them. The first decision you need
to make it whether you want to stay at home or move away. You also need to consider location – big city , medium-
sized town or rural setting. As for accommodation, would you prefer a hall of residence to sharing a house or
apartment, and what about the university’s facilities, clubs and societies?
Useful sources on student life include the Push Guide to Which University, the Virgin publication Alternative Guide
to British Universities, and The Student Book, published by Trotman. League tables published in newspapers such
as The Times and The Guardian can be a useful indication of quality. They rate universities on criteria which include
teaching and research quality, spending on resources, staff-student ratios, entry requirements, and where students
progress to after graduating.
The recently introduced annual National Students Survey asked final-year students about various aspects of their
courses. The results are available on www.tqi.ac.uk.
Remember: the atmosphere and environment of where you study could make all the difference. You can look at
websites and books, but there is no substitute for visiting universities. Visit www.opendays.com for details on when
and where they days are taking place and go and have a look!
Your route to
higher education Start
Accept a place
Accept a university
Accept one at university
Accept one one
firm and one place
Visit universities Complete student
finance application results
that offer you Complete student
Complete UCAS a place
UCAS sends application that offer you form (PN1)
Complete UCASonline UCAS sendseach chosen
to application a place form (PN1)
application online university/college
to each chosen
at www.ucas.com university/college
School/college University may from UCAS
Complete your adds reference and invite you
School/college University may for an from UCAS
Complete your sends to UCAS interview*
adds reference and invite you for an
Personal sends to UCAS interview*
Reflect upon your
Reflectskills and work
skills and work
Attend HE experience
Choose courses and
Start Attend universities
Choose courses and
thinking Open (up to 5 choices)
Start Attend Days
thinking Open Days (up to 5 choices)
March–Aug Sept–Dec Jan–Jul Aug–Oct
*Check with university if an Sept–Dec
March–Aug interview is part of their selection process Jan–Jul Aug–Oct
**All dates are approximate
*Check with university if an interview is part of their selection process
**All dates are approximate
Section 2 Get personal
About this section
This section will help you to think about the skills, qualities, and experience your possess and ways in which you can
enhance them. This will help you to write a strong personal statement.
General information on HE Personal statements
I www.connexions-direct.com I www.ucas.com/students/startapplication/apply/
I www.prospects.ac.uk personalstatement
I jobs.guardian.co.uk/careers I www.studential.com/personalstatements
Activity 1 What are your personal qualities?
Personal qualities describe the kind of person you are. They may influence the type of courses you choose to study,
and the careers you decide to pursue. The following exercises will help you to think about your personal qualities.
Consider the following list of personal qualities and circle those that apply to you. You could also ask friends what
qualities they think you have.
Reliable Adaptable Responsible
Dependable Polite Sincere
Interested Mature Open
Inventive Generous Considerate
Tolerant Concerned Respectful
Noisy Sarcastic Concentrates
Industrious A good friend Helps others
Good appearance Independent Uses initiative
Hard-working Punctual Organised
Creative Sensitive Humorous
Enthusiastic Learns from criticism Willing to learn
Good talker Irritating Moody
Of the qualities you have identified, select six positive ones that apply to you.
1. 2. 3.
4. 5. 6.
Provide details of how or where you demonstrate these. For example, “I am good at helping others, as shown
by my work with the local under-7s football club.”
Activity 2 Skills checklist
Whether you are applying for a job or for a higher education (HE) course, it is important to understand the range of
skills you possess (you might be surprised just how many you have). The following exercises will help you reflect
on your skills and the various settings in which you demonstrate them.
Tick which of the following skills you possess. Add any other skills you possess that aren’t listed.
People skills – able to: Numerical skills – able to:
K Listen carefully to what people are saying K Add up and subtract
K Encourage people to talk K Multiply
K Start conversations K Divide
K Talk to people over the phone K Use a calculator
K Explain things to people K Take money and give change
K Give instructions K Operate a till
K Persuade people K Keep accounts
K Help people with problems K Work out measurements
K Work as part of a team
K Care for people
K Take responsibility for looking after children or .....................................................................
K Organise people to do things
Information-handling skills – able to:
K Make friends
K Take messages
K Ask questions to gain information
K Make lists
..................................................................... K File information
K Keep records up to date
K Write a report
K Check for accuracy
Practical skills – able to:
K Use hand tools
K Make things .....................................................................
K Repair things
K Carry out precision work Creative skills – able to:
K Operate machinery K Come up with ideas
K Maintain equipment K Use your imagination
K Prepare food K Solve problems
K Grow things K Plan activities
K Sew K Design things
K Style hair .....................................................................
IT skills – able to:
K Enter information on a database
K Find information
K Word process
K Use spreadsheets
Once you have done the checklist, list your top three skills. Write one in each space below, and provide examples
of where you have used this skill.
1. I am good at _________________________________________________________
I have shown this by
2. I am good at _________________________________________________________
I have shown this by
3. I am good at _________________________________________________________
I have shown this by
List three skills you enjoy using and want to develop.
Activity 3 What have you gained from work?
Having reflected upon the skills and qualities you possess, and how and where you demonstrate them, the next step
is to relate these to the experience you have gained in the workplace. Using the headings below to structure your
thoughts, identify the skills and qualities you gained through a recent work experience. Think about the tasks
completed and what you learned, identifying the skills and personal qualities you developed.
1. Set the scene
What kind of organisation did you work for? What was its main purpose? Where did you work? Think about the
location and environment you were in. Was the setting what you expected?
2. Your role
What type of work did you do? How often? Did you get paid or was it voluntary? What responsibilities did you have?
What was your main motivation for doing the work?
3. Your skills
What kind of skills have you developed? Did you work with the general public or with particular types of people? Did
you learn practical,computing or information skills, or handle money, or generate any ideas? What did you find easy
and what was difficult? Which skills need improvement to help you achieve your career ideals?
What impact will your experience have on your studies, your choice of career, qualifications or course? Have you
changed as a person in any way?
What have you learned about yourself? Has it helped you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, or given you a
sense of direction for the future? Overall, was your experience worthwhile?
Activity 4 Getting more experience
Whether you are applying for jobs or to HE, having relevant experience is important. This is particularly true if you
are applying for HE courses that involve professional accreditation, such as courses in nursing, midwifery, teaching
and law. The problem is, it can be difficult to get direct hands-on experience in these areas.
However, you can gain related experience that allows you to demonstrate that you have the skills and qualities
essential for your chosen career. The key is to understand what skills and qualities are most important. For example,
if you want to be a nurse, you need to demonstrate that you have experience of caring for others, and if you want
to be a teacher, you need to demonstrate that you have experience of working with young people.
Once you have identified the skills and qualities that are important in your chosen career or subject area, the next
step is to undertake some sort of experience that allows you to develop and apply them. There are a number of
different ways in which you can gain this experience:
• paid work;
• work experience/placements (linked to your course);
• helping friends and family (e.g. caring for a brother or sister);
• extracurricular activities (e.g. organising school events, mentoring);
• doing voluntary work at your school or college.
To help you think about the steps you can take to gain additional relevant experience, complete the following
exercise. For help with this, speak with your tutor, a career guidance person at your school or college, or a
I am interested in working/studying in the area of:
The key types of experience in this area are:
To develop this experience I intend to:
Activity 5 Enhance your CV
Another way of thinking about and recording the skills, qualities and experience you possess is by producing a
curriculum vitae (CV). Building on the earlier activities in this section, and using the brief guide to writing about
yourself, have a go at producing a CV.
To help get you started, work through the following list, ticking those skills that apply to you and circling those that
you need to improve.
K I like to get everything just right
Gives attention to detail; methodical; follows instructions accurately.
K I have always got lots of things to do.
Copes with pressure; flexible; good at juggling tasks; enthusiastic; versatile.
K I never have any last-minute panics with my work.
Organised; good at planning; methodical; uses foresight.
K I don’t find essay writing a struggle.
Has good research skills and written communication; articulate; has good presentation skills.
K I am good at taking an overall view of a task.
Has strategic perspective, vision, judgement and foresight.
K I prefer to tackle tasks step by step.
Methodical; gives attention to detail; accurate.
K I can get on with things with little supervision.
Independent; driven; takes risks; can self-manage; autonomous; is a self-starter; motivated; proactive.
K I want to be successful in whatever I do.
Driven; ambitious; dynamic; enthusiastic.
K When I say I’ll do something, it gets done.
Reliable; dependable; organised; good at planning and prioritising; results-oriented; good at setting objectives.
K I persevere when others give up.
Determined; adaptable; resilient.
K I can always come up with a novel solution to a problem.
Has vision, initiative and creativity; can improvise; imaginative, has design skills.
K I am a good listener.
Sensitive; supportive; caring; a good team player; empathetic.
K I often find myself taking the lead in situations.
Has initiative and leadership skills; driven; organised; insightful; able to influence, negotiate, delegate and supervise.
K I am not afraid to take responsibility.
Confident; self-aware; flexible; able to exercise authority.
K I am sympathetic to the needs of others around me.
Sensitive; co-operative; diplomatic; understanding.
K I usually have lots of ideas when presented with a problem.
Analytical; has flair; inventive; entrepreneurial; insightful; able to giving advice; impartial.
K I get on well with all types of people.
Good listener, sensitive, a team player; good-humoured.
K I am quick at absorbing new information.
Flexible; ready to learn; intelligent; has good memory.
K I am computer literate.
Confident; a quick learner; adaptable; able to cope with change.
K I’m not afraid to say what I think.
Confident; assertive; has debating skills; takes risks.
K I can quickly shift from doing one thing to another.
Flexible; adaptable; can manage own time.
K I do not feel daunted by public speaking.
Confident; articulate; has good verbal communication and debating skills; can present information.
K I am enthusiastic about new projects.
Enthusiastic; dynamic; driven; has energy and a positive approach.
K I will take the initiative when others are hanging back.
Has leadership skills; can organise and take responsibility; confident.
K Working under pressure gives me a buzz.
Can cope with pressure and meet deadlines; flexible.
K I manage my time in order to complete the work I have to do.
Organised; able to plan and manage time; has foresight.
K I don’t need pushing to complete the work I have to do.
Self-starter; will seek tasks; thorough; driven; committed.
K I can be very persuasive.
Has good verbal communication; can negotiate, sell, influence, teach and train.
Activity 6 Get your personal statement right
Having thought about the course you are going to apply for and why, and considered the range of skills, qualities
and experience you possess, you should now be in a position to write a strong personal statement. Completing the
following exercise will help you get started and will help to give your statement some structure.
1. Your reasons for choosing the course or subject.
2. The background to your interest in the subject.
3. Information on employment, work experience or placement, and voluntary work, if applicable.
4. Your career aspirations, particularly if you are choosing a vocational course or have definite goals.
5. Details of other activities you are involved in.
6. Details of your social, sporting and similar interests.
7. A list of the personal qualities you have that are required for the course.
8. Information on whether you are applying for deferred entry.
A brief guide to writing about yourself
CURRICULUM VITAE - adaptable
This is a vital document for job hunting. Many employers will ask for your CV - assertive
when you apply for a job. You can also send it to companies which interest - versatile
you, to ask about vacancies. First impressions count, employers receive many - precise
CVs. Yours needs to be eye catching. It is your sales document: an advert for
your qualities, skills and experience. - hard-working
BEFORE YOU START, YOU SHOULD - flexible
• list your skills, attributes, and characteristics. Be positive but realistic; - responsible
• decide on the format, layout and the words to present yourself at
your best; - confident
• decide what you want your CV to achieve every time you use it. You may - ambitious
need to change it for each application. - efficient
- quick to learn
YOUR CV SHOULD BE - creative
• well presented and clearly laid out;
• word processed on good paper; - achieved
• limited to one or two sides of A4 paper; - co-ordinated
• clear, concise and informative; - developed
• targeted to the employer’s job description. - improved
LANGUAGE - prepared
Be positive, direct and concise. Make every word work for you. Do not write as - planned
though you are talking – you are presenting your skills and achievements, not - negotiated
having a conversation. - introduced
WHAT SHOULD YOU INCLUDE?
Personal details: full name, address, date of birth, telephone and/or mobile Action words:
number, and e-mail address. - analysed
PERSONAL PROFILE - created
This is a self-marketing statement about you. Essentially, state who you are
and what you want. - evaluated
- set up
SKILLS - delivered
A skill is something that can be learned, such as driving, using a computer and
speaking a language. If you have skills that other applicants do not, this can be Skills:
a great help.
- time management
- problem solving
- dealing with people
- computer literacy/
e.g. Microsoft Word
Your character and personality are often difficult to write about – check the • Personal profile: short,
word list for helpful ideas. positive statement about
yourself, outlining key
EMPLOYMENT HISTORY attributes and career aims.
Include full-time, holiday and part-time work, paid and voluntary.
• Key skills: here you should
WORK EXPERIENCE list skills and attributes which
fit the employer’s
Include placements from school, college or training.
• Employment/work history:
These may not be directly related to your application, but include them in the aim of each section is to
order to tell an employer more about yourself. create a snapshot image of
you at work. You need to
Remember, many employers like applicants who can work as a member of a give clear, concise
team, e.g. sports, drama, voluntary work. Indicate what you achieved – how information which builds a
long you were involved and what positions of responsibility you held. Describe picture of your duties,
your interests. Mentioning music is not enough – tell the reader if you sing, responsibilities and
write, play an instrument or are a member of a band. achievements.
• Education and training: it is
Do not list any interests you could not talk about at an interview.
usual to state grades, but if
they do not do you credit,
leave them out. If there is an
aspect of the course you
• I don’t have a work history? want to bring to an
Think about what you have been doing, such as education, training, employer’s attention, write a
housework and budgeting. Most things we do require skills. Skills are line summarising your
transferable – they can be learnt in one place and used in another. course.
• I’ve left school and only been on training schemes? • Interests: these are meant to
Emphasise any qualifications you got from the schemes. Many schemes reveal aspects of your
include work placements. Include these in the section headed “work personality. Try to list a
balance of interests and if
possible include one which
relates to the job.
• my work history is not relevant to the position I am applying for?
In fact, aspects of what you did in your last job should relate to what you • Referees: before giving their
will have to do in the new post, e.g. using a computer, teamwork, working names, check with the
with the public. You are aiming to demonstrate skills and potential. referees that they will be
happy to supply you with a
• I have gaps in my CV due to unemployment? reference. Include two
Consider what else you were doing while unemployed – voluntary work, referees: one from school or
teaching yourself skills, looking after children. Make sure your skills are college, and one who knows
presented clearly on your CV. you well (not a relative).
Example of a CV
26 Burrage Place
London SE18 7BG
Tel: 020 8302 9586
Date of birth: 25 July 1987
I am an organised and hard-working person. A very conscientious worker who can work well in a busy environment and
especially enjoys being part of a team. A capable person who is willing to learn new skills and methods of working.
Looking for a permanent position in the retail industry, which can offer training and career development.
• Customer service skills from the retail industry.
• Flexibility, adaptability and willingness to learn new skills.
• Excellent organiser.
• Good interpersonal skills used in all employment and experience to date.
• Keyboard skills, particularly connected with customer service.
February 2005 – to date: Sales assistant (fresh produce)
J Sainsbury, Eltham
• Ordering stock.
• Promoting and displaying new lines.
June 2004 – February 2005: Sales assistant (children’s wear)
Co-op, Dartford, Kent
• Dealing with suppliers.
• Assisting customers.
January 2004 – June 2004: P/T sales assistant, customer service
W H Smith, Woolwich
• Dealing with customer enquiries.
• Following up book orders.
• Ordering personalised stationery.
QUALIFICATIONS AND TRAINING
2004 Skill Centre, Charlton – 16-week cookery course taken, examination
passed and certificate awarded
2000–2004 Abbey Wood Comprehensive – 5 GCSEs
I enjoy swimming and running and enter short-distance running competitions regularly. I belong to the local youth club
and take part in different activities. With other members of the club, I was involved in a sponsored walk and raised funds
for our local Age Concern drop-in centre.
Mr A Tanner Mr B Stone
Head of Year Department Manager
Abbey Wood School J Sainsbury
Eynsham Drive High Street
Abbey Wood SE2 9AJ Eltham SE9 5DJ
This is your opportunity to add a personal touch to your UCAS application. The admissions tutor wants to know:
• what kind of person you are;
• what you will bring to the course;
• what you want from the course.
There is no standard format for the statement. You have about 400 words and may consider including:
Your reasons for choosing the course or subject
• Demonstrate your interest in the content. How did your interest develop?
• What are your life goals and ambitions?
• What do you know about the course from your research?
The background to your interest
• Mention articles or journals you have read.
• Link to career plans, hobbies and interests.
• Link to courses you are taking now.
Employment, work experience and voluntary work
• Relate to the course applied for.
• Emphasise transferable skills such as teamworking, customer care and problem solving.
• Choosing a vocational course – why?
• Ideas for a career after your course, e.g. teaching – why?
• If you have no definite aims, that is OK.
• Involvement in widening-participation activities such as summer school or mentoring.
• Involvement in master classes or other programmes for the gifted and talented.
• Details of skills and achievements, e.g. Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network, Duke of
Edinburgh’s Award, Millennium Volunteers.
Social, sporting and other activities and interests
• Link the skills developed to your choice of course, e.g. teamwork, communication skills, leadership.
• Which ones are required for the course?
• Why? What do you intend to do?
Some do’s and don’ts to consider when writing your application:
• focus on what is appropriate to your application;
• fill the space – you need to make sure you appear to be an interesting person;
• sell yourself – the reader needs to know your skills and qualities;
• use examples of what you have learnt;
• explain WHY you like something or find it interesting;
• link present courses to your future degree, if relevant;
• check spelling, grammar and presentation;
• ask other people to read your statement;
• demonstrate a passion for your chosen course.
• repeat things already on the application, such as courses you are studying, exams you have taken and what
you are applying for;
• exaggerate or over-enthuse about things that you did, say, five years ago;
• use slang or bad grammar;
• leave out anything relevant;
• be too gimmicky. However, do try to grab attention with something original.
How to sell yourself
It is important to expand on the activities you refer to in your statement. You could say you enjoy football, reading
and socialising, for example – but it would be better to write:
“I play football at county level. Skills developed from football are leadership – I was captain last year – and working
to win as part of a team.”
“I read historical novels, which I enjoy as they give me an understanding of the past and society.”
If possible, state relevance to course. This interest in earlier times could be relevant to law or sociology, for example.
“I am a keen participant in group activities and enjoy the company of friends. I often organise outings. For example,
I organised a rock-climbing day for the sixth form.”
It is not good to focus on negative points, but by all means show that you can adapt after setbacks, such as:
“I failed my first set of A-levels and am currently retaking them” is expressed more helpfully as: “I have refocused
my energy into my studies, after realising how important academic success is to my future and getting a degree.”
Get a draft done and then get it checked. Then do it again and get it checked again. GOOD LUCK!
Section 3 Become a better learner
About this section
This section will assist you in becoming an effective learner. It will help you to develop learning skills which you can
use now and once at university.
Activity 1 How good are your research skills?
Being able to locate and evaluate information is a crucial academic skill. There are a wide range of resources
available to you, including books, academic journals, newspaper articles, government papers and reports.
Increasingly, information is being published electronically, and can be found on the Internet. Although the Internet
can be a valuable source of information, it is important to evaluate the information retrieved from it.
The following exercise will help you to think about some of the issues you need to consider when using information
retrieved from the Internet. Locate a piece of information on a website (this could be an article, report, etc.) that is
relevant to one of your upcoming assignments. Once you have found one, critically evaluate it against the questions
below by indicating “Y” (yes), “N” (no) or “?” (don’t know). Ideally you should aim to use resources with as many ticks
as possible in the Y column, particularly in the areas of source, reliability and currency.
Title of article:
Url of article:
Y N ?
Is there a reputable source, such as a recognised organisation or academic institution?
Does the author give information or contact details about him or herself that can be verified?
Are the author’s qualifications, education and background relevant to the subject matter?
Does the site contain primary information that is raw, original and non-interpreted?
(This could include manuscripts, diaries, letters or speeches.)
Is the resource an electronic version or companion to an existing print publication?
Is the site aimed at an appropriate academic level for your study?
Does the material relate to the specific geographic region or time period you are interested in?
Is the information peer reviewed or edited?
Is there any facility to submit corrections to the site owners?
Does the information seem to be objective?
Does the author acknowledge any specific viewpoint?
Is there good spelling, punctuation and grammar?
Is the material sourced and referenced correctly?
Does the site give details of when the information was last updated?
Is updating regular?
Are links to other Internet sites relevant and up to date?
Structure and accessibility
Is the site easy to navigate?
Is there a site map and/or search facility to help you locate material?
Is the site reliable to access and free from error messages?
Does the site contain “Help” functionality?
Activity 2 Note taking
Note taking is an essential study skill. There are a number of ways to take notes, some of which are more suited to
the classroom or lecture theatre and other which are better for text books, reports or the Internet. The key to
successful note taking is using a technique that works best for you.
Below are details of four of the most popular and how they work.
1. Mind-mapping or spider diagrams
This is where you use a diagram to organise words, ideas and concepts.
• Centre topic – put an essay title in a box in the middle of the page.
• Main branches are for your initial ideas – put words along the lines in capitals.
• Lower branches or twigs are for your thoughts and ideas.
• Images – use images or sketches that attract the eye.
• Colour – use different colours.
• Spacing – leave lots of space so you can add information.
• Symbols – use arrows and symbols.
• Personal – develop your own personal style.
• Fun – have fun doing them – you are more likely to remember the information.
2. Concept mapping
Same idea, but putting ideas into boxes with linking lines.
This is where you simply make a note of ideas as they come to mind.
• Write your topic at the top of a page.
• Jot down ideas as they come into your head.
• Use coloured pens to link the ideas – you could do this with Post-its to organise them in a logical way.
4. Linear notes
This is making notes in a traditional style with points. Below are some helpful tips on how the use this technique
• Keep notes brief.
• Keep notes organised.
• Use your own words.
• Leave a wide margin and spaces.
• Note key words and main ideas.
• Write phrases – not sentences.
• Use abbreviations.
• Use headings.
• Number points.
• Make the page memorable with colour illustrations.
• Link up points using arrows and dotted lines.
• Note sources.
• Copying chunks and phrases.
• Writing more notes than you can use again.
• Writing out notes several times to make them neater.
Tidying messy notes
• Draw a square around sections.
• Use a ruler to divide the page.
• Draw a ring around floating bits of information.
• Link stray information by colour coding.
Whichever techniques you are using, remember the following key points.
• Be clear on why you are making notes as this will affect the type of notes you take. For example, are they for
an essay or for revision?
• Always date your notes and file them in a logical place.
• Leave space between your notes so you can add to them.
• Go back to the notes and organise them in a format that you can read.
The following quiz will help you think about your note taking. Review some notes you’ve taken recently and answer
the following questions. Give yourself a mark for each YES answer.
Did you: Yes No
1 read about the topic beforehand?
2 get to class on time or a bit early?
3 clearly title and date your notes?
4 use your own abbreviations?
5 highlight each main point or idea in some way?
6 sum up the main ideas in your own words?
7 make lists, use arrows or bullet points or subheadings?
8 note references?
9 leave white space to add things later?
10 write neatly so you can you read your notes now?
How did you do?
If you scored 8 or more, you are applying effective techniques; 5-7, you should revise your techniques; 4 or less,
there is room for improvement. Remember, good note-taking is essential to being an effective learner.
• Decide why you are making the notes – for an essay, for revision, or as a reminder.
• Date your notes and file
• Listen carefully
• Leave space between your notes, so you can add to them
• Go back to the notes and reorganise them into a format that is easy to read
Activity 3 Do you think critically?
Being able to think critically is a vital skill to develop, but the term “critical” carries with it negative connotations.
Thinking critically simply means not taking things at face value. So, instead of simply accepting what someone puts
before us, we question its value and examine the validity of its arguments.
The following exercise will help you to consider your critical thinking skills. Search the Internet for either a newspaper
or journal article that is relevant to an upcoming assignment (this could be the information source you used in
activity 1). Now, with the help of the notes in the brief guide to studying, provide answers to the following questions.
Title of article:
Url of article:
1. Do you agree/not agree with the author’s view? Briefly note your reasons.
2. Do you think the author has provided/not provided a reasoned and balanced argument? Briefly note your reasons.
3. Do you think the author is aiming his views at a particular audience? If so, what sort of audience do you think this
article would appeal to?
4. What sort of language does the author use to convey his or her meaning, for example, is he or she writing to
inform, persuade or describe? Do you think that the style of writing reveals any sort of bias or prejudice?
5. Is there anything else about the article that you consider important in forming an opinion about it?
Activity 4 Writing essays
Writing essays is an occupational hazard of academic life, but the reason we write them is that they provide one of
the best means of displaying our thought processes and how we structure arguments and present evidence. Look
upon them as an opportunity for you to demonstrate your understanding of a topic and display your ability to
construct arguments and persuade your reader of the validity of your view.
The first step in writing an essay is understanding what is being asked from you. This means looking closely at the title
of the essay before starting to plan or write it. One of the most important things to consider is the instructional words.
These are the words that indicate the style or approach you need to take in your essay. Completing the following
exercise will help you to think about the style or approach expected from you.
Match the words with the explanations.
1. ANALYSE A. Say how things are the same and yet different.
2. COMPARE B. Describe without too much detail. Give the main features.
3. ILLUSTRATE C. Make the information clear by giving reasons.
4. OUTLINE D. Give a detailed account of something exactly as it is. You do not
need to give your opinion.
E. Give your opinions or point of view.
F. Using your own words, bring together the main points without
7. REVIEW including details.
8. CLARIFY G. Give lots of examples.
9. COMMENT ON H. Give the important reasons for and against, and come to some
I. Look closely at the detail.
J. Give examples to make your point clear – this could include use
12. DESCRIBE of diagrams, drawings or figures.
13. DISCUSS K. Show how things are different.
14. CONTRAST L. Take into account your thoughts.
15. EXPLAIN M. Make your answers simple and clear.
N. Go over the whole thing, picking out the important parts on which
to give your opinions.
O. Present the information clearly but briefly.
Having understood the type of approach expected of you, you can construct a rough essay plan. This plan will help
you to focus your ideas, and will shape your reading. This plan should consist of an introduction, the main body of
the essay and a conclusion. Your argument should be laid out in a logical way and guide your reader through the
themes and arguments in the essay.
Have a go at constructing a basic essay plan for an assignment you have to do. Jot down ideas that occur to you
(in the form of bullet points) and see if you can link them up in a logical pattern, providing some ideas as to how you
might conclude the essay.
Your main argument
Once you have an essay plan, you can start writing your essay. The notes in the brief guide to studying will help in
this respect. However, you will also find completing the following exercise of use.
Please state whether when writing essays you do the following, and, if not, whether you would consider doing them.
Do you: Yes No Would consider
• check what the title is asking for? K K K
• generate ideas – brainstorm, mind map? K K K
• ask yourself: who, why, what, where, when, or how? K K K
• research – use sources, books, articles, the Internet? K K K
• explain how you interpret the question? K K K
• identify issues you will explore? K K K
• give a brief outline of how you will deal with the issues? K K K
• develop your argument? K K K
• show and reference your evidence? K K K
• summarise and pull together your main arguments? K K K
• use formal English? K K K
• write concisely, avoiding repetition? K K K
• write in the third person? K K K
• make drafts and do rewrites? K K K
• check spelling and punctuation? K K K
Activity 5 The art of presenting
Presentations are becoming an increasing part of our lives, whether in an academic context or the workplace. Love
them or hate them, they are a useful skill to master. Giving a good presentation is an enormous boost to one’s self
confidence and they are not as difficult as most people would have you believe. Ultimately, the key to presenting is
practice. The more you present, the more confident you will become. However, when giving a presentation, there are
a number of things you should consider. The following exercise will help you to think about these.
The next time you give a presentation, use the following checklist to reflect upon how it went. Against each heading,
rate how you did on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being poor, 10 being excellent). Where you did badly, give details of how
you could do better next time.
Aspects of your presentation Your How you could improve
Did you ensure you had your audience’s attention
Was your introduction clear?
Did you manage to cover all your arguments and
were these given in a logical order?
Did you arrive at a definite conclusion?
Did you answer questions well?
Did you stick to the time limit?
Did your audio-visual aids (e.g. PowerPoint, OHPs)
support you presentation?
Did you speak slowly and audibly –
could you be heard?
Did you pause at appropriate times?
Did you make eye contact and smile?
Overall, how do you feel it went and how will you build on it?
Activity 6 Preparing for exams
Whether you like it or not, exams are a fact of school, college and university life. Although they can be extremely
stressful, the thing to bear in mind is that everyone, including the examiner, wants you to do well in them. Exams are
a means of testing your knowledge, but they also test your ability to work under pressure, to manage your time and
your ability to plan and write an answer within a given time. All these skills are useful ones and will serve you well,
both now and in the future.
The key to doing well in exams is preparation. There are two parts to this. The first is revising or re-learning what
you have learnt. The following exercise will help you to think about how you revise. Show which revision technique
matches with a particular brain fact. The lettered list has revision techniques; the numbered list has facts about
Revision techniques Facts about the brain
A. Work from what you know, but also introduce 1. Your brain can do many things at once. It can
new information. take in a range of stimuli.
B. Make sure you understand why you need to learn 2. The brain processes parts and wholes at the
something and why it is important. same time. It needs to be aware of the big
picture while focusing on small steps.
C. Eat sensibly, drink plenty of water and avoid
caffeine. 3. The brain automatically focuses on what it knows
but also searches for things that are new.
D. Use the morning to work on hard things.
4. Emotions are important. It is difficult to learn if
E. Give yourself regular breaks and time to reflect.
you are stressed, angry or upset.
Sleep is important.
5. The brain needs down time to sort through the
F. Good revision uses both sides of the brain. Use
information it has been absorbing.
different senses; try mind mapping.
6. Average concentration time is 20 minutes.
G. Try playing music without lyrics and with a steady
beat. 7. Thirst and hunger affect the brain. The brain is
made up mainly of water.
H. Be positive about your revision. Keep yourself in
a positive frame of mind. 8. Your brain likes to link things into patterns.
I. Have breaks about every 20 minutes. Take a 9. Your brain works better in the morning.
10. Music can affect the brain. For a relaxed
J. Decide on the big picture and break it into alertness, your choice should have 60–80 beats
smaller pieces. per minute.
K. Use memory tricks like mnemonics and make up 11. Your brain will take information from all around,
stories to help you remember. even if you are not concentrating on one
The second aspect of effective exam preparation is being clear on the arrangements and instructions for each exam
you are sitting. The following exercise will help you to consider the key aspects of an exam that you need to think
With respect to one of your upcoming exams, provide the following information.
What is the title of the exam?
When is the date and time of exam?
Where is the exam taking place?
What is the length of the exam?
How many questions do you need to answer?
How many marks is each question worth?
What equipment are you permitted to take into the exam room with you?
Are there any special features of the exam paper or exam conditions?
A brief guide to studying
Thinking critically means considering the following when reading the work of another author. Are the facts and
evidence reliable? What sort of language has been used? Is it objective, in that the author has attempted to present
a balanced viewpoint, or is it biased towards one particular view? Is the author letting the facts speak for themselves,
or are the facts being manipulated to suit a particular purpose? It is a useful skill to be aware not only of the prejudice
and bias of others, but also your own. Try to take a step back and be aware that there are many sides to any debate
A useful checklist to employ here, are the Six ‘W’s:
• WHO? Who is the author? Think about his or her background, class, age, ethnicity and gender; all these factors
can give us useful clues as to an author’s “take” on a particular subject.
• WHY? Why has the author produced a piece of writing? Is it for profit, to inform or to advertise, or is it an
attempt to change people’s opinions?
• WHAT? What is the writing about, what does it say?
• WHEN? When was the piece written? Was it written at the time of an event or a long time afterwards?
• WHERE? Where was the writing published? For example, in a popular newspaper or magazine, or in a specialist
journal that is read by fewer people?
• WHO FOR? Who are the intended audience? This can give us some major clues as to the author’s approach,
because any piece of writing has a target audience, and newspapers in particular tend to aim at specific social
classes and groups with their own political views.
Taking notes in a class
There is such a thing as passive and active listening. If you are a passive listener, the chances are you are letting the
words wash over you and your mind is on other things; this is reflected in your body language, slouching down in
your seat, glazed eyes, doodling or playing with your mobile phone. To get the best out of classes, lectures and
seminars, you need to adopt a positive frame of mind and persuade yourself that you want to get the best out of the
session, so be prepared with notepad and pens, and make yourself comfortable. Also have a bottle of water handy
– the brain works better when it is hydrated.
You cannot write down everything the lecturer says. If you attempt to do this, you will find that you are several steps
behind and that you are trying to recall what was said as opposed to listening to what is currently being said. Mind
maps and spider diagrams can be useful, but, more often than not, linear notes in the form of short sentences,
quotations and bullet points work very well. Remember these are to prompt you; treat your notes like signposts.
Listen out for concepts, theories, dates, the names of important thinkers and titles of recommended texts. You might
like to develop your own shorthand, but more importantly make sure your notes are legible; there is nothing worse
than not being able to read your own handwriting! Space out your notes rather than cramming them into the smallest
space possible, that way they are more attractive to the eye and it is easier to come back to them. Experiment and
do what works for you.
Taking notes from a text
Where to start is always the six-million-dollar question. We are bombarded with information from all directions, so
how do we decide what best to use? A research journal can be helpful; here you can jot down the title of a book or
journal, including author, title, publisher, date of publication, ISBN number and shelf reference. Alternatively, invest
in some small filing cards and note down book details, including what you found useful. There is nothing more
frustrating than trying to remember a useful quotation or where you read something.
If you find a chapter that is particularly helpful, photocopy it and use a highlighter pen to mark important passages.
Likewise, look at the author’s references and find out where the author got his or her own ideas from. If you find a
bibliography helpful and there are texts you might like to follow up, photocopy it and use it for future reference.
You cannot possibly read every academic text in existence – life is too short! Familiarise yourself with the school,
college or university library, browse, read the blurb on the dust jacket, look at the contents and the index.
Sometimes you will find that a book contains only a passing reference to your particular subject matter and on other
occasions you’ll find a real gem. Get used to skimming through books and taking from them what you need. The
Internet is a useful resource; search engines like Google are invaluable, but must be used with discernment and
care. Not all the information is trustworthy or reliable.
Some key points when it comes to writing essays.
• Read the question carefully and decide what the question is asking you to do.
• Jot down any ideas that occur to you – anything at all; just get them down on paper.
• At this stage, look at your ideas and start to link them up. Think of sequences of ideas and how one point
naturally leads to another, so that your plan begins to form a basic structure and each point follows on logically
from the previous idea.
• Now think about the sort of evidence you can use in support of the points you have made. When using
quotations, make sure they are relevant to the point you are making. When you mention an idea, make sure you
follow that point through and explain it fully. Remember: Point – Evidence – Evaluation.
• At this stage, you have not begun writing your essay, what you are doing is gathering material. Look upon it as
a cook getting ingredients together before preparing a meal. Give some thought to your conclusion; if you know
how you are going to conclude, this will give your writing a sense of direction. This will help you avoid the
temptation to waffle or repeat yourself.
• Now you can begin writing. The opening paragraph of an essay is the introduction. It is here that you introduce
your reader to what the essay is going to address. You might start by giving your interpretation of the question
and the issues you will be dealing with. An introduction should make your reader want to read on, so keep your
introduction focused and to the point.
• Come back to your list of points and the evidence you have found to back them up. Use this as a checklist, and
make your points paragraph by paragraph. A paragraph is an indication of a break between one topic and the
next. Work through your points steadily before steering your essay through to the conclusion.
• When writing your conclusion, do not introduce new evidence, because you have already done this in the main
body of the essay. A conclusion is where you tie up all the loose threads so that your essay “feels” complete.
Re-reading your introduction is useful if you feel a bit lost, because you can just summarise the points you have
made, but feel satisfied that you have done what you said you were going to do, and that you have answered
• Put the essay away and come back to it a day or so later. Read your essay aloud, as if you were in front of the
class. If you pause or stumble over your words, or are not sure what you mean, your reader is likely to feel the
same. It is at this stage that you can tidy up spelling mistakes or any clumsy grammatical errors, and make sure
your essay flows nicely from point to point and comes to an obvious conclusion.
• If you feel satisfied with your efforts, then the chances are your reader will feel the same.
Presentations are challenging but they can be a great deal of fun and do a great deal to build your self-confidence.
The secret of success, like essay writing, is to prepare thoroughly. Here is a small check list that will aid
• Prepare some bullet points on cards. Reading out a presentation from a script can make the liveliest material
seem dull. It is wise to rehearse your presentation and make sure you stick to the time allotted.
• Make sure that you have a clear introduction that captures your audience’s attention.
• Make four or five points in a short presentation. This gives you time to explain them. If you try to build too many
points in, you will run the risk of running out of time.
• Arrive at a definite conclusion, so that your presentation comes to a natural end.
• If you are using visual aids, make sure that there will be the appropriate technology available for this, and that
you know how to operate it.
• When nervous, it is easy to gabble, or else forget to breathe. Take some deep breaths, centre yourself and give
yourself time to get set up before you start speaking. This is a good way of getting a “feel” of your audience. It
is a good idea to have a bottle of water handy because you may get a dry mouth.
• Try to smile at your audience. You might not feel like it, but it lifts the atmosphere and makes you appear calm
and assured. The chances are, people will smile back and this will ease your nerves.
• Speak clearly and try to move about. If you stand rooted to the spot, your body language can appear very rigid
and this increases nerves. Describe words using gestures, as this helps you feel in control.
• Try to look at your audience. This can be difficult, but it is important as it helps you to gauge them and their
• When you finish, ask if anyone has any questions and give clear and concise answers; thank your audience for
their attention and then breathe a huge sigh of relief!
Doing well in exams
Top tips for before the exam
• Forward Planning – don’t leave it until the last minute, develop an action plan or timetable and give yourself
plenty of time. Revision is best in short bursts; organise your course notes, and make revision notes in the form
of bullet points. Identify key themes, concepts and examples and concentrate on those areas you know you
can do full justice to.
• Try keeping notes on cards, or in a pocket book; something that can be taken out and looked over when sitting
on a train or bus. Acronyms are a useful device, they are words that are formulated out of a string of words and
can help you remember things quickly.
• Try writing an essay and timing yourself; look over old exam papers and get an idea of the type of questions
you are likely to be asked. Writing a timed essay gets you used to planning and writing an answer within a
• Use your time productively; it is easy to be distracted by friends, the phone and the lure of the TV! If you give
yourself time to revise, say an hour a day over a two-week period, this is going to be easier than trying to squash
it all in the day before the exam, and a lot less stressful.
• Resist last minute revision or cramming; the evening before your exam, try to relax and have a good night’s sleep.
Top tips for the day of the exam
• On the morning of the exam, allow yourself more time that usual to get to the exam venue, this way you will feel
calmer and in control. Try and eat something, you might not feel like it, but it is preferable to your stomach
gurgling away in a silent exam hall!
• Try and remain focused and keep a lid on those nerves; do not let yourself get distracted by hysterical friends
questioning you on what you have revised or else speculating on what sort of questions are likely to come up,
after all, you will all know soon enough.
• Turn off the mobile phone, take several pens and pencils in with you, and a bottle of water and some sweets –
resist gum because there’s nowhere to put it once you become tired of it! Forget the waistline, sweets give you
an energy boost and provide comfort!
• Listen to the invigilator’s instructions and take off your watch and lay it on the desk where you can see it.
When you hear the dreaded words, “You may turn over your papers,” don’t be tempted to snatch at the first
question you see, calmly read all the questions and make sure you understand how many questions you have
to answer and from what section. Pick the question you know you can do full justice to and how much time
to give yourself.
• Pay no attention to the sight of people writing furiously, read the question carefully and understand what is
being asked of you. Sketch a rough plan or outline and then begin writing. Remember no one expects War
and Peace. All they will require is a legible and well argued essay, employing the relevant facts and concepts.
Keep an eye on the time and if you feel you are running out of time, write some notes to indicate how you would
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