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St Anne's College Library: Study Skills

Welcome Freshers

Congratulations on being accepted to St Anne's! We're looking forward to welcoming you to the College and hope that you will have a happy and fulfilling time here.

Moving from school to university can be a bit of a shock to the system so we've created these pages to help equip you with some of the skills you need to help you succeed in academic life. We recommend taking time before you arrive to read over this study skills page, as it will give you a head start when you arrive in October as life can get very busy in the first few weeks of term!

Time Management

One of the first differences you'll notice between university and school is that you won't have anyone dictating what you should be doing at a given time. Whilst this may sound like a dream come true it does mean that it is down to you to organise yourself and make best use of your time. With such short terms at Oxford it is therefore imperative to learn how to manage your time well!

Top time management tips include:

  • Get a diary and plan out your days or week in advance. 
  • Get into a routine and dedicate specific blocks of time to reading and essay writing, as well as other time for resting and socialising.
  • Make a list of everything you need to do and prioritise your tasks.

Take a look at the University's video below for further advice about how to successfully manage your time.

How to Take Notes Effectively

Taking effective notes in a lecture requires a certain amount of concentration and skill. If handouts are given out it can be tempting to switch off and think that using the handout or other people's notes will be sufficient when it comes to revision. However, following the tips below can help you get the most out of your lectures, as well as getting you ready for exam time:

 

During the lecture 

  • Try to stay engaged and actively listen throughout the lecture! Think about the ideas being discussed and how concepts relate to each other. This will help you digest what you are hearing and remember it later.
  • Don't try to write down every word the lecturer is saying! Often lecturers will begin by outlining what they will be covering in a number of points. Use these points as a framework for making your notes. Listen out for key words that will alert you to the most important points to note down.
  • Don't be a perfectionist! Writing or typing perfect notes in a lecture will waste time and you may miss some important points if you're spending too long time writing out a specific point. Develop your own shorthand & don't worry if you're writing is scruffy. What is important is that you can read your own writing and understand your shorthand when it comes to reviewing your notes later.
  • Make a note of the lecture & date at the top of your notes! This will help you keep your notes more organised and make it easier to review them later.

 

After the lecture

  • Review your notes as soon after the lecture as possible! Turning your lecture notes into clearer summative notes will help you consolidate what was said and also help you see how what you learnt in the lecture can be applied to essays you have to write. Creating clear notes summarising the lecture will also be really useful when it comes to revising for exams.

At university you will be expected to do a great deal of independent reading to prepare for tutorial discussion, to write essays and to prepare for exams. Learning to take notes effectively is therefore an indispensable skill! 

Here are some top tips for taking notes when reading:

  • Start by making a note of the book title(journal article title) /author(s)/publisher/year of publication/page numbers. This will help you keep track of where ideas have come from if you need to reference it in an essay (see referencing & plagiarism section) or if you have to refer back to the text at a later date.
  • Always keep in mind why you are reading e.g. to answer an essay question. This will help you to be selective in what you note down.
  • Avoid copying text verbatim unless you intend to quote a portion of text directly in your essay. Putting ideas from the text into your own words will help you consolidate what you are reading.

For an example of how to take notes from a journal article watch an Oxford student's video below. 

Mind maps are a different way of making notes that can help you grasp connections between ideas and improve your memory. Instead of a traditional linear approach to notes, mind maps start with the central idea or question and then other points radiate outwards on branches. The creative process involved in making mind maps stimulates your brain in a way that will make recalling the information at a later time easier. Mind maps can be especially helpful if you are a visual learner and are useful tools for essay planning and revision, as well as general note taking.

For more information on how to make mind maps watch Tony Buzan's video below. You can also borrow Buzan's book on Mind Maps from the Library. It's located in the Welfare section in Hartland House Library (shelfmark = Welfare 807 BUZ:Min).

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How to Read Effectively

When you get your first reading list you may find it a bit overwhelming and wonder how you can possibly read so much in a short space of time! The secret is that you don't need to read every word of every item listed. Some reading lists will indicate which texts are the most important so clearly you should start with these. 

When it comes to reading effectively here are some top tips:

  • Read the introduction & conclusion first to gauge the relevance and argument of the text.
  • Skim read - keep in mind the question of essay topic so you can pick out key words or themes in the text that are relevant.
  • Use the bibliography and footnotes to identify other key works on the topic.

For more tips on how to read effectively watch an Oxford student's guide in the video below.

Referencing & Plagiarism

What is referencing?

Referencing is an essential part of good academic practice. When you write an essay or dissertation you want to show that you have reviewed the significant literature on the topic and that your work is grounded in established academic research in that area. You also need to make sure you acknowledge other people's works and ideas to avoid plagiarism.

 

How do I reference?

There are several different referencing styles. Your faculty may have a preferred style or you may be free to choose. The most common styles include Harvard, Chicago, Vancouver & MHRA. While the styles differ in their format they all share the following principles:

  • Citation in the body of your work - whenever you refer to someone else's ideas, whether paraphrasing or quoting directly, you acknowledge this either in brackets in the main body of the text or in a footnote depending on the style.
  • A reference list or bibliography - this comes at the end of your work and is a comprehensive list of all the resources you have consulted.

Your faculty may have produced a guide to formatting references for their preferred style. Referencing guides for various styles are also widely available online and the Library also has various style manuals.

If you are confused about referencing or need help with a particular style ask a librarian for help!

 

What is reference management software?

When it comes to writing a dissertation or extended essay you will likely be consulting a large amount of literature and consequently referencing this in your work. Reference management software can help you organise your references, store them in one safe place, insert them directly into your work in the correct format and generate formatted bibliographies. This can save you a huge amount of time and ensures that all of your references consistently follow your chosen referencing style.

There are several different tools you can use, some free and some paid for. For more information take a look at the Bodleian's Guide to Reference Management Software.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is when you use someone else's ideas or works and deliberately pass them off as your own, or directly quote or paraphrase another person's work without acknowledging them. You acknowledge other people's ideas or works by referencing them throughout your own work (see section on referencing in this LibGuide). The University takes plagiarism very seriously and it is treated as a major disciplinary offence. 

 

Finding out more about plagiarism

The University has a great webpage that explains plagiarism in more detail & why you need to take it seriously: https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/academic/guidance/skills/plagiarism

There is also a plagiarism tutorial that you should do on WebLearn:                https://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/portal/site/:skills:generic:avoidplag

(You won't be able to do this until you get to St Anne's, as you will need your Single Sign On username & password to log on).

N.B. There are many websites offering to scan your work in order to detect plagiarism - don't do this! Many of these sites will steal your work to use on essay writing websites.

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Study Skills Books

The Library has many books to help you develop your study skills. Topics include time management, mind mapping, note taking, reading with dyslexia, writing in exams, referencing etc. Many of these can be found in the Welfare section in Hartland House Library (in the entrance area on the left by the photocopier). Others are scattered throughout different sections of the Library. You can look for them on the Library catalogue SOLO. If there are books you would find useful that we don't have speak to Sally or e-mail her at sally.speirs@st-annes.ox.ac.uk.