Tag Archives: study skills

5 Tips for Postgraduate Study

Studying at a deskThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Callum Dawson, a writer for Mears Student Life, a trusted provider of purpose-built student accommodation across the UK.

The jump from secondary school or high school to sixth-form? It’s a big one. How about going from sixth-form to university? Even bigger. There’s not much talk about the jump from university to postgraduate study, though, but there should be, because it’s monumental.

The change can be a big culture-shock if you’re not prepared. Postgraduate study requires far more independent learning than undergraduate study, not to mention a great deal of self-motivation. For this reason, we’ve collected five tips for you that will help you to succeed at postgraduate level. Here they are!

1. Pick a subject you love (but can still be objective about)

There’s a unique point to be made with this one. On the one hand, you want to study something that you’re passionate about, and something that you obviously enjoy. On the other hand, you need to be able to step back from the subject at hand and view it with impartiality. You need to be critical with the work. This is important if, for example, you’re studying English literature and you choose to write a dissertation on your favourite novel. Is that really the best choice – the one book you’ve held dearest all these years? Probably not. You could be too close to it – bias is the scourge of the academic community, remember!

2. Prepare for epic amounts of reading (epic in the actual sense of the word!)

At postgraduate level, there’s a lot more focus on reading around your subject. As an undergraduate, your reading list will consist of a limited number of texts, with the option of reading around the subject. You might not expect such an increase in workload when you move on to postgrad work, but the reality is that you have to make a big step up.

You need to show that you’re capable of extensive research and can go down avenues that you found on your own. It’s all about working independently and trying to do things a little differently.

When you’re planning your dissertation or thesis, pick a starting point (a core text, or maybe an overarching question that you intend to answer) and plot a few points which are mentioned to investigate. As you do this, you’ll land upon ideas that you may not have come across before. Basically, be prepared to read as much as possible! Postgraduate work is hard, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

3. Talk about your work with others – it helps!

Although independent learning is, as we’ve said, important at postgraduate level, you should still engage in group work (as much as you may hate it!). Discussing work with your peers, or even a few family members or friends, will give you some precious outside perspective.

It’s quite common for postgraduate students to get ‘tunnel vision’, which is having too much focus on a single specific point. When you’re so far into your research and you’re so close to the work at hand, it can be difficult to look at the bigger picture. It helps to get outside of your groove every now and then and talk to others! You might come across a few gaps or holes in your theory – ones that you’ve not noticed before.

4. Rethink your strategy

The old phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ doesn’t really apply at postgraduate level. Your revision strategies up to now may have been fine for your A-levels or your undergraduate work, but things are different now.

Your first few months of postgraduate study are perfect for trying new things, whether that’s revision methods that you’ve not tried before or learning-strategies that you’d like to try. Now is the time! The intensity has increased, and you need to be reactive to this.

We can say that what has worked well for you before may not work anywhere near as well for you at postgraduate level. You’re expected to up the ante, all in the name of academic progression.

5. Get a head-start on your reading

You’ll have been told this at undergraduate level, we’re sure, but it’s vital that you actually get a head-start on your reading list at postgraduate level. This is what your summer is for (although you’ll want to spend some time relaxing too!) Get out in the garden or head down to the park, and get yourself ahead of the game. If you are taking a pre-sessional English course before your postgraduate studies, this will help you to get used to the language and study skills you’ll need.

Every little bit helps. Get to grips with the concepts you’ll be tackling, as well as any bits of vocabulary or terminology that you might not be familiar with. You don’t want to start your postgraduate course unprepared, so it’s best if you do some preparation. You’ll thank yourself later!

It’s a big jump, but you can handle it.

With the above tips, we’re confident that you have postgraduate life planned out. With preparation, forward-thinking and plenty of reading, you’ll be in a great position to do your best!

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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What is studying in the UK like for Chinese students? (part 2)

StudyingXiangping Du, Academic Skills Tutor at the University of Hertfordshire, writes her second guest blog post for Prepare for Success and shares more of her experiences of dealing with the challenges faced as a Chinese student in the UK:

I also had to learn to write in different formats for essays and reports. I can still recall the first piece of work I completed, which was an essay. I thought it was good as I used headings, subheadings, and bullet points as clear signposts. However, I was shocked to only get a mere pass of 40%. I realised I had used the wrong format, and referring to the mark, I was shocked because in China, 60% is a pass, and students would normally achieve 80% or 90%. However, it appears that achieving 80% or 90% is quite rare in English universities, and getting 60% or 70% is regarded as a high mark.

Critical evaluation was another key new concept I had to learn in the UK. In China, we used to believe in whatever was published and regarded it as the authority. However, after coming to study in the UK, I learnt to think and write critically, where I had to look into different facets of an issue and ask questions like a detective. I had to synthesis various views from different scholars, analyse and critically evaluate them before presenting my own ‘informed’ opinion. This method of critical evaluation is not easy for an international student because It not only requires critical thinking, but also extensive reading from academic, reliable and credible sources, as well as writing skills such as paraphrasing and synthesising.

In addition, I learnt to manage my time and to study independently which are vital skills because students do not necessarily have classes every day. It’s all too easy to waste time by watching movies, social networking or playing computer games! This was particularly important when I was doing my PhD research as, apart from only a few one-to-one supervisions with my supervisor, there was not any compulsory class to attend.

A lot of assessments in the UK also involve group-work and managing teams can be challenging. I found working with others from different cultures could be challenging, but gradually I learnt that this experience was very valuable for my professional life, and my English language development.

In all, my own experience shows that academic expectations in the Chinese education system are very different from those in the UK. It is very important for Chinese international students to know what to expect beforehand so that they can fully prepare themselves for their study in the UK. This is why I co-authored our book Study Skills for Chinese Students because I know that such a book would really have helped me so much when I first came to study in the UK. I want to make sure that all Chinese students in the UK have this essential information now, about the differences and challenges of UK study, and the academic skills and techniques expected in the UK.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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What is studying in the UK like for Chinese students?

Chinese studentsWhat are the challenges that Chinese students face as international students in the UK? Xiangping Du is an Academic Skills Tutor at the University of Hertfordshire, and in the first of two guest blog posts for Prepare for Success she shares her own experience of dealing with the challenges she faced as a student in the UK. Having studied in both a Chinese and English higher education environment, she understands the academic challenges Chinese students face when they come to study in an English context:

In the past 4 years of study, I have been through many ups and downs. Thanks to a high IELTS score, I did not have to do a pre-sessional preparation course; however, I felt that I was disadvantaged as I missed all the lessons on academic expectations and skills required in an English-speaking environment. Consequently, the first semester was the most challenging, when I had to manage different academic expectations while I was adjusting to a completely different physical environment.

Coming to study in the UK was considered a short-cut after I completed 3 years’ diploma in China. The idea was to spend 1 year on a final year of my undergraduate (UG) degree, and 1 year on my postgraduate (PG) degree. That is to say, within 2 years, I would be able to graduate with a Master’s degree, which would normally need 5 years if I chose to study in China. As a matter of fact, I ended up with the award of PhD after spending 4 years in the UK (1 year on UG and 3 years on a PhD).

The first day coming to the university was very memorable. I was surprised to see so many international students from so many different countries, with different accents and limited English. The first week was International Orientation Week, particularly organised for international students, and home students only came a week later for Induction Week. Nonetheless, l had fun during that week and I participated in various social activities, met many friends from different parts of the world and built my confidence speaking English with other international students.

After the course started, I was surprised that a textbook wasn’t given to us, only a few ‘Module Guides’ which contained only brief information about the course, the assessments, and a long reading list. There were no course textbooks like in China, and I was expected to read widely from books I found for myself, and also journal articles, news items and other database information as recommended in the reading list. The reading was just killing me at the beginning! I was not used to reading full English texts without any Chinese explanation / translation so it often took me ages to finish reading a recommended chapter or an article. Gradually, I learnt to read for ‘gist’ – skim and scan for information – instead of reading every single word, and I also kept a good dictionary with me.

Gradually, my improved reading helped with my writing, although the paraphrasing techniques I had to use in writing, as well as referencing, were other difficult things for me initially. When I used to study in China, I didn’t need to include any references in writing, or acknowledge sources, because we regarded citing others’ work as an honour for them, and we regarded things written by them as available for others to know and to use. However, I learnt that in the English academic world, referencing is a serious matter and if it is not followed properly, students can be accused of ‘plagiarism’ which is a serious academic misconduct issue and has serious consequences. Therefore, referencing is definitely something I had to quickly learn in the UK.

In her next guest blog post, Xiangping discusses more of the challenges she met whilst studying in the UK, especially in academic assignments and critical thinking. Xiangping has co-written Study Skills for Chinese Students with Michael Courtney, who is also an Academic Skills Tutor at the University of Hertfordshire. They have taught Chinese students in China and the West for many years, and using her own experience both as a student and as a Tutor, Xiangping shares strategies for effective study. Chinese students interested in purchasing the book via the Sage website can receive a 25% discount using this code: UK15SM04 (enter it in the promotions code box during the checkout process). This offer is valid until the 20th March 2015.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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