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Developing your skills for study

Returning to study can be daunting for many people, but if you need to develop your basic skills or study skills, there’s plenty of help available.

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The skills you need for study

Although the exact skills you require depend on the course (e.g. for science you need maths skills) there are a number of skills that are needed no matter what subject you study. 

Reading and writing

Academic reading and writing is different from the reading and writing you will have done at school or work. Academic reading requires you to get specific information from texts and then use this in your writing to discuss issues, and develop arguments and ideas. 

Along with your academic reading and writing skills, you will need to be able to reference correctly – you can find examples of how to cite references here. Your course information will include full details on what is expected of you. 

The ‘Improve your skills’ section of Lifepilot has information on academic readingwriting academic essays, reports etc and referencing.

Research skills

You will need to be able to find and access information both in print form and electronically. Your university or college will usually provide information and guidance on this as part of your induction. You will be shown how to use the library and how to access the resources you need for your course.

Thinking skills

Higher education courses require you to start thinking in new ways. You will be presented with new knowledge and ideas and will be encouraged to explore your own thoughts. You will be asked to be critical, to evaluate and to analyse. Find out more about thinking skills here.

Communication/interpersonal skills

To get the most from your studies, you will need to develop your communication and interpersonal skills including giving presentations to your peers and tutors, and working effectively in groups

Planning and time management skills

You will need to be able to manage your workload and your time – especially if you are juggling working with studying part-time and/or have family/caring responsibilities. You can find lots of tips on time management online.

Before you start a higher education level course

If you feel you need to develop your skills, there are various activities to help in the Improve your skills section of Lifepilot; you can also find advice in the Starting with few qualifications section. Support with your basic and study skills etc is also available through:

  • The Open University website
  • local colleges, which may run relevant courses
  • certain university and college websites, which may provide materials and tools like the 'Stepping into Higher Education', produced by the University of Bath and The Good Study Guide from The Open University (both useful foranybody thinking about higher education)
  • free online courses to help with your study skills or in subjects that relate to your course (this will not only build your knowledge but will look good on your application to higher education)
  • the Skills Health Check from the National Careers Service – has quizzes and activities to help you explore your current skills.

When you are on a higher education level course

Universities and colleges are keen to offer study skills support to their students. They have specially trained study skills/student advisers to help students with their study skills, e.g. to write essay and prepare for exams. They also offer short courses to help with particular skills. Search the website of the university or college where you intend to study to find out what sort of support they provide.

As you work through your course you’re likely to get better at academic reading and writing, and other skills, and of course, your tutors will support you in this with feedback and advice.

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