Independent study is a new concept for many students when they enter the realm of university. Personally, I was unsure of, and anxious about independent study when I started. Who would be there to remind me of when my assignments were due, which books should I read and how could I cramp the content of two massive textbooks into my brain a week university starts? These are only some of the frightening questions that cluttered my mind.
Perhaps I should start with a brief introduction to independent study at university; it simply involves you taking responsibility for your education. As cliché as it sounds, you are expected to explore work that is relevant to your course, so you actually know what you are talking about (winging it only gets you so far, believe me). You will need to develop effective learning strategies in an environment where you are guided briefly on various topics. When I say ‘briefly’ I refer to the lectures, and the abundance of lecturers on hand to answer any queries you have about the work. So, do not worry, you are not all alone! Independent study can range from asking questions in lectures to writing an entire dissertation on a subject of personal interest. The quantity of independent study expected from you typically increases as you progress further in your course.
It can all sound rather daunting, but there are (believe it or not) positive benefits to independent study. You can tailor your learning to your learning style, whether that be watching YouTube videos, reading books or making posters. Often essay questions and exam dates are published months in advance so there is space for those who cram minutes before the deadline (not advised), those who create Gantt charts from the get go, or for those sensible people who do something in the middle. All this is important because independent study prepares you for the working world, as you are required to take responsibility for your own learning and manage your time effectively by balancing your social, work and university life.
To help you start thinking about independent study, here are a select few tips that I have found helpful:
- “Break it down.”
When approaching that massive textbook, break it down like 90’s hip-hop. Take it chapter by chapter or even page by page – you are more likely to digest the information if it is in manageable chunks.
- “Practice makes perfect.”
A bit of an obvious but important idiom. This can mean practicing exam questions or going over your lecture notes to test your knowledge. Revise topics repetitively could help reduce those ‘you know nothing Jon Snow’ panic attacks.
- “When will my reflection show who I am inside.”
Learn from the words of a wise Disney princess and reflect on your feedback. What could you do more of next time? What would you add, or do less of? This can help you get higher grades for next time and make your independent study more specific (and more importantly, bring honour to us all).
- “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Life does not have to be as glum as The Shinning. While being prepared and organised is critical, make sure you set yourself rewards to keep you motivated. A piece of candy a chapter works well for me but a healthier approach is always advisable.
- “We’re all in this together.”
Seek comfort in the mutual panic of independent study you and your fellow classmates endure. You are not the only one trying to figure this all out. For most students, finding the balance between basketball and music is very challenging but if Troy Bolton can do it, so can you.