Study Skills

You may not have studied for some time, or perhaps have never been asked to write an essay, a report, do a presentation, or even take notes in class. These are all part of being an effective student, and help is at hand to make things easier for you.

You may want to get more resources in the learning resource centre, or attend a workshop in the Learning Resource Centre.

If you are not sure how to develop your study skills, or what is expected of you on your course, please speak to your course lecturer who will point you in the right direction.

Have a look at Essential Student Skills UHI's website which contains a portfolio of information and resources that can be used at key points in your studies.

Time Management

Your time is limited and should be distributed between your subjects and leisure. A Weekly Planner is a good way of making good use of your time.

Firstly fill in your course times. Next, it is a good idea to put in your leisure time and finally your study time. Distribute your study time fairly to each subject. Be careful not to spend too much time on the area you like at the expense of those that you find difficult or dislike. When planning your time, you should also be aware of important dates, e.g. start and finish of a semester, dates of assessments and exams. See your academic calendar. For regular use, you could photocopy the Weekly Planner.

Get Motivated

Begin with something interesting or easy as this will give you a feeling of satisfaction. You may wish to start by reviewing the day’s classes or recalling the main points of your last study session. If you are not really in the mood for studying and feel you would not achieve much, don’t try to study. Do something enjoyable and try again later. However, it is very important that you recognise the difference between this mood and just putting off study.

Set Goals

It is very helpful to keep in mind your long-term goals (career, College course) and your short-term goals (each day, week, semester). Both long-term and short-term goals matter and it may be helpful to write them down. You may not be used to studying and therefore you must set goals which are realistic and attainable. If your goals are either too easy or unattainable, you could become apathetic and lose interest in the topic.

Taking Notes

Good note taking is a skill which requires practice. Use these helpful hints to help you on your way. Good notes are:

  • Effective - to be effective notes must serve your purpose.
  • Short - notes that cover everything and do not miss out anything are pretty useless. Remember you will not be able to use your notes any more effectively than the original if they are too long.
  • Structured - structuring your notes shows you how you think about and understand the topic.
  • Bold - your notes should be bright, stand out and be full of features that are helpful to you

Get Organised

Folders, pens and paper are essential to good note taking! At the top of each page, write the title of the book/lecture, author/lecturer and date. If taking notes from a book, it may be helpful to note any page reference. This information will help you when you come to revise and if you want to check back on the facts.


Good notes use a system of headings.

  • Main Ideas - these could be written in capital letters, underlined or highlighted.
  • Sub-Headings - the first letter could be written in capitals or numbers, circles or different colours could be used.
  • Key Points - don’t try and copy down large chunks of text. Take brief notes, or make drawings. Note in full any formulae or calculations you need later.

Writing Essays and Reports

When writing a report you must have:

  • A title page - the title, your name, who the report is for, the date it was written
  • A contents page - this gives the page number of each section and the title of each section

You must split the report into these sections:

  • Terms of reference - this should say who the report is for, what it is about, who requested it, when it was requested and when it was completed. It should also mention that recommendations were required.
  • Procedures - this section should state how you went about gathering your information.
  • Findings - this is the main section of the report where show the information you have discovered.
  • Conclusions - this is a short summary of your findings.
  • Recommendations - this is where, based on your findings, you state what should be done in future to improve the situation – the recommendations should be made up of five or six short, sharp statements – they should all contain the word “should”.
  • Appendixes - diagrams or information you feel is important but is too detailed to put in the findings – your report does not have to have appendixes.
  • Bibliography - a list of books and websites you use author, title, publisher, date of publication.

You must use appropriate, formal language in the report:

  • Do not use colloquial language - avoid words you use in talking – “okay”.
  • Do not use contractions - don’t, can’t.
  • Do not use “I” - do not say “I visited the library,” say “The library was visited.” Do not say “I recommend” but “It was recommended”.
  • Do not use abbreviations without explaining them.
  • You should try to break up your information:
  • Give sections headings.
  • Break sections into subsections.
  • Give subsections headings.
  • Use bullet point or numbers.
  • Keep paragraphs short.
  • Use tables and diagrams.

Try to get your information from a variety of sources.


We recommend that you use the Harvard Reference System when citing other people's work in your assignments. This is a standard way of listing your sources which allows you to acknowledge where your ideas came from and lets your readers follow up the resources you used in your writing.

Each time you refer to another person's work, you should list the author and the date of the work in brackets. When using a direct quotation, the page number should also be included. A full reference list, arranged alphabetically by author, should then be compiled at the end of your paper. This should contain not just author and date, but the full bibliographic details for every source used.

Harvard is a simple system, which ensures that your essay or paper doesn't get cluttered up with footnotes or full references. The use of the short author/date system makes it easy to find the full details in the reference list.

The University of the Highlands and Islands have produced an excellent guide to using the Harvard System. Try this easy-to-use guide to help you to produce references in the correct format -