Self-guided study | Advice for Young People | Jigsaw

Getting used to self-guided study

Getting used to self-guided study

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

As a result of Covid-19, many colleges have introduced blended learning. Much of the curriculum can be done from home. Students have to motivate themselves to engage with this way of learning.

This can feel overwhelming. Some students are finding themselves procrastinating or maybe even giving up on study.

At times it can feel like we have no control with coursework. Assignments, exams and deadlines can feel relentless.

Close up of a young girl writing in a notebook

Self-guided study

Self-guided study is not something that comes naturally to many of us. It is a skill that can take time and practice to develop. Being prepared and having a goal in sight can help.

Without the motivation of an exam coming up, it may feel like studying is a pointless chore. As with going to the gym, sometimes the hardest part is actually getting up and going. But afterwards, we can feel even better than we thought. This creates a positive reward cycle. Self-directed learning is similar. It’s is about taking ownership, responsibility and most importantly, taking control back.

There are a few different strategies that you can try to help motivate yourself. Have a look through some of our suggestions to make the most of your self-directed learning:

A simple strategy to help you change your outlook and keep motivated is to set SMART goals.

Changing our mindset

A bad experience with a particular subject or lecturer can impact our view of our ability. When we believe we’re not good at something, then we are more likely to believe it’s pointless putting in the effort.

Changing your mindset and the way you approach studying, does the opposite. It allows us to believe that improvement is possible. Challenge negative thoughts of “I can’t do this, I don’t get it so there’s no point” with “I will continue to try, learn from mistakes, and seek help if I need it”.

A simple strategy to help you change your outlook and keep motivated is to set SMART goals.

Having a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and how to get there reinforces the mindset that it is possible. It gives you a clear plan of action on how you are going to approach study. This can also help with anxiety and procrastination when it comes to self-directed study.

Dart board with dark in bullseye target

Study environment

A messy study space can make it harder to concentrate. This can be the desk that you work at, or the desktop on your computer. Lots of unnecessary textbooks or open tabs can create distraction. When procrastinating, the smallest things can seem entertaining. Take a few minutes to tidy your environment to better focus on content that you need to be studying.

Apps like Forest can help by blocking your access to social media, and limit your ability to look at non-education websites.

Exercise to get going

Heading off to do some exercise may seem counterproductive instead of studying, but it can help to improve productivity. Most of the time when we’re unsure of how or where to start, we sit at our desks feeling stuck.

Begin your study session with a walk or a quick YouTube workout. This can help by giving you the feeling you’ve gotten something done. Feeling a sense of accomplishment will carry over to when you hit the books. Momentum from achievements, regardless of how small, can be a catalyst for study. Plus, we know that exercise can help our mental health too.

If you know you work best in short spurts, use that strength to your advantage.

Group study

To keep on track, planning an online study group can be helpful. You can all choose to cover a specific topic, and chat about it together. Or you can pick a theme and work out problems as a group.

Be mindful of how the group dynamic will impact your studies as well. Chatting with others who are stressed can increase our own stress levels. Make sure you’re comfortable with those on the calls and feel that everyone will contribute equally.

If you find something just isn’t sinking in or it’s really hard to find the right words for your assignment, make a note of it, and move on.

Study schedule

Planning and committing

When getting started, it can seem impossible to know where to begin and this feeling can grow into dread or lack of confidence. Manage this by breaking down tasks and planning ahead. When you plan and write down study goals, you’re committing to the task. Focus on one task at a time as it allows your brain to concentrate better and reduce anxiety.

Use of time

Studying for end of year exams or writing a thesis are big tasks that that seem far away. Understandably, it can be difficult to keep motivated over a long period of time. Figure out how to use your time most effectively.

If you know you work best in short spurts, use that strength to your advantage. Set a timer for 20 minutes and focus on one task for that time, with a five-minute break afterwards. Then recommit to another 20 minutes on a different topic.

Or you may prefer to dedicate a big chunk of time to get a piece of work over the line so you don’t have to worry about it later.

If you find something just isn’t sinking in or it’s really hard to find the right words for your assignment, make a note of it, and move on. You can always go back and edit later, but keeping yourself moving is a great way to maintain motivation.

Study approaches

There are many different wants to approach studying. Switching it up by trying different ways can help you figure out what works best for you. Some study approaches are:

  • Reading over notes
  • Making up songs or acronyms to help you remember
  • Writing out and answering practice questions
  • Using mind maps or visuals
  • Re-writing and condensing notes to help you review and focus on the important information
  • Find ways the topic applies to your own life to make it feel more relatable
  • Read to yourself out loud, some people remember easier through sound
  • Look at or write a case study to help the topic come to life
  • Flashcards can be created using notes or visuals
  • Reading overwork or notes that your friends did and have a chat about it after
  • After reading, writing out the content in your own words, or as you would explain the information to a small child, can simplify topics and make them easier to remember
  • Watch YouTube videos, documentaries or listen to Podcasts related to the subject.

Visualisation

Visualisation is a powerful learning tool. It is basically your brain rehearsing completing difficult tasks. This lays down pathways that make it easier to do the task in reality. Visualising yourself studying and doing well on an assignment or exam can help you achieve that goal.

Keeping the end goal in sight is great, but it is equally as important to have short-term goals along the way.

Reward yourself

An episode of your latest Netflix obsession, snacks, or ordering something online that you’ve been saving for can all be rewards for achieving goals. Reminding yourself of your chosen rewards, big or small, can be a useful nudge when you get distracted.

Keeping the end goal in sight is great, but it is equally as important to have short-term goals along the way. Take a moment to ask yourself, would you prefer smaller goals daily, or a bigger goal at the end of the week/month? Make sure to use breaks and rewards when you are planning how you will study. You got this!

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