How to Keep a Learning Diary to Make the Most of Study Prep

Make the most out of your plans and study preparation by keeping a learning diary. You should have a class timetable, with hand-in dates, a preparation reading program with links to exam questions, and possibly a reading group timetable.

This could be a conventional desk-type diary or a simple note-book. Although lap tops are very convenient, they can’t be used quite everywhere and jottings are easier to add to paper – especially in the middle of the night. A page or double-page spread for each day is best, with the smaller weekly timetable available to refer to at the beginning.

The weekly timetable shows the balance of classes, heavy and light days, days when you have to get up early and days when it will be tempting to sleep in. If possible, leave most of the week-end free for non-study matters, though you might want to swap a Saturday afternoon of study for some study-free hours during the week.

Wednesday afternoons usually have no classes to allow time for participation in sport, but you don’t have to do sports on Wednesdays, as long as you have a balance of activities. Such a balance is easier to achieve on a weekly basis, which is why the timetable is useful to have to hand within your Learning Diary.

The learning diary can work as both a daily organiser and a planner to remind you what you have to do, where you should be and as a place to note items like names and email addresses. It also functions as a personal diary to note your thoughts and reactions to what and how you’ve studied, help you chart the processes and procedures you’ve been through.

If you had a good essay mark and another not so good, you can look back through your learning diary for any significant differences in the processes that you underwent for each to help you understand why one essay was better than the other.

It is not easy to be aware of the processes and changes that happen during learning and it can be surprising to see where you were even a month ago, and how much you have learned (or changed) since.

The Learning diary encourages reflection, and in the rush to get things done, it is easy to throw out the baby with the bath water. Reflection can include notes on how long things took to do and what the payback was, increased confidence or help you to see when to ask specific questions and who to ask.

Putting what’s inside outside makes it easier to take a long, hard and more dispassionate look. Everyone is different, but the following are some possible points to include in your learning diary.

  • Work to hand in today: You need to note what it is, the time it has to be in, and where to hand it in.

  • Pre-class preparation: Where and when you’re doing it, and with whom.

  • Questions and comments relating to reading and preparation: Anything you’ve noted from the reading you’ve already done for today’s classes, including anything that is not clear.

  • Expectations of what the class will cover: Jot down your ideas based on the lecture title, say, and the recommended reading.

  • Comments and impressions after class and after reflecting on class notes: How far the class answered the questions prepared beforehand, any other points to raise in a seminar or with a tutor.

  • Comments and impressions of classmates in after-class or reading group discussions: How far these add to the points you have raised yourself and whether there are still problems. If problems do still exist, note what you can do about them.

  • General evaluation of the topics studied so far and possible ideas for essay or other assessed work on the topics: Note points which might link to exams or other ideas or links. Comment on books you have read and very importantly, record the bibliographical details, page, and chapter numbers for future reference.

  • Reminders of resources you need: These include books to reserve, collect or return, websites to check, people to contact and journals to read (these usually can’t be taken out of the library). Also, you could remind yourself to ask your subject tutor if you can borrow copies of texts from her.

  • Reflections on what you’ve learned today: Note any impressions which were very different from what you expected; anything exciting and warranting more research, perhaps for assessed work; anything interesting about the methodology or way of teaching, or perhaps how you learned from a classmate. Include any new ways of doing things you tried out – whether useful or not – and any study tips you learned which saved time.

  • Reflections on value-for-time of various ways of learning: Decide whether you had any preferences, (for example, working alone or in a group or pair). Note what was good, what was difficult, what was useful or interesting. Keep a record of how long certain activities took.

  • Records of formal feedback: Note any grades or assessment comments received today and where they are filed.

  • Updated information: Note the email address and phone numbers of any new members of the seminar or study group.

Some subjects of study may, in addition to your own learning diary, ask you to keep a separate learning (or learner) diary, for that particular subject to be part of the formal assessment procedure. You may be asked to write up your diary notes into a report of your experience of attending a particular taught course.

As this experience is a process over time, your diary notes may record how at first (with dates) you disliked a subject because you were not confident of your ability, but how you asked more questions and became more confident and your marks improved. Then you enjoyed the subject more.

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