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Cheat Sheet

Study Skills For Dummies (UK Edition)

Studying needn’t be stressful. With the right approach, you’ll find that you can handle research, essay writing and exam preparation with ease. Use this Cheat Sheet to find out how to make the most of your time and improve your grades.

Feedback Form for Your Coursework Assignments

Having a record of the feedback from your work assignments is extremely useful. Feedback enables you to see how your study skills are progressing, and what areas you need to build on. If your subject area doesn’t already use one, ask your tutors if they can fill this form in for you for each piece of written work you submit.

Name Good Satisfactory Needs Improvement Suggestions
Answers question
Refers to appropriate sources
Balance between sources and own ideas
Argument
Analysis
Reasoned conclusion
Use of charts, diagrams and artwork
General layout and presentation
Punctuation and grammar

Key Critical Thinking Skills for Great Essay-Writing

Changing the way you consider and process information can help you to improve the structure and clarity of your arguments and conclusions. This list gives a few tips you can use to boost your critical thinking. You’re well on your way to being a genius at essay-writing.

  • Reflecting on what you’re told. Take time out to consider your reaction to information. Do you agree with it? Are you surprised or excited by it? Do you think it links to other information you have? If you disagree or disbelieve it, why? What would convince you to agree with or believe in it?

  • Observing how information is presented. Is it in a paragraph, a table, an illustration, a graph, map or chart? Can you think better ways to improve how you present information you have read about? Which formats would and wouldn’t be appropriate for the content?

  • Comparing new information with previous knowledge. Does the new information extend or confirm your previous knowledge, and how does it do this? Does it add more instances, or contradict it with results that are different?

  • Considering the status or reputation, skills and abilities of who is giving you information. Always ask what the possible bias of any information source might be: What’s in it for them? Is the information source reliable, and how can you be sure of this?

  • Distinguishing between fact, hypothesis and opinion. Facts are truths and realities, and what evidence exists to prove. Hypotheses are theories or ideas which need to be tested by academic enquiry. Opinion is personal, based on impressions, experience and perhaps limited research – you can’t demonstrate opinions objectively.

  • Identifying the conclusion of an argument. Conclusions are what you’re left with after a discussion or argument. Conclusions, like the truth, aren’t always simple.

  • Identifying the stages in an argument. The stages in an argument show the links and thought process between the information given and the conclusion.

  • Evaluating the quality of the evidence presented. How good is the evidence? Where and who did it come from? How was it acquired? Always ask who gains and who loses.

  • Being aware of what hasn’t been discussed and wondering why not. Sometimes data or key points of information are missing from a data set. Always ask yourself what the data isn’t telling you, as well as what it is.

  • Analysing and evaluating the argument. Evaluating data means giving it a value – not quite marks out of ten but sufficient to answer these questions: Is the argument or conclusion good? Does it explain all the circumstances or only some? Does it have flaws, or leave awkward examples out? How could I make it better?

  • Making inferences, decisions and judgements. Making an inference is when you draw a conclusion from what’s suggested but not explicitly stated. Decisions usually involve choices, and come after you’ve evaluated the different possibilities. Judgements, similarly, come after evaluations and usually state a preference for one thing over another after you’ve investigated both.

  • Weighing up the evidence and presenting your own argument. Weighing up the evidence includes evaluating and judging it – it could be that none of the theories or arguments given seem to work in all cases, so you may have to propose an argument of your own.

Learning from Your Experiences While Studying

In the academic system, it’s very important to be aware of what you’ve learned from an experience. If you’ve attempted to do something and it hasn’t quite worked, make sure you honestly evaluate the following:

  • What you did: Your research questions, research and methods.

  • What happened: Did you get the answers you expected? What problems did you come up against and how did you solve them?

  • Why you think it happened: Could you have prepared better for any predicted or expected problems?

  • What you should have done and could use to make improvements next time: Were you too ambitious? Did you miscalculate the time you needed? Should you have used a different method?

Defining Common Exam Instruction Words

When answering an exam question, it’s easy to misread what’s being asked and simply answer it in the wrong way. Your argument may be logical, thoughtful and well researched, but if you aren’t tailoring your response to the question, you stand to lose some serious marks! Below are definitions of some common instruction words.

Instruction word What you have to do
Analyse Take apart an idea, concept or statement and examine and criticise its sub-parts in detail. You have to be methodical and logical.
Assess Describe a topic’s positive and negative aspects and say how useful or successful it is, or consider its contribution to knowledge, events or processes (this is usually about how important something is).
Criticise Point out a topic’s mistakes or weaknesses as well as its favourable aspects. Give a balanced answer (this will involve some analysis first).
Compare Put items side by side to see their similarities and differences – a balanced (objective) answer is required.
Contrast Emphasise the differences between two things.
Define Give the meaning of an idea, either a dictionary definition or from an academic authority in your subject of study (technical definition).
Describe Give details of processes, properties, events and so on.
Discuss Describe, explain, give examples, points for and against, then analyse and evaluate the results.
Evaluate Similar to discuss, but with more emphasis on a judgement in the conclusion.
Examine Take apart and describe a concept in great detail.
Explain Give detailed reasons for an idea, principle or result, situation, attitude and so on. You may need to give some analysis as well.
Illustrate Give concrete examples – including figures or diagrams. Illustrate is usually added on to another instruction.
Interpret Explain and comment on the subject and make a judgement (evaluation).
Justify Give reasons to support a statement – it may be a negative statement, so be careful!
List Provide an itemised series of parts, reasons or qualities, possibly in a table.
Prove/disprove Provide evidence for or against and demonstrate logical argument and reasoning – you often have to do this for abstract or scientific subjects.
Relate Emphasise the links, connections and associations, probably with some analysis.
Review Analyse and comment briefly, in organised sequences – sentences, paragraphs or lists – on the main aspects of a subject.
State Give the relevant points briefly – you don’t need to make a lengthy discussion or give minor details.
Suggest Give possible reasons – analyse, interpret and evaluate. (This is also the verb most commonly used to quote another author.)
Summarise or outline Just give the main points, not the details.
Trace Give a brief description of the logical or chronological stages of the development of a theory, process, a person’s life and so on. Often used in historical questions.
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