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Super quick advice

The Super Quick Skills series provides the essential building blocks you need to succeed at university - fast

Written by experienced SAGE study skills and research methods authors, Super Quick Skills is here to the rescue with tried and tested advice to help you on your university journey.

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Plan Your Essay: tips from Phillip C. Shon 

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Why is essay planning an important skill for students to master? 

Students often struggle unnecessarily while writing papers. Before you write anything, you should have a clear idea of the structure, argument, and an outline of what you’ll write in your paper - plan in advance! 

What's the most common mistake students make in this area? 

Merely repeating the claims of others, thereby summarizing the work of others. You should be able to articulate a point of critique that leads to the warrant behind a claim you’re putting forth in your papers.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve their essay planning?

I’d say you should learn how to read social science texts and emulate the argumentative structure of the readings you have found most persuasive and compelling. You should rehearse your writing by reading through sound arguments and plausible claims.

 

Think Critically: tips from Tom Chatfield 

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Why is critical thinking an important skill for students to master?

We’re constantly deluged by ideas and information, today, as well as by other people's arguments and beliefs. Critical thinking is vital in this context - because it offers tools for evaluating claims, seeing through bad arguments and building up our own understanding with confidence. 

What's the most common mistake students make in this area?

It's easy to feel rushed and pressured by the sheer weight of information that’s out there - and to assume that you should always be working through mountains of material, fast. You can end up feeling overwhelmed, distracted and bewildered at the same time. 

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve their critical thinking?

Slow down. Engage with work selectively and strategically. Don't try to read everything: focus on understanding over information. Try to create a calm, uncluttered workspace - and some calm, uncluttered time in each day when you're not multitasking and can think clearly. 

 

Take Great Notes: tips from Mal Leicester and Denise Taylor

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Why is great notetaking an important skill for students to master?

Great notes help you to understand, organise and remember your studies and to produce better assignments and to do efficient revision. 

What's the most common mistake students make in this area? 

The most common mistake is not to redo your notes each time you take some. When you return to your notes you need to find they are clear, easy to read and organised. Another mistake is not to record the source of the notes - for example, the lecture title or the details of the bookmark or paper being referred to.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve how they take notes?

The top tip is to remember three purposes of your notetaking. You need to produce a record of your learning, good material for your assignments and an aid memoir for your revision. 

 

Cite Your Source: tips from Phillip C. Shon

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Why is citing sources an important skill for students to master?

It's good practice to give credit to scholars whose ideas have been used in order to complete one's paper. Not citing sources appropriately also has the potential to lead to charges of academic misconduct.

What's the most common mistake students make in this area?

The most common mistake is not knowing what to cite. You must learn the difference between a summary and a finding/argument before you cite your sources using the respective conventions of their disciplines.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve how they cite sources? 

I'd say that you should learn how to read social science texts first, and then organise your reading into accessible and visual formats so that you don’t waste time looking through what you have already read. 

 

Manage Your Money: tips from Bob Smale 

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Why is money management an important skill for students to master? 

Your money is almost certainly going to be limited, so it's important to make and monitor a budget, including all your income and expenditure plus a contingency for emergencies. 

What's the most common mistake students make in this area? 

Not asking for help when they get into financial problems. The sooner you do this, the sooner you can start to resolve the situation and avoid racking up further interest and charges.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve how they manage money?

Avoid the temptation of spending too much money too soon by sticking to a weekly budget. If you overspend one week, make sure you economise the next.

 

Find Your Source: tips from Gary Thomas 

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Why is finding sources an important skill for students to master?

Much of your work will be assessed on the basis of the breadth and depth of your reading, so it’s important to know where to find the best literature on your subject. You need to be able to find relevant sources quickly and to assess their quality. Work that demonstrates wide reading gets good marks.

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

The most common mistake is to rely on just two or three sources – usually those provided by the course tutor. Doing this shows that you haven’t really bothered to read more widely and gather different opinions on a topic. Only when you get a rounded view from many sources will you be able to demonstrate the criticality so valued by tutors.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve how they find sources?

Top tip: Be brave. Start with Google Scholar (which is very simple to use), and then move on to the databases that you’ll find on your university library website..

 

Avoid Plagiarism: tips from Thomas Lancaster 

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Why is avoiding plagiarism an important skill for students to master?

You're expected to write without plagiarism in an academic setting, otherwise, you'll end up with a failing grade and you may be accused of having cheated deliberately.

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

Copying text straight from an Internet site or another document, without writing it in your own words and saying where the information came from. Even if it's only a sentence or a few words, that's plagiarism.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to avoid plagiarism?

Rather than copying and pasting text, read the source you're using, think about what it means in relation to your essay or assignment, then write this by hand using your own words. That way you have to think about the material and you can make sure it relates closely to what you've been asked to address. By doing this and referencing straight away, you can better avoid plagiarism.

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Manage Your Stress: tips from Clare Wilson

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Why is stress management an important skill for students to master?

Everyone gets stressed sometimes. Developing a range of techniques that allow you to effectively manage your stress not only enhances your enjoyment of your degree (and helps you to more effectively study), it will help you in all areas of your life both now and in the future.

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

The most common mistake is to believe that your stress is a sign of personal failure, that you should be happier and know what to do. You might believe that other students are not as stressed about their studies, finances, missing home or feeling as lonely as you are. Yet, most students will struggle with stress at some point in their university studies. Stress feels very personal but is a normal reaction to being in new and challenging environments.  

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve how they manage stress? 

Ask for help and experiment until you discover what works best for you. Every source of stress at university has been experienced and coped with by thousands of others, so ask them how they coped, and if what they did doesn't work for you, ask someone else. There’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed about and everything to be gained by getting help.

 

Give Great Presentations: tips from Lucinda Becker

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Why is giving presentations an important skill for students to master?

It gives you the chance to shine. You can think on your feet, show off your knowledge and impress your instructors and lecturers in a way you just can’t do in an essay. Then you get to do it all over again when you succeed in a job interview!

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

Being too nervous to present well, not preparing well enough to show off your skills and not sticking to time. If you go over the time you’ve been given, you’re showing that you can’t control your presentation, everyone feels nervous for you and you start to lose marks - quickly.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve their presentations?

Learn some basic relaxation techniques, prepare well, rehearse at least five times, and then remember the two most important tools you have for success - keep breathing well and smile!

 

Polish Your Academic Writing: tips from Helen Coleman 

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Why is academic writing an important skill for students to master?

We all make minor errors when we are writing or typing something up, however, these are easily and quickly picked up and corrected through proofreading. It may feel like a really boring, time-consuming, task at first, but it does get easier and it is worth doing as the marks assigned to the professional presentation are easy to gain or lose!

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

Poor time management. Planning ahead and giving yourself time to polish your academic writing and proofread your work means your marks and your reputation as a serious student will both improve vastly.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve their academic writing?

There are actually two top tips to really ensure success in your work. Plan ahead and proofread, it will likely decrease your stress and increase your marks. 

 

Read Critically: tips from Alex Baratta

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Why is critical reading an important skill for students to master?

Most of the points awarded to your assessments are usually based on how well you analyse the subject you're discussing and analysis is all about being critical. 

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

Students spend too much time in their assessments simply referring to, if not cutting and pasting, lecture notes/class handouts/the lecturer's words - this should be used as a springboard to develop your own argument. In short, telling us what you've already been told in class does not show critical thinking; telling the reader what you think about what you've been told or read, does.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve their critical reading?

Whatever aspect(s) of the text seems most important to you, from a paragraph to a single sentence, make a note of this and then ask yourself this basic question: what does this mean to me? That's the starting point for being critical.

 

Pass Your Exam: tips from Lorraine Anderson and Gordan Spark

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Why is passing your exam an important skill for students to master?

Put simply, in most subjects if you want to get a good degree, you’re going to have to pass exams. 

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

A common mistake is using the same old revision techniques because that’s what you’ve always done. Yet, certain revision techniques, such as rereading and rewriting notes, have been proven to be ineffective. Investing some time experimenting with different, more active approaches can pay long term dividends.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve their chances of passing their exam?

Avoid cramming. Get organised, have a plan in place and start your revision early. Good organisation and time management can reduce stress, allow time to develop more effective approaches to studying and help you to pass that exam.

 

Work Well in Groups: tips from Diana Hopkins and Tom Reid

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Why is working in groups an important skill for students to master?

The reason you’re asked to work in groups at university is that you’ll develop invaluable interpersonal skills for academic success and your future professional career. By sharing responsibility with others, you’ll learn more about yourself, build your confidence, and recognise that individual attainment can be dependent on teamwork.

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

The most common mistake students make with group work is not allowing enough time to establish a coherent and functional team dynamic before getting started on the task. 

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve how they work in groups?

Listen and respect the views of others – you can learn a lot from your peers.

 

Write a Brilliant CV: tips from Lucinda Becker 

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Why is CV writing an important skill for students to master?

The most important effect of writing a brilliant CV is that you instantly feel good about yourself; this boosts confidence and inspires ambition. A brilliant CV helps you to see how well prepared you are for your professional life and how valuable your skills will be in your chosen career.

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

Students sometimes believe they have to include everything. A CV is a targeted sales pitch, and so it should only include material that screams 'buy me' to an employer. The format must be as brilliant as the content: easy to access, making your material look impressive and selling yourself in every line.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve their CV writing?

Make every line count, target every word to suit where you want to be, and get to know yourself as a professional. Once you recognise that you’re valuable to an organisation, you’ll be in a great place to secure the perfect career move for you.

 

Write Your Lab Report: tips from Diana Hopkins and Tom Reid

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Why is lab report writing an important skill for students to master?

A lab report is a scaled-down version of an academic paper.  By developing your lab report writing skills at university you’ll be well-equipped to succeed as a professional scientist and engineer.

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

The most common mistake is not demonstrating an understanding of previous research and how it relates to your experiments.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve their lab reports?

Look at model lab reports in your subject area to ensure you understand structure and content requirements before you start writing.

 

Beat Your Writer’s Block: tips from Andrew Edwards

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Why is beating writer’s block an important skill for students to master?

Overcoming the struggle to write at university is empowering. Knowing that writer’s block can be beaten enables you to get the most out of your degree, improve your confidence and develop your potential to the fullest.

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

Believing that if you can’t write in an academic way at the start of your course then you’re not intelligent enough to be at university. You need to realise that writing at university is a specific skill you need to acquire, like learning to drive or play a musical instrument. You don’t need to be so hard on yourself!

What top tip would you give to students wanting to beat writer’s block?

Keep a journal or a diary - it can be typed or handwritten - and write in it regularly. Writing about your thoughts, feelings, ideas and responses to materials you encounter is an incredibly useful reflective tool that’ll improve your learning. Journal writing also gets you used to writing regularly, rather than just for assignments, and this will help you to keep developing your writing skills.

 

Boost Your Employability: tips from Felicity Becker

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Why should students think about boosting their employability?

The job market is more competitive than it's ever been and there’s such a large volume of graduates entering it each year - you need to stand out. Boosting your employability using the tips in this book will give you the best chance of success in your chosen career.

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

There are two common mistakes students make when thinking about their employability. The first is starting to do something about it too late. By beginning the process of boosting your employability earlier, you’ll find it to be a more positive experience and you’ll get much more out of the process. The second common mistake is to think that you’ve got to say 'yes' to every opportunity. Some opportunities aren’t worth your time or effort and this book will help you recognise which ones to take up and which to ignore.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to boost their employability?

My top tip would be to establish goals to help you focus your activities.

 

Build Your Argument: tips from Dave Rush

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Why is building arguments an important skill for students to master?

University study isn’t just about acquiring knowledge, it’s about learning how to use that knowledge to answer questions and understanding how different contexts and theoretical standpoints change how that knowledge is applied to the real world. It’s also one of the most important skills that you learn at university that will help you in your life outside your studies.

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

The most common mistake is not answering the question. When students are given an essay, presentation, or other sort of assignment, they often get distracted discussing the general topic and lose focus on exactly what they’re being asked to talk about. It’s important to remember that everything you include has to be relevant to the specific question at hand, or it’s not helping you to build a good argument or get a good mark.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve how they build arguments?

Have a very clear idea of what you want to say overall before you start writing or speaking. Try summarising your argument in one or two sentences – and if you can’t, that means you need to put some more thought in first.

 

Check That Fact: tips from Sarah Morris

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Why is fact checking an important skill for students to master?

We all have access to a huge amount of information in our daily lives, but not all of that information is credible or even accurate. Fact checking can help ensure that you’re finding, using, and sharing quality information, that you’re making informed decisions, and that you aren't falling for bogus information.

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

The most common mistake is not doing any fact checking! It can be easy to get busy, or distracted, or overwhelmed, or rushed, or assume the information is okay. Just taking a few moments to reflect on the information, to read past the headline, or to double-check something before sharing it can make a huge difference and prevent things like misinformation from being spread.

What top tip would you give to students wanting to improve their fact checking?

Keep practicing and turn fact checking into a habit. Fact checking is a set of skills that you can develop and improve over time, and the more you fact check, the faster and better you can get. So, take a few moments to fact check at least one thing a day, such as something you come across on social media, to practice and refine your skills and to make fact checking a habit!

 

Create Your Research Poster: tips from Corina Lacatus and Alex Nogues

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Why is designing a research poster an important skill for students to master?

Research posters can be included as an assignment in a course or as part of a dissertation and are often used to present original research at academic conferences and events involving policymakers and the wider public. Also, learning how to create research posters is a valuable transferable skill, which you can take with you into the workplace, after graduation.

What’s the most common mistake students make in this area?

The most common mistake is to try to include in the poster every single part of the research process and research output. Effective communication through a research poster requires: (1) deciding which elements of research are the most important and worthy of sharing with others; and (2) learning how to best ’translate’ visually these elements into a coherent visual story making up the research poster. 

What top tip would you give to students wanting to create a research poster?

Less is more. Select one main focus for the research poster and build a coherent narrative around it.


 

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