Overcome obstacles to effective study

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Do you have trouble studying, or managing your time effectively? Most students struggle with their studies at some point, often for the reasons listed below. 

Each reason below links to questions and/or suggestions for change.

The demands of paid work and study often seem to conflict

I don't feel motivated

What motivates you? Intrinsic motivation comes from within, eg a sense of challenge or achievement. Extrinsic motivation relies upon other people or gaining tangible rewards.

Occasional lapses in enthusiasm happen to most people. If this is a recurring issue, though, the following questions may help you to find a way forward:

  • Do you have clear long and short-term goals? If not:
    • Identify specific goals. A long-term goal might be to get a well-paid, interesting job. In order to achieve this, your medium-term goals could include reaching a certain standard at your current level of study, or establishing a good balance between study and leisure. In the short term, you might aim to achieve a particular mark for an assignment.
    • Make your goals challenging but realistic – high goals often lead to high performance.

      When setting your goals, useful resources include module handbooks, other sections of this website, and information available from UWE Bristol Careers.
  • Are you unclear about a task you've been set? Check your assessment brief and the assessment criteria. Check your feedback sheets. Refer to module workbooks and the website. Ask other students or your tutor for clarification.
  • Pay attention to feedback, and make sure that you know your results. Feedback and knowledge of results are associated with high performance.
  • Are you finding something particularly difficult? When you've read what you can, ask fellow students or your tutor for help.
  • Is there a required element of the course that you don't enjoy? Check your module option to see if you'll have to do similar modules in the future. Your motivation may improve if you know that you only have to study a topic for one year, or that it's a pre-requisite for something you want to study later.
  • Are you finding that you don't enjoy most of the modules on your award? If this feeling persists, you may wish to consider other courses, within UWE Bristol or elsewhere. Talking to friends or family might be helpful. UWE Bristol Careers has lots of information, and careers counsellors available for individual interviews.
  • Are other things bothering you, so that you're unable to commit yourself to your studies? You might wish to discuss this with a Student Support Adviser, or with a Counsellor at the Student and Partnership Services Department.

I'm not clear what's expected of me

The first step is to distinguish exactly where these expectations originate. They may come from:

  • the faculty/your tutors
  • family members
  • friends/peers
  • your boss/colleagues at work
  • yourself.

The next step is to clarify the exact nature of the faculty's expectations. Useful sources of information include:

  • your module handbook
  • your assessment brief and the assessment criteria
  • your tutor, for further clarification
  • feedback from your assignments and exam
  • study skills for new students.

My attendance has been poor

Attendance is a required part of your studies at UWE Bristol. However, for various reasons students sometimes find that they're unable to attend for a period of time.

  • It's important to contact your tutor where you may have missed essential information, such as the formation of groups for an assignment.
  • Has your disrupted attendance been caused by unforeseen circumstances that have affected your ability to concentrate on your studies? You may well wish to submit extenuating circumstances in relation to any module(s) affected.
  • Where attendance has been disrupted for a significant period of time, it can sometimes seem difficult to re-join a group. It's important, though, to resume your studies as soon as possible. You could contact your tutor to discuss your return, or arrange to attend a workshop in the company of another member of the group.
  • Is your poor attendance related to another issue, eg the demands of paid work, or lack of motivation? Check other obstacles listed on this page.

I put things off and can always find something else to do

  • If you often find yourself putting off tasks to the extent that your progress and efficiency are affected, try the advice on time management.
  • Are you unclear about a task you've been set? Ask other students or your tutor for clarification.
  • Are you finding something particularly difficult? When you've read what you can, ask fellow students or your tutor for help.
  • Are other things bothering you, so that you're unable to get on with your studies? You might wish to discuss this with a student advisor. Postgraduates may also speak to their Programme Assistant. All students can make an appointment with a Counsellor at the Student and Partnership Services Department.
  • Is this procrastination connected to a lack of motivation, or other obstacles listed in this section?

I get impatient with what I have to do

  • Have you set yourself realistic targets?
  • Do you understand why you've been asked to do something? If not, ask fellow students or your tutor for clarification.
  • Are you feeling impatient with the time a task is taking? If so, are you spending more time than is necessary? Check how relevant/important it is, and make sure your timescale is realistic. See the advice on time management.
  • If you're impatient with your preparation for an essay or presentation, remember that time spent on the early stages can make later stages simpler and quicker.
  • Is your impatience due to anxiety? If this is about a particular task, ask other students or your tutor for advice. If anxiety is a recurring issue, you may find it helpful to talk to a Counsellor at the Student and Partnership Services Department.

I can't decide what to do

  • Set aside time for proper planning, and make this your time for making decisions. Establishing priorities can help the decision-making process. See the advice on time management.
  • Try discussing your decision with fellow students or, if necessary, contact your tutor for advice.
  • Sometimes it can help to leave a problem for a while. Do something else, then come back to it later.

I find it difficult to balance family commitments and the demands of study

It can be a challenge to look after others, attend lectures and workshops, and make the time for independent study.

  • Are you managing your time as effectively as possible? See the advice on time management.
  • When making your plans, remember that lectures at UWE Bristol can be at any time between 09:00 and 19:00.
  • Before the start of the year, it may be possible to gain an indication of when core lectures take place. Undergraduates should contact a student advisor in the first instance.
  • When you complete an options form, you can request that special circumstances – eg child care requirements – are taken into account when constructing your timetable.
  • For details of childcare facilities, see the Student Handbook and the nursery information on The Students' Union at UWE website.

I feel anxious about my studies or other aspects of student life

Many university students find that from time to time they experience heightened levels of stress. Sometimes this can have a beneficial effect, serving to motivate and stimulate. Sometimes, however, high levels of stress and anxiety can have a detrimental effect on health and well-being. If this is the case, you need to find a way to manage stress more effectively. By doing so, you can develop skills that will help you throughout life.

For further help with stress you can contact the Wellbeing Service.

I feel overwhelmed by all that I have to do

Many university students find that from time to time they experience heightened levels of stress. Sometimes this can have a beneficial effect, serving to motivate and stimulate. Sometimes, however, high levels of stress and anxiety can have a detrimental effect on health and well-being. If this is the case, you need to find a way to manage stress more effectively. By doing so, you can develop skills that will help you throughout life.

For further help with stress you can contact the Wellbeing Service.

I find some aspects of student life very stressful

Many university students find that from time to time they experience heightened levels of stress. Sometimes this can have a beneficial effect, serving to motivate and stimulate. Sometimes, however, high levels of stress and anxiety can have a detrimental effect on health and well-being. If this is the case, you need to find a way to manage stress more effectively. By doing so, you can develop skills that will help you throughout life.

For further help with stress you can contact the Wellbeing Service.

I don't have a suitable place to study

It's worth spending time ensuring that you have somewhere quiet and comfortable where you can study. It is, after all, the main reason you've come to university! You need sufficient space, heat and light for you to study and store your materials.

  • If it's difficult to study where you live, talk to your housemates or landlord to see if improvement is possible. Unless you approach them, they may not know there's a problem.
  • Is your difficulty connected to excess noise?
  • Remember that the Frenchay Library is open 24 hours a day during term time. See the Library section for details of library opening hours. All UWE Bristol libraries have many study areas available, including:
    • silent study rooms
    • quiet individual study areas
    • various types of group study areas.
  • If you have a problem with the study areas in your Library, explain your difficulty at the library help desk. They may be able to suggest a solution.
  • Difficulties with IT should be reported to the IT Support Centre.
  • You could try studying in your local library, or Bristol Central Library on College Green.

I've lost my self-confidence

At certain points during your years in higher education, you may experience feelings of trepidation and concern. Key moments include when you...

  • enter university
  • take on an unfamiliar subject or role
  • enter a new group or higher level
  • undergo formal assessment.

You may doubt your intelligence, self-discipline, academic skills or ability to socialise, and this can lead to a drop in self-confidence. This is a normal response to changed circumstances, and is usually temporary. If it persists, though...

  • make sure that you understand exactly what's expected of you
  • remember that your faculty spends time selecting suitable candidates for its courses. By accepting you, staff are confident that you have the talent to succeed
  • build up your skills, using the study skills section and other resources
  • ask questions of tutors and fellow students so that you can gain the information and understanding you need
  • remember that even students who appear very confident may well have doubts themselves!

I'm too much of a perfectionist

  • Do you have a good understanding of the standards expected of you? Check in your module handbook to find out the following:
    • the assessment criteria for your module
    • how your degree classification will be calculated
    • what's expected of you as a learner at Levels 1, 2, 3 and M
    • how much time you're expected to spend on study at each level of your award
  • If your perfectionism means you spend too much time on tasks, try the advice on time management. Allow reasonable amounts of time for each task, then aim to complete it within the time you've given yourself.
  • If you still have difficulties, try asking your tutor for some guidance regarding the time to spend on a task and the level of achievement you expect of yourself.
  • Sometimes perfectionism masks a lack of confidence. Make sure you know exactly what's expected of you – check your assessment brief, assessment criteria and feedback sheets. Refer to module handbooks and the website, and ask your tutor for clarification where necessary.
  • Where a desire for perfection significantly hinders your progress, you may find it helpful to discuss the issue with a Counsellor in the Student Services Department.

I have trouble concentrating

  • Do you have a quiet place to study, away from interruptions?
  • Are you studying at the times of day when you function best?
  • Are you getting enough sleep, and eating properly?
  • Are you finding it difficult to concentrate because of poor planning and organisation? See the advice on time management.
  • Is anything else bothering you that you need to sort out? Check the list of obstacles for suggestions and guidance.
  • Books giving advice on mind tools such as developing concentration can be found by searching the Library. Try entering appropriate keywords and searching by subject.
  • Some online organisations – eg www.mindtools.com – offer guidance on developing concentration. Please note that mention of any organisation does not constitute a recommendation.

I find self-discipline difficult

  • Do you have a clear goal and purpose? Do you know exactly what's expected of you?
  • Try following guidance on time management. Draw up a wall chart of tasks to which you regularly refer. Tick off tasks as you complete them.
  • Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.
  • Try giving yourself rewards when you've completed each task – a cup of tea, a walk, a phone call to a friend.
  • Set up a support group with other students. Set goals and meet regularly to check progress. Make sure that you focus on completing tasks, however, and avoid any collusion in relation to assignments.
  • Is your lack of self-discipline related to a lack of motivation, or another issue? See the list of obstacles in this section.

I don't seem to be capable of doing the work

  • Are you unable to do a task because you don't have some necessary knowledge? If so, check your course materials and track down the information you need.
  • Are you unable to do something because you've missed classes? Students who don't attend often have difficulty understanding the requirements of a task. Sometimes they get so far behind that they don't even know how to catch up.

    Where studies have been unavoidably disrupted, you should approach your faculty.
  • Make sure that you understand all feedback. Read it thoroughly and ask your tutor for further explanation where necessary. Then take the steps necessary to improve. Remind yourself of this feedback when working on further assignments.
  • If you can't find a way forward, ask your tutor for guidance.
  • Is this more a matter of low self esteem? If so, remember that your faculty spends a great deal of time selecting suitable candidates for its courses. By accepting you, staff are confident that you have the talent to succeed.
  • UWE Bristol's Wellbeing Service sometimes runs workshops on developing self-esteem, and offers one-to-one sessions for individuals.

I'm inefficient – I lose things, miss deadlines, etc

  • Do you have a diary or schedule into which you write all deadlines?
  • Have you followed guidance in the time management pages on this website?
  • Do you have a suitable place to study and store your materials?
  • Do you need to set aside some time for organising your resources? Gather notes into files and folders. Store them – labelled and in a logical sequence – so that they're readily accessible.

    For more on this, see reading and note taking.
  • Once you've organised everything, you could set aside an hour a week for filing and sorting, so that you keep on top of things.

I don't plan things in advance

Being at university gives you the opportunity to learn the skills of planning and time management. These become increasingly important as you progress from Level 1 to Level 3, and are invaluable tools for later life.

Refer to the time management advice, which includes guidance on managing time, and reviewing the ways in which you currently spend your time.

I make unrealistic estimates of the time needed for tasks

  • Learn from past errors.
  • If you tend to under-estimate the time needed for tasks, try deliberately over-estimating for a while.
  • Refer to other students or your tutor for guidance.
  • Plan a task systematically by breaking it down into smaller tasks. Prioritise them, and estimate how much time each one will take.
  • Use this breakdown to plan what you need to do, then stick to your plan!
  • Does your lack of realism about time actually come from a lack of motivation, or lack of self discipline? Check the list of 'obstacles' for these or any other issues that may affect you.

I can't say 'no' to distractions

  • Is this because you find it difficult to be assertive? The Library has books on developing assertiveness skills. Search the Library with keyword 'assertiveness'. UWE Bristol's Wellbeing Service runs assertiveness workshops from time to time.
  • Put distractions out of reach by ensuring that you have a suitable place to study. The University Library, for example, has several types of study areas and a wide range of facilities and resources.
  • An inability to say 'no' to distractions could be linked to one or more of the other obstacles listed in this section, eg a lack of self discipline. Check to see if any of them apply to you.

I can't say 'no' to more work, so I take on too much

  • Is this because you find it difficult to be assertive? The Library has books on developing assertiveness skills, and UWE Bristol's Student Services run workshops from time to time.
  • Is it because you need to work as well as study? If you're experiencing difficulties with money, you could contact a Student Support Adviser. Student Services offer advice on hardship grants and other financial support.

    The problem of conflicting demands of paid work and study is another obstacle listed on this page.
  • Are you being unrealistic about the amount of time that you have? See the time management section, which includes guidance on reviewing how you currently spend your time.

I'm involved in too many activities

  • Is this because you find it difficult to be assertive and say 'no'? You might find it useful to attend a workshop on assertiveness skills. UWE Bristol's Wellbeing Service runs them from time to time.
  • Are you realistic about the amount of time that you have? Try following the guidance on the time management section.

Some of my work seems irrelevant

  • Make sure you're clear exactly what you have to do for each task. If necessary:
  • Remember that – especially in compulsory modules – work that may appear to be irrelevant is usually required for studies later in your course. Where you don't recognise the purpose of the work you're doing, check your module handbook and ask your tutor for clarification if necessary.
  • Spend time prioritising tasks and planning what you need to do, then check that your plans will lead to the goal you desire. See the time management advice.

    Periodically review your progress and check that you're sticking to your plan.
  • This difficulty could be due to one or more of the other 'obstacles' listed in this section. Check to see if any of them apply to you.

I often do things in a last minute rush

  • Refer to the time management advice.
  • Do you leave things until the last minute because you don't feel motivated, or can't say 'no' to distractions? Check whether these or any other obstacles in this list contribute to your difficulty.

It's too noisy where I live

  • Do the people responsible for the noise know that you need quiet time for studying?
  • If the noise is within your accommodation, talk to your housemates as soon as it's a problem. Leaving things a long time can make a situation more tense, and sometimes people are unaware that they're causing a problem.

    Explain what you're finding difficult and say what you'd like. Listen to the other point of view, and see if there's a compromise on which you can all agree.

    You might agree to maintain quiet at certain times of the day, or on certain days of the week. You might agree to work elsewhere (eg a local library) on occasions.

    Experiment with volume to find out what level is acceptable – sometimes people don't realise how far sound travels. Simply changing the position of hi fi speakers, for example, can improve things dramatically.
  • Is the noise from outside your accommodation? The suggestions above are equally applicable. Bear in mind that it's helpful to approach neighbours at a time that's convenient for them.

    If this doesn't work, you could contact their warden, landlord or housing association.
  • If these measures don't work, contact The Students' Union at UWE where advisers can give guidance on dealing with accommodation problems such as noise.

    A further step would be to contact an organisation such as Bristol Mediation (0117 904 3321), which specialises in mediating neighbourhood disputes.

    In extreme cases, you could complain to the police.
  • If all else fails, you may have to look for somewhere else to live. The accommodation pages have information about University accommodation and a register of private landlords.

I find it difficult to get to the University library

The Frenchay Library is open 24 hours a day during term time. See the Library website for details of all campus library opening hours. If you still find it difficult to get to the library, there are a number of options available to you:

I don't feel healthy

You can’t study to the best of your ability if you’re feeling unwell, troubled or anxious, so please ensure that you eat well, get sufficient sleep and exercise, and seek help when necessary.

For guidance and support visit the health and wellbeing pages.

 

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