Study Skills and Personal Study Plans

This page gives you specific advice on how to develop an overall study plan, including drawing up your own personal study plan. We also give guidance on the study sessions themselves, how to order your studies, and techniques that will help you to study actively.

Overall study plan

Develop a realistic study plan, build in time for relaxation and allow some time for contingencies. Once you have set your plan, be determined to stick to it. (You don't have to be too prescriptive at this stage about what precisely you do on each study day. The main thing is to be clear that you will cover all the important activities in an appropriate manner.)

Manage your study to allow plenty of time for the concepts you meet in the course to "bed down" in your mind. Most successful students will leave at least a month for revision. You should aim to complete the course by the end of July if you are studying for the September exams and by the end of February for the April exams. By finishing the course as quickly as possible, you will have a much clearer view of the big picture. It will also allow you to structure your revision so that you can concentrate on the important and difficult areas of the course. How often do you think "I'm just getting the hang of this, I wish the exam was two weeks later"?

Study Sessions

Only do activities that will increase your chance of passing. Don't include activities for the sake of it and don't spend time reviewing material that you already understand. You will only improve your chances of passing the exam by getting on top of the material that you currently find difficult.

Each study session should have a specific purpose and be based on a specific task, eg "Finish reading Chapter 3 and attempt Questions 3.1 to 3.4 from the Practice Questions" not a specific amount of time, eg "Three hours studying the material in Chapter 3".

Study somewhere quiet and free from distractions (eg a library or a desk at home dedicated to study). Find out when you operate at your peak, and endeavour to study at those times of the day. This might be between 8am and 10am or could be in the evening. Take short breaks during your study to remain focused - it's definitely time for a short break if you find that your brain is tired and that your concentration has started to drift from the information in front of you.

Order of study

You should work through each of the chapters in turn. To get the maximum benefit from each chapter you should proceed in the following order:

  • Read the Syllabus Objectives. These are set out in the box on Page 1 of each chapter.
  • Read the Chapter Summary at the end of each chapter. This will give you a useful overview of the material that you are about to study and help you to appreciate the context of the ideas that you meet.
  • Study the Course Notes in detail, annotating the ActEd Notes, possibly making your own notes. Try the short self-assessment questions as you come to them. Our suggested solutions are at the end of each chapter. As you study, pay particular attention to the listing of the Syllabus items and to the Core Reading.
  • Read the Chapter Summary again carefully. If there are any ideas that you can't remember covering in the Notes, read the relevant section of the Notes again to refresh your memory.

Attempt some of the Practice Questions when you have completed a chapter. It’s a good idea to annotate the questions with details of when you attempted each one. This makes it easier to ensure that you try all of the questions as part of your revision without repeating any that you got right first time.

Once you’ve read the relevant part of the Notes and tried a selection of Practice Questions, you should attempt the corresponding assignment. If you submit your assignment for marking, spend some time looking through it carefully when it is returned. It can seem a bit depressing to analyse the errors you made, but you can increase your chances of passing the exam by learning from your mistakes. The markers will try their best to provide practical comments to help you to improve.

It’s a fact that people are more likely to remember something if they review it from time to time. So, do look over the chapters you have studied so far from time to time. It is useful to re-read the chapter summaries or to try the self-assessment questions again a few days after reading the chapter itself.

To be really prepared for the exam, you should not only know and understand the Core Reading but also be aware of what the examiners will expect. Your revision programme should include plenty of question practice so that you are aware of the typical style, content and marking structure of exam questions. You should attempt as many questions as you can from the Practice Questions at the end of each chapter and past exam papers.

Active study

Here are some techniques that will help you to study actively:

  • Don't believe everything you read! Good students tend to question everything that they read. They will ask "why, how, what for, when?" when confronted with a new concept, and they will apply their own judgement. This contrasts with those who unquestioningly believe what they are told, learn it thoroughly, and reproduce it (unquestioningly?) in response to exam questions. Another useful technique is to think of possible questions that the examiners could ask, as you read the Course Notes. This will help you to understand the examiners' point of view and should mean that there are fewer nasty surprises in the exam!
  • Annotate your Notes with your own ideas and questions. This will make your study more active and will help when you come to review and revise the material. Do not simply copy out the Notes without thinking about the issues.
  • Attempt the questions in the Notes as you work through the course. Write down your answer before you check against the solution.
  • Attempt other questions and assignments on a similar basis, ie write down your answer before looking at the solution provided. Attempting the assignments under exam conditions has some particular benefits:
    1. It forces you to think and act in a way that is similar to how you will behave in the exam.
    2. When you have your assignments marked it is much more useful if the marker's comments can show you how to improve your performance under exam conditions than your performance when you have access to the Notes and are under no time pressure.
    3. The knowledge that you are going to do an assignment under exam conditions and then submit it (however good or bad) for marking can act as a powerful incentive to make you study each part as well as possible.
    4. It is also quicker than trying to write perfect answers.
  • Apply for an Online Classroom (where available). The Online Classroom is equivalent to a typical face-to-face tutorial run in the UK. Being online, it’s an excellent choice for students without easy access to face-to-face classes.
  • Sit a Mock Exam a few weeks before the real exam to identify your weaknesses and work to improve them. You could use one of the mock exams written by ActEd or a past exam paper.