NOTES on: Burns, T. and Sinfield, S.  (2003)  Essential Study Skills. The complete guide to success @ university, London: Sage

Dave Harris

The authors have a background in FE, and have attracted a lot of support from colleagues. They make the claim that the techniques work in schools colleges and FE  [and universities, presumably?]. The book contains lots of activities, checklists, pauses for reflection and so on, and is spattered with the use of bold fonts. It warns constantly against institutional discomfort, and recommends that learners become active. Six easy steps are recommended -- students persuade themselves they can do it by use of effort, they need to get the big picture, foster their creativity, manage their emotions and pursue reflections. These steps lead to the first of several  mnemonics -- SOCCER  (5). They offer a list of tricks of the trade and skills, and advocate a creative approach to maximize grades and overcome fear.

Chapter 1 what is learning. Students should gather ideas and organize them. Learning should be active rather a matter of storage. There is a mention of surface and deep approaches  (11). There is using information and overcoming fears, especially of tests. Activities include listing good and bad learning episodes and then comparing reactions to those remarks of other students, leading to reflection. Students should write their own learning contract, including reviewing their own personal list of hopes and fears. They should discuss with others and refer to this book. There is then a descriptive account of different types of university. Students are encouraged to network, join the academic community and learn the rules leading to an odd section on epistemology and a formal treatment of rules, arguments, the use of evidence and so on, especially in the foundation year. Readers are urged to use this material to press tutors. There is a description of basic components of university education, such as a lecture leading to tips such as the need to prepare, be active in seminars. Independent learning is also required and readers should choose a study partner. They should use the library, and take advantage of useful people. They should begin constructing their CV, for example by beginning to make a list  (35).

Chapter two organizing yourself. Students have to want to be good at study, and then  'practise, practise, practise' (38), just like learning to drive  [a common analogy in these books]. Students should learn from the mistakes and try to improve their scores on a personal skills questionnaire. They should organize their time, and remember to reward themselves, pace themselves, break their work into steps, and try to approach their work systematically rather than wait for inspiration  (42). They need to construct a timetable, juggle, and plan rest and recreation [lots of blank spaces with dummy timetables and so on are provided]. They need to choose a suitable study space after some experiments, and experiment with a range of pens, papers and colours to get  'an injection of energy and enthusiasm' (52). The Web gets a small mention. Students need to stay positive and say to themselves  'Now I am working. I enjoy being a student' (52). A number of comments are included from other students [real ones?]. Family members have to be dealt with, and goals set. Students need to focus, be active, constantly review their activity and try to always end on a good note. They also need to rest and relax, reflect and change.

Chapter three research and read. Research is defined as finding out something [!], and there are both primary and secondary sources  [no explanation of the fetishism of primary sources in some subjects]. Students need targets when they research and read actively, and familiarize themselves with the library  [little checklist provided]. They need a clear idea of why they are reading, and read around and beyond the syllabus -- e.g.  'read the latest journal articles' (63). There are some elementary questions to bring to the text. Students should aim at a basic knowledge and then build up to a question. There is another mnemonic -- QOOQRRR  [pronounced cooker] -- question, overview overview, question, read, re-read and review [SQR3 on stilts]  What this means in practice is that you should skim read to get an overview, while avoiding reductionism. Use the assignments to guide reading -- skim, use intros and conclusions, and any questions. Calm fears about all the work. Pursue active reading, which means marking the text to help reduce the load. Ask questions like -- what is the author's argument, what are the main ideas, where were they encountered, what is the evidence for them  [quite good, 74]. This technique should be pursued one paragraph at a time  [!], although after an initial selection of relevant points. Texts should then be read again to develop permanent notes. Boxed entries advise using proper references. There should be a final check. Constant practice will help overcome fear.  [nb, some early examples of mind maps also provided, 80, 81].

Chapter four overview. Students need to work out how the course has been designed  [but this is seen as pretty bland and descriptive rather than working out micropolitics etc, and with a touching faith in the rationality of the process -- 85 F]. Students need to know the assessment requirements and the outcomes, they should highlight key words. They should remember to not only answer the questions but try to meet the learning outcomes  (87). They should look at past questions, and ask their tutors.

Chapter five passing exams. Students are often victims of their earlier bad experiences, but these can be overcome by active learning. Techniques can be learnt and exams are still very important  [there is even an argument that they test deep learning!]. Students should change their attitude, and be positive  (95). They should use partners. They should check if they are dyslexic. They should practice answers. They need to get into the habit of learning as the course proceeds rather than leaving things to the last minute. They can train the memory. Active revision can be important, for example Buzan's revision cycle  (98)  [the one where you go back to your notes after 20 minutes then a week, then 2 weeks -- cited a lot]. Students need to choose what to revise make a decision and then commit themselves to get the necessary information into the long term memories. They need to practise their own memory systems -- more mnemonics  (99). The trick is to make things memorable. Information can then be reduced to index cards which can themselves be memorized.
The  mnemonic QOOQRRR seem to guide the rest of it.

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