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Study Methods


a. Before

  • Pre-lecture reading: If you know, or can reasonably deduce the lecture topic from your course syllabus, you should endeavour to read a summary account of the topic shortly before attending the relevant lecture. Normally your text-book(s) or the lecturer's suggested readings will provide you with sufficient material for this purpose. Skim for key events, names, and dates; this will help prevent misunderstandings during lecture. Pre-lecture reading can be very valuable in terms of providing a preliminary understanding of the topic and this greatly aids the task of judicious note-taking.

b. During - Note-taking

  • Try to note the main points or issues the lecture raises; do not try to write everything down word for word.
  • Do not write detailed notes on material that you know to be available in your textbook, except insofar as you need to keep track of the lecturer's argument.
  • On the other hand, do not write so few notes that you will be unable to recreate the main content of the lecture at a later time.
  • Most lectures do present a pattern and the student's task must be to identify the component parts of that pattern.
  • Develop a system of abbreviations. This is a most important technique, one that should speed your note taking and leave more time for attentive listening.
  • Note references to relevant reading material that may be mentioned during the course of a lecture.
  • Leave plenty of space to add references or clarifications later.
  • It can be useful to put question marks in your notes where you are unsure if you heard correctly or would like to investigate a point further.
  • If you have difficulty hearing a lecturer try sitting nearer the front. If the problem persists approach the lecturer directly or communicate your problem through the class rep.

c. After

  • Unless you re-visit your notes in some way, much of the effort you put into listening to the lecture will be lost. Re-read them as soon as possible after your lecture, so your memory will help you fill in gaps.


a. Textbooks:

  • If possible you should purchase your own copies of all books which are declared to be textbooks. When this is not possible you should ensure regular access, either by borrowing a friend's copy or by regularly reading a library copy. If you are not told which portions of a textbook are to be read you can normally assume that the whole book is relevant. If in doubt ask your lecturer.

b. Supplementary reading:

  • Although the textbook should be your first priority you should not expect it to cover all your needs. Note other titles which may be mentioned in booklists or in lectures and select for supplementary reading those which receive the strongest recommendation or which seem to be the most relevant.

c. Reading method:

  • It can be useful to skim a book initially to get a sense of its argument and which sections are most useful to you. Your goal however should be to read closely most works once, taking excellent notes. You should not find yourself re-reading books in preparation for the exam.

d. Note taking:

  • Apart from textbooks there will be very few titles which should be summarised in full. It is, however, strongly recommended that you always take notes when reading books which relate to your course. Note-taking makes you actively participate in the process of study and learning - the more senses you engage, the better. Note-taking thus serves to sustain concentration and aid understanding while providing a record for future review.
  • The basic principles enunciated above for note taking in lectures also apply to notes taken from books, namely:

      - They should clearly set out the structure of the author's presentation.
      - They should be as brief as clarity permits.

e. Referencing:

  • It is essential to note for each work you read all of the details that will be needed for a footnote citation in an essay, for a bibliography entry at the conclusion of an essay, and for finding the item on the library shelves. This requires the following: author's full name as it appears on the title page; title, place of publication, date of publication; library classification; page numbers for any essays or articles. Jot down the page number you refer to for each note you take – if you later use this material in an essay, you can easily construct your footnotes without having to go back to the original. If you note down the actual wording of a passage, put this in quotation marks so, if you cite this in your essay, you (and the reader) will know that this is a direct quote from someone else. Thus you will avoid unintentional plagiarism. Make sure that notes record the page number of the original source.
  • Bookmark any major internet sites you will use, and note the relevant bibliographic information on the day you actually take notes from the site. Remember that the date of access is part of your citation.

Tutorials and Seminars

Tutorials are an essential part of your learning process. You should attend tutorials and you should endeavour to participate. Those who learn to participate derive considerable and increasing benefit for themselves as their oral skills develop, and at the same time they contribute significantly to the success of the small-group method.

This is also an opportunity for you to clarify questions that arise from lectures and your reading. Make the most of it. Remember that tutorials are not intended to comprise lectures given by tutors. Tutorials provide time to develop skills in analysis, arguing, and communication. They are intended to help you re-think and better understand knowledge gained from lectures and readings, rather than to provide you with new knowledge. Discussion and debate are integral to the study of history, and many of the analytical skills essential to doing well in history can best be developed through such interaction.

Study Routine

Effective study demands from most students a regular, planned routine. This should include:

  1. set times of the day (or night, or week) for regular reading of textbooks and supplementary titles
  2. dates fixed in advance for beginning essay preparation and for completing essay writing. Put this on a desk or wall planner so you are reminded of important deadlines
  3. regular periods of rest and recreation.

It is today that we must create the world of the future. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Further Assistance

The University of Otago offers a range of further help with writing, studying, and stress management. Contact OUSA or the School of Humanities for guidance on available assistance.