Posts about: Academic Skills

Referencing: an introduction

29 October 2018

Anne introduces referencing.

Even if you are still quite new to university you have probably already heard words like “referencing” and “citations” – and heard that they are VERY IMPORTANT.

But what is referencing, and why do you need to do it?

Research is a major part of university education, and it is expected that you will read, understand and discuss the writing of others. It is essential that you acknowledge what you have read to protect yourself against accusations of plagiarism, show the research you have done, and allow your tutors to identify your own ideas and understanding of your subject. read more

Sage Research Methods Videos

9 May 2018

Looking to undertake some research this year? Need some expert help and guidance? SAGE Research Methods is the essential online resource for anyone doing research or learning how to do research. With more than 800 books, reference works, journal articles, and videos, it provides information on writing a research question, conducting a literature review, choosing a research method, collecting and analyzing data, and writing up the findings. SAGE Research Methods’ coverage spans the full range of research methods used in the social and behavioral sciences, plus a wide range of methods commonly used in science, technology, medicine, and the humanities. read more

Finding past exam papers the easy way!

4 May 2018
Tracy Breheny

Tracy tells you how to find past exam papers to help with your exam preparation.

Got exams coming up?  Looking over past exam papers can be really useful when preparing for an exam.   The Library has a collection of past exam papers which are all available electronically.

To find past exam papers, you need to:

  1. Go to our past exam paper webpage.
  2. Type in a couple of keywords to limit your search; often words from the module title bring back useful results.
  3. You will then be presented with a list of past exam papers we have access to that match your search. When you find the one you would like to look at, click on the title and you will be able to open it.
  4. Off campus?  You will be requested to sign in with your network username and password to view them.

Want to see how to find them?  Check out this video:


If you have any problem accessing past exam papers, please contact your Library Academic Support Team for further help.

Library Search contains some useful textbooks on exam revision, and there is also lots of help with exam preparation and revision techniques available on our Skills for Learning ‘My Assessments’ webpage, so take a look! read more

Exercise, sleep and study – you need to get the balance right

30 April 2018

Daley O’Neal is back with some more advice about living well for learning.

Last week I blogged about the relationship between exercise and staying well for your studies, something that is particularly important as we approach exams and assessment deadlines. Exercise and the resulting release of endorphins helps you to manage the feelings of stress and anxiety associated with the pressure of studying. The problem is that when you are studying hard you may not be getting enough sleep. The temptation to work into the night and get up early can lead to significantly reduced sleep levels. Drinking that extra energy drink, or your 5th cup of coffee only provides temporary relief from exhaustion.

Why is a lack of sleep a problem?

  1. If you are tired you may not exercise to your full potential, which means you won’t exert as much energy and therefore will burn a lower amount of calories and release fewer of those all important endorphins during your workout.
  2. If tiredness sets in, you are going to require more energy dense foods, which is going to affect your diet. Consuming more energy dense foods, in order to compensate for your lack of sleep, to help supply your body and your brain with the nutrients its needs, is going to effect the energy balance, which is vital to maintaining a healthy weight.
  3. A lack of sleep can also have a negative impact cognitively, especially relating to your ability to retain information. Obviously, this is vital during the exam period.
  4. Getting the right amount of sleep will help determine your energy levels throughout the following day, not only in relation to the effectiveness and efficiency of your workouts, but it also affects your ability to perform your day to day tasks effectively.
  5.  A lack of sleep (especially on a consistent basis) will subsequently effect ability to perform workouts to your maximum level, and effect the amount of calories you burn and endorphins you release within the session.

What can I do to help myself?

  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep. During the lead up to exams, getting your required amount of sleep (see NHS Guidelines) is vital to provide you with the platform to not only perform within an academic setting, but to look after own wellbeing in general.
  • If you are feeling tired entering the gym consistently, as a result of a lack of sleep – take a rest day. Ensure that your sleep patterns are right, and that you are getting the recommended amount which is 8 hours.
  • Avoid energy drinks and foods that are high in refined sugar such as chocolate. Opt for water and diluted juice and if you need a sugar hit go for fruit instead of chocolate.
  • Take regular breaks. A walk, an hour in the gym or going to your favourite exercise class will re-energise you and leave you feeling ready to tackle your studies again.
  • Get plenty of fresh air and day light. Your body and mind will thank you.
  • read more

    Managing exam stress and anxiety levels with exercise – it’s all about the endorphins!

    26 April 2018

    Daley O’Neal from the University Sports Centre has written about the connection between exercise and managing exam stress and anxiety.

    “To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” Buddha.

    One of the prevalent feelings for many around exams is anxiety. That feeling of unease and apprehension can leave you worried or fearful about the exam process and your results. All of these feelings are perfectly normal during the exam period.

    Did you know that exercise can help you to manage these feelings?

  • Exercise is a proven method to help facilitate a person’s ability to perform, succeed and accomplish goals, which of course, is exactly what you want to do in an exam!
  • Studies around Social Cognitive Theory have indicated a strong relationship between exercise and managing anxiety levels. Undertaking regular levels of physical activity can positively impact on our coping mechanisms and helps us to regulate our emotions.
  • While exercise cannot solve all the complex issues and causes of anxiety, it is a proven mechanism for increasing levels of self-belief within challenging situations, positively impacting our self-confidence and resilience levels.
  • Engaging in physical activity on a consistent basis creates a release of endorphins in the body, which provides the platform for increased levels of self-confidence. This endorphin release also improves mood and feelings of self-worth and accomplishment.
  • read more

    O Reference, reference, wherefore art thou, reference?

    12 February 2018

    In honour of both our plagiarism week, and Valentine’s day, Romeo soliloquises on the subjects of loving good academic practice, referencing and avoiding plagiarism…

    Picture or romeo and juliet


    ROMEO: But soft! What quote through yonder sentence breaks?

    It is the best, and the essay is done.

    Arise, assignment two is begun, too late,

    I am already sick and pale with grief

    That such books unread mar more clear design.

    Be not a reader, since time is grievous.

    Internet cut and paste is both slick and clean,

    And none but fools do shun it. Print it off.

    It makes my essay; O, it is not my work!

    O that my tutor knows not what it is!

    I quote, yet I cite nothing! What of that?

    The question vexes me; this will answer it.

    I am too bold; Turnitin to my tutor speaks.

    Two of the largest paragraphs in all the work

    Highlighting cheating, do entreat her eyes

    To Google the sentence and hit return.

    What if the work is there, not from my head?

    The brightness of my cheek shows shame those words

    As my own are stamped; my lies of citation

    Through my essay be so clearly not right

    That I should sing apology and be contrite.

    See how my mark is made nought by her hand!

    O that I could reverse and stay that hand,

    That I should do the work aright!

    Getting through a boring book…

    17 November 2017

    Hope is one of our English students. She is blogging about reading boring books!

    Reading is great…mostly, and if you’re on an English based course like I am, you’ll know that reading is not so much a fun, leisurely pastime as it is a necessity. I don’t know much about other courses reading requirements, but what I do know is that at one point or another, we all have to read a pretty boring book…or two…three…ten?

    The problem here is, that when you read for fun, if the book doesn’t grab your attention straight away, or a couple of chapters in you just cannot for the life of you get into it, you can simply put it down and pick up the next on your list of want-to-reads. When you’re required to read for a course, however, it’s not that easy (unfortunately).

    I study English Literature, and for one of my modules, I am currently reading Emma by Jane Austen, and after battling my way through Moll Flanders and (most of) Evelina, I feel a little bit like I’m dragging my feet through quick sand. Anyone else?

    So, for that reason I’ve taken a break from my dear friend Emma, to jot down some ways to pull myself, and you, through those ridiculously boring books we all have to read.


    1. Just try it.

      Okay, so, number one is to give the book a serious go. Some stories take an unholy amount of time to get to the point. Have a rule. Mine is 60 pages. If by page 60, I’m still bored out my wit, then the next steps might help.

    2. Set goals.

      Grab your calendar, or your planner, or whatever it is you use, and start by figuring out how many days you have before you absolutely HAVE to have the book read. Now divide the number of chapters equally amongst the daysyou have, so that you have a clear goal of. For example, if you have 7 days to finish a book, let’s say The novel has 54 chapters, that’s 7 chapters a day, which yes, seems like a lot, but when you then realise that each chapter is only (roughly) 5-8 ish pages, that’s only really between 35-56 pages a day, which is perfectly manageable! Not only that but having a stop point gives you something to look forward to, rather than just idly reading and wondering when it’s going to end.

    3. Put. Your. Phone. Away.

      Yes, you read that right, ditch it. And your laptop, your iPad, your PlayStation and whatever else you are currently using to put off that terrible book you have to read. Put everything on silent, put them in a drawer or another room, turn the TV off and get to reading. Having distractions around you and readily available will only make your life harder. Trust me, Call of Duty, Fifa and even Crash Bandicoot can wait.

    4. Get a good night’s sleep.

      How many of you have tried reading when you’re tired? It’s not going to happen. You’re going to be falling asleep at the wheel, struggling to concentrate, getting frustrated, and you’re probably going to be even less interested in what you’re reading than you were to begin with! Try to get some early nights, eat breakfast, and try not to be too that won’t help either.
      BONUS: This is good for your overall physical and mental health too!

    5. Take breaks.

      Once you’ve got a goal for each day, that doesn’t mean that you have to reach that goal in one go. If you have to read 7 chapters in a day, break it up, let your mind wander and think about other things in between your reading sessions so you won’t get so sick of it so quickly. Do some baking, watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off, eat some cake, find a new cookie recipe.Yes, I like baking. And cake. And Paul Hollywood.
      But back to the point. Don’t overdo it all in one go.
      BONUS: Cake

    6. Highlight, underline, or annotate your book.

      I know this sounds like a bit of a silly one, but trust me it works. When you come across a quote you like, or a point you find interesting, highlight it in your favourite colour (obviously only do this in your own books!). This will draw your attention to that particular quote or paragraph on the page, and that’s what will stick in your mind. Make the best of a bad situation and find small things that you do like in a text that you don’t. As well as this, actively looking for words that you aren’t sure of can give you a break from reading to look it up, and also make you feel like you’ve gained and learned something from the read. A sense of accomplishment in one form or another is always a good way to pull yourself through.

    7. Summarise.

      After each chapter you read, grab a pen and paper and just scribble down some bullet points; what was the chapter about? Did you find anything particularly interesting? What were the key points? Which characters were introduced/involved in the chapter? It doesn’t have to be a full blown textual analysis, just a quick list of referable points, so that when you come to want to think or refer back to a particular point or event in the narrative, you can scan over your points and find the chapter it’s from.
      BONUS: This will also help you retain more information from the novel!

    8. Figure out why you don’t like the book.

      Is the plot poor? Are the characters badly described? Are the points and themes explored in the narrative not interesting? Is it something in the way the book is written? I realise this might seem like you’re focusing on the negatives of what you’re reading rather than trying to, as I mentioned earlier, make the best of what you have, but this will be a really useful set of ideas and points if you later have to analyse and criticise the text. You already have a starting point!

    9. Comprehension questions are your best friend.

      Still bored? Well, when you (finally) finish, rather than jumping straight on to Facebook and doing a quiz to find out which Disney princess you are or which Hogwarts house you belong in, (although I am partial to reinforcing my dream of being Belle and playing tricks on the muggles with my Slytherin buddies) try and find a quiz based on the book you read. Trust me there are tonnes!
      BONUS: You could even write the quiz for yourself as you go along. Write a question or two for each chapter, and when you get to the end, try to answer them or quiz a friend who has read the same book!

    10. Treat yourself.

      WOOOOO! You finished! GO YOU! Now get some ice cream, cake, sweets and chocolate and binge watch some Netflix  (I highly recommend Stranger Things, Once Upon a Time and Fresh Meat). Forget all about that terrible book you just spent the last 7 days trudging through. That is, until you have to do an assessment on the damn thing.




    IF ALL ELSE FAILS, build a fort out of blankets, and fill it with pillows. Now Gather as much junk food and fizzy drinks as you can carry, turn off all the lights and add some fairy lights. Forget the rest of the world exists and just read.

    Happy Reading! read more

    Need to get a task done? Me too. I’m going to put the Pomodoro Technique to the test

    5 October 2017

    How many pomodoros did it take for Amy to write this blog post?

    My email and phone are off, I’ve got a brew and the tomato is counting down from 25 minutes. I’m going to see how long it takes me to write this blog post. I reckon I can get it finished within one Pomodoro but it may take two.

    Confused? Then read on to learn all about managing your time and tasks using the Pomodoro Technique.

    What is the Pomodoro Technique?

    The Pomodoro Technique is all about breaking time down into intervals by using a timer. When Francesco Cirillo developed the method in the 1980’s he used a tomato shaped kitchen timer. Francesco is Italian, pomodoro is the Italian name for tomato and so the Pomodoro Technique was born.

    My pomodoro timer

    How does it work?

    Basically you identify a task that you need to get done. This could be small or large, cleaning your flat or writing your essay for example. You then set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on the task for whole of that time – this is why I have switched my email and phone off, getting rid of interruptions and distractions is important.

    [I’ve had 10 minutes already]

    When the timer pings you have worked for one pomodoro and you get to take a short break, a few minutes to get up, stretch your legs, get some cake, put the washer on, you get the idea. You then return to your work, set the timer for another 25 minutes and focus on your task. Repeat the cycle until you have either completed the task (well done, I haven’t yet and I only have ten minutes left) or you have completed 4 pomodoros. You have now earned yourself a longer break of around 20 or 30 minutes. If you want to carry on with the task then begin the process again, or you may not have time to do any more right now as you need to get to a lecture or pick the kids up. Either way, you’ll have done some good work.

    At the end of each pomodoro it is useful to spend a moment thinking about what you have achieved in the time. Are you surprise by how much you can get done when you really focus?

    According to the Pomodoro Technique website the benefits of braking your task down like this include making time work for you; preventing burnout; reduce distractions and manage your work-life balance.

    To learn more about it have a look on the Pomodoro Technique website. You can keep it simple as I have or you can become a Pomodoro master as you learn how much effort a task takes and how to cut down on interruptions.

    Boom, time’s up. One pomodoro done. I’ll be back in 3 minutes…

    …I’m back, the timer’s on and I feel ready to go again after taking the stairs to the top floor and back, a bit of physical activity is a good thing when working hard. I like how the timer interrupted me just as I was writing about cutting down on interruptions, I genuinely couldn’t have planned that better!

    Actually there isn’t much more to say other than:

    1. Visit the Pomodoro Technique website to learn more about the technique
    2. Get yourself a timer
    3. Have a go

    STOP THE CLOCK. I have 20 minutes of the second pomodoro left. I’m going to use this time to proof read the post, check my facts, paste it into WordPress, add some images, check the tags, keywords etc. and publish it. Basically, all those things that you need to do before a task is truly complete!

    I’m off the clock now, how do I think it went?

    It took two pomodoros to write the post and get it ready to publish. Over all I found it to be a productive way to get this task done, it actually bought an element of fun to it! I am pleased to be able to tick this task off but am surprised that it took two pomodoros to complete. I guess I need to keep using it to get a real measure of how long this type of task takes me.

    I’m going to use it for other things so that I can develop an understanding what is reasonable to achieve in a day in terms of the time it takes but also in terms of my mental capacity to be working at my best. I actually found it hard to make myself stop after the first timer as I didn’t feel I needed to but I felt refreshed after a few minutes away from the computer so I can see the benefit of taking those short breaks. Overall, I like it. I think me and my clock are going to have a very fruitful relationship 😉

    Finding pictures the legal way (1/3)

    21 June 2017

    When you’re looking for pictures to illustrate or enhance your academic work, how do you search? Do you ‘copy and paste’ from the internet, as a student recently told me? Or simply type your search term in that old reliable, Google?

    Unless you’re careful, searching like this can contravene copyright law and potentially get you into legal trouble. Whenever you find an image through a regular Google search, there’s a good chance that it either:

    • has a license which forbids you to use it, or
    • has no license at all

    Assuming that you didn’t ask for prior permission to use the content, it’s illegal to use it if either of these two cases applies.

    Fortunately, there are various ways to search for images that are OK to use in your academic work, for presentations and in your professional life. Here are the two simplest ones.

    1. If you want to use Google, here’s how to search for pictures on Google the legal way:
    • Go to Google and type in your search term.
    • Do an image search.
    • Click Tools
    • Click Usage Rights
    • Select ‘licenced for reuse’
    • All the pictures that display are fine for you to use.

    2) Another option is to use the inbuilt creative commons image search within Microsoft Word and PowerPoint (in versions 2013 and 2016). From within your document, go to the ‘Insert’ menu on the ribbon and select ‘Online Pictures’.









    This will take you to a Bing search engine which will return Creative Commons (ie safe to use) images for you.

    Sometimes, the results from Google and Microsoft alone may be disappointing. Next time: some alternative safe search engines for pictures that will give you brilliant results.

    Assignment feedback: the good, the bad and the ugly…

    10 April 2017

    Catherine Tomlin

    Catherine explains how to use your feedback.

    So you’ve received your assignment mark and feedback. Happy? Disappointed? Shocked?




    Here are a few tips on making use of feedback so your next essay is epic!


    Don’t ignore your feedback. Your tutor has spent time explaining how you can improve. Although criticism is hard to take, it is the best way to learn and develop.

    Confused by your feedback? Use our Feedback Glossary for commonly used feedback terms. Alternatively, get in touch with your tutor to discuss. read more