Study tips for outstanding results in University of London exams

Karachi-based BSc Business graduate, Ayesha Tariq, reveals her five top tips for success
From meditation to maintaining discipline: Ayesha Tariq's personal study roadmap
The University of London International Programmes make you explore, deliberate, and question

When I started my studies with the University of London, I approached examinations and study methodology in the same manner as I had done for O and A levels. Reading the prescribed textbooks, teacher's notes, and practicing past papers sufficed back then.

However, studying with the University of London taught me that education goes beyond that. We must not only understand but also know how to apply. Those who say that grand ideas about how the world works have no application in real life simply do not know how to apply. The University of London International Programmes make you explore, deliberate, and question. From my successful experience of studying for three years as a private candidate, I learnt that:

1. Focus matters

We are a distracted generation. With so many gadgets and happenings to pull away our focus, many people feel that they are the victims of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). To increase concentration, cod liver oil (source of Omega 3) capsules are really effective. The Durham trial conducted by the University of Oxford found that a statistically significant improvement in school performance was observed in the group of children given Omega 3 supplements due to increased concentration levels.

Also, daily meditation (for example by focusing on your breathing pattern without trying to change it) and mindfulness, help us become focused and mentally aware individuals. To be mindful is to actively engage your five senses to experience the world around you, for example feeling your feet touch the ground as you walk or focusing on the taste of food as you eat. The Reading Trainer App (for Iphone and Ipad) also trains concentration using a number of exercises.

If you can't remember what you just studied, or you feel the need to check your facebook/ cell phone after reading every few lines, you lack focus. It needs to be developed to allow you to actively engage with the material you are studying.

2. Clarity – do you know what it really means?

So what does it mean to 'communicate clearly'? What does it mean to not be a clear thinker?

Clear thinkers express their ideas in a logical order. The ideas are developed from the basic to a deeper level, step by step. Every sentence is connected to each other and the language is clear. The text of the idea makes it clear that the person understands the concept. Often, application of the concept is included by the use of examples that reveal thorough understanding.

"In order to excel in University of London exams, you need to ensure that you have clarity."

On the contrary, muddled thinkers do not proceed with the idea in a logical manner. They start off with one concept, then wander off to the next one, and then come back to the previous concept. Their answers show that they cannot think clearly and have not understood the concept. Often, their use of examples is irrelevant to the original idea.

In order to excel in University of London exams, you need to ensure that you have clarity. This can only be developed through writing full length answers to past paper questions at home, and then reading them again to check whether they demonstrate clarity.

3. Research

While experimenting with various study techniques, I developed a motto for myself that I used to constantly affirm from time to time. It said, 'Show to the examiners that you have read and that you understand'. This was the key to success that I deduced in my third year.

"Read through as many journals and articles on the topic as are necessary to complete your understanding."

To 'show the examiners that you have read', you need to do research. Read through as many journals and articles on the topic as are necessary to complete your understanding. Take down notes of case studies, names of researchers etc. Make a special effort to know 'unique' content i.e. knowledge that other candidates will be less likely to explore. Only by quoting hard core evidence of your reading can you convince the examiners that you have read, and you are not talking in the air! I realised that I needed this effort to get high marks. Reading the prescribed books was simply not enough.

"Know what you want, why you want it, and how doing well in the exams can help you achieve your goals."

4. Constant monitoring - the need for discipline

Discipline is about suppressing your free will and making yourself do the things that are necessary to achieve your goals. It is painful. It reminds me of all those times when I wanted to catch up with my TV shows, procrastinate on facebook, and listen to music endlessly because I did not feel like studying. However, I kept pulling myself back on track by creatively imagining all those goals I could achieve by doing well in exams.

There cannot be any discipline without well defined goals. Know what you want, why you want it, and how doing well in the exams can help you achieve your goals. With a lot of time on the hands of private candidates, and no regular tests/quizzes to pull you back on track, you need to develop your inner compass. It is important to save you from end of year cramming, do-not-enter-my-room-without-appointment messages, and all the misery that comes with the realisation that you have to do the entire course in just one month!

5. Align day to day preparation with past paper questions

I had a special technique for doing past papers. Before starting any topic, I took a note of all the questions that had come on that topic. Often, it was difficult to attribute one question to one particular topic so I included that in all the topics that were related to it.

While researching on that topic, I ensured that I covered the answers to those questions. This included gathering evidence that could be used to support the answer. This technique ensured that my year long preparation was in alignment with the expectations of the examiner. Before the exams, I thoroughly went though those notes/answers, and it really helped. I also suggest practising some full length, timed answers to questions before the exam. They help to achieve time management, give you the confidence to work under pressure, and tell you where you really stand.

Although the journey of studying independently for these exams was tough, I learnt a lot.

Happy studying!

Ayesha's top five study tips:

1. Boost your concentration levels with Omega 3 supplements and meditation.
2. Develop clarity of thought by taking past exam papers.
3. Read wider than the prescribed textbooks and cite your research.
4. Maintain discipline by keeping well defined goals.
5. Look at all of the questions that have come up on a specific topic in past papers and prepare your answers accordingly.

Ayesha Tariq graduated in August 2012 with a 2.1 in BSc Business. During her first year, she enrolled at L'Ecole for Advanced Studies, a Registered Centre of the University of London. She then completed the next two years of study as an independent student, completing the degree in the minimum study period of three years.