Students taking study break in cafe

Independent learning

Hear from other students on how to manage your time and organise your studies

When you study at university, you'll do a lot of independent learning, away from lecturers and seminars. For many people, this new academic independence can feel like a big change from their previous education experience.

To help make that transition easier, we've asked some existing students how they felt about ‘independent learning’ when they started their courses – and what advice they would give to new and prospective uni students about what lies ahead.

Contact hours and free time

Contact hours are the times when you are timetabled to do something specific – lectures, seminars, tutorials and practicals. On some courses these may take up much of your week; on others, they might add up to as little as 5–15 hours. This leaves a lot of 'free' time each week.

But although this time may feel ‘free’, you'll need to motivate yourself to use some of this time to studying, if you want to succeed on your course. 

The number of hours that you devote to study each week will vary through the year and from year to year. For full-time, campus-based, first-year undergraduate students, an average of around 30 hours per week (including contact time) is probably about right.

Tasks to do in your independent study time

  • Reading and thinking about some of the books and articles on reading lists, and perhaps making notes
  • Talking about aspects of your subject with others on your course
  • Reviewing lecture notes and handouts
  • Planning and completing assignments, e.g. group presentations or essays
  • Working with a specialist tutor to improve your academic skills

Task and time management

You'll often have competing deadlines for projects and assignments, so it's a good idea to use a wall-planner (or a reliable electronic equivalent) to stay on top of what work you need to do, and when it needs to be completed. You'll need to take responsibility for meeting deadlines – your tutor or lecturer won't chase your work for you.

Other task-management and time-management skills – such as being able to break down bigger tasks into manageable pieces, and organising yourself – are equally important.

Lectures and seminars

Lectures are a new experience for many students. It's up to you whether you attend lectures or not, but missing a lecture can make it harder to catch up, and some courses will take disciplinary action if you miss them on a regular basis. But ultimately, your learning is your responsibility.

People learn from lectures in different ways, so it's important to find out what works for you – some people prefer to take notes on paper, others on their laptop or tablet. Reflect on your experience and look at some study skills guidance, and you'll soon have a method that suits you.

Seminars are for smaller groups of students. They're a great opportunity for you to engage in independent discussion – with your peers and your lecturer – on the topics you're covering in lectures. 

Help and support

Your personal tutor (and perhaps other lecturers), student services staff (such as counsellors, chaplains and ASK tutors) and very importantly your peers can all support your independent learning – but only if you take action to speak to and work with them. We're here to help you get the most out of your university experience, so whatever is troubling you, we'll help you to deal with it.

Download our organisation and time management revision sheet

Download this page as a PDF for your time management and revision notes.

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