This website was created to help new students cope successfully with academic life at university. The study advice on this website will benefit all students who are interested in doing well in their studies.
You can view the Juta Academic Survival Kit here
You can also download the Juta Academic Survival Kit PDF version here
Your first day at university can be overwhelming and stressful. It is therefore a good idea to be as prepared as possible. Below is a checklist of what you should take with you to lectures:
You need to create a learning environment that is beneficial to your physical and mental well-being and that will enable you to receive the most from your university education.
The list below contains some characteristics of an inadequate learning environment that may have been a hindrance to your learning experience and education at high school. They may have prevented you from achieving your best:
These ‘physical aspects’ add up to an unhealthy learning environment. If you have experienced some of these situations at one point or another in your high school career you need to make some changes in order to perform well at university.
The word ‘environment’ as used here means your entire learning situation, including all the conditions that make it a good or bad place in which you can learn and study.
Below is a list of helpful tips to enable you to create a healthy learning environment:
A study timetable is crucial for establishing a regular study routine. Creating such a timetable and following it right from the start will help you to prepare successfully for your exams. It will make you aware of the time available to you and will help you manage that time wisely.
Click here to download a PDF of the study timetable
When drawing up your timetable it is important to take note of the following:
It is easier for your brain to absorb new information if it can make connections to already learned knowledge. This helps to store information in your long-term memory. If you go through material before your lecture your brain will be able to make connections more quickly during the lecture and store the information in your long-term memory. Without this extra step you will quickly forget what the lecturer said in the lecture. To go the extra mile, also spend a couple of minutes to read through your notes from the lecture after the lecture, perhaps during a break or lunchtime.
When your study session approaches, you may often find that you suddenly want to do something else. You may want to start cleaning your room, or make some tea, or ‘just quickly’ phone or SMS a friend. This is called procrastination. You are trying to avoid starting to study. To combat procrastination, do the following:
Your most difficult subject
When studying your various subjects spend the most time on your most difficult subject. It is best to tackle this subject when your concentration and focus are more readily available. Establish when your best time of study is – for some people this is early in the morning, for others it may be late afternoon or early evening.
Be aware of your limitations
Different people can study for different lengths of time in one stretch. Be aware of what your limits are. If you need regular breaks in a study session keep them to a maximum of 10 minutes. Try to have a study session of at least an hour and a half. See the section ‘Dealing with procrastination’ on how to divide up your study session if you tend to procrastinate or have trouble concentrating for a long time. Simple exercise, such as stretching or taking a quick walk, can clear your head and help you cope with the next section of studying.
Take time off
Studying can be physically and mentally draining. Therefore you need to make time to relax and take your mind off your work for a while. Exercise helps you relax and benefits your body as well as your mind.
Changes to your schedule
Be prepared to change your schedule in case something comes up and clashes with your scheduled study time. Never miss a study session completely; rather work around the other events of your day and try to allocate a different time for your studying. If you can’t fit in an entire session elsewhere in your schedule, remember that it is always better to have a short study session than having no study session!
Your personal best study time
Everybody has a time when it is best for them to study and that works well for them. Try to study during those hours to ensure that you perform at your best.
The most important way of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping up with your academic work is to get enough sleep. According to research the optimal length of time that a person should sleep is 7–8 hours per day. Too little or too much sleep can negatively affect mental performance. This is particularly important during exams as you need to be alert and focused.
Preparing a study timetable is only the start to establishing good, healthy study habits. Take note of the tips below to ensure you pass your academic year.
Don’t miss out – Pay attention
Even when you feel bored by a lecturer you still need to pay attention to what he or she says as much as possible. Lecturers may give explanations and examples that are not in the textbook. They may also give hints or advice on what is important, or how to approach certain questions. If you’re chatting to your friends or drifting away you’ll miss out. Try to sit close enough to the front of the lecture hall so that you are able to see and hear everything clearly.
Don’t be scared – Ask questions
It can be very daunting to put up your hand and ask a lecturer a question, especially if it is in front of hundreds of other students that you don’t know. If you feel shy to ask a question in class, or if there is something that you are unsure about or do not understand, you can approach lecturers after class during their office hours. Lecturers are helpful and will be supportive if you engage with them. If you are not keen to approach the lecturer ask a fellow student for help. It is often helpful to discuss the topics covered in the lecture with other students who may have a better understanding.
Don’t be distracted by student life – Get enough sleep
The life of a student can be filled with exciting social events and as a first-year you may be tempted to party all night long or stay up watching TV or using the Internet. When making plans to go out for social events, ensure that you have finished your most important work first. The best time for socialising is over the weekends when you don’t have to get up early to attend morning lectures. It is vital that you maintain a consistent and healthy amount of sleep throughout the week, especially on Sunday nights. You want to be well rested on Monday mornings in order to tackle the week ahead of you. Weekends are for fun and social activities, but can also be used to catch up on work. By Sunday evening you should start preparing for the week ahead.
Don’t fall asleep at your desk – Stay awake
When you are studying and finding it difficult to concentrate, you may feel yourself dozing off. When this happens, set your kitchen timer or alarm for shorter periods than usual, for example 10 minutes. Once it goes off, take a short 5-minute break by stretching your legs and sipping some fruit juice. This will help keep you alert for the next 10 minutes.
Don’t panic – Stay calm
An advantage of establishing good study habits early on in the year, is that it helps you to stay calm in the face of overwhelming work (for example, when you have multiple assignment deadlines for the same day). If you have been keeping up with your academic work by studying regularly, you will be less likely to panic, and will be able to focus on one task at a time.
Don’t forget your responsibilities – Become an adult
Most first-year students are at an age where they are not quite adults yet, but they aren’t teenagers either. There are certain responsibilities that come along with becoming an adult. One of these involves taking responsibility for your education. You no longer have teachers or parents constantly reminding you to do your work or finish an assignment. It is your own choice to study and you must take full responsibility for your learning experience. No one is going to remind you about deadlines for your assignments, test dates and so on. It is up to you to remind yourself when your work needs to be handed in, and when you have to write tests and exams.
Don’t create problems for yourself – Be organised
You don’t have to be a perfectionist, but try to keep your work neat and easily accessible. Make sure you date all your work so that you can keep it in the correct order. Allocate a separate file for each of your subjects.
In addition to keeping your work in order, you should also order your living environment in a way that will cater for your academic needs. Keep your study materials, stationery, notes and textbooks in a clearly defined space. It is difficult to study to your best ability if your room is messy. You don’t have to be obsessive about it, but try to keep your room reasonably clean and tidy. An organised and uncluttered work space encourages an organised and uncluttered mind.
Learn to organise for emergencies. For example, keep a spare light bulb for your desk lamp to avoid the unpleasant situation of a burnt-out bulb on the night before a test or exam. Also keep spare pens and paper handy.
The strategies that are given below are ways of holding onto information and recalling information.
The bar graph illustrated above displays learning strategies in increasing order of effectiveness, from top to bottom. The top bar, Listening, is the least effective strategy. The bottom bar shows the strategy that is most effective in helping your brain to retain and later recall information. This does not mean that the other strategies should be discarded completely. Each of these strategies plays a part in helping you to understand, absorb and recall information.
When studying, it is best to use a variety of techniques. We shall elaborate on a few of the techniques in more detail below.
When you apply these techniques, you are taking full responsibility for your learning.
When you explain a section of academic work to other students, you yourself benefit the most from the exercise. You have to understand something really well to be able to teach it to others. If you have trouble explaining a concept to another student, it probably means that you do not understand it well enough, and that you have to go back and revise the topic. Because you have to prepare thoroughly and really think about concepts to be able to impart your knowledge to others, this technique is an excellent preparation for when you write tests or exams.
This technique is an especially good way of keeping the information in your long-term memory, making it easier to recollect the information when you need it. Studying with another student or in a group can be beneficial, but remember to stay focused. Do not get distracted by non-academic discussions.
This technique is useful if you prefer to study by yourself or when your other study partners are unavailable. When new information is given to you in the lectures, go through the material every day or as often as possible. This cements the information in your long-term memory, and helps prepare you for a test or exam.
When applying this technique, do not read through the material in an unfocused way. This is ineffective and a waste of time. Keep yourself alert and interested by testing yourself as you read through the material. Ask yourself questions about what you are reading, and answer your questions. This will help you concentrate and will also help you understand the content better.
When reading through your notes or any other material that the lecturer has set for you, you can use this technique to help your brain remember and store the information. This technique isn’t new and is still one of the most effective techniques for storing information into long-term memory.
Study: Go through the material and make sure you understand the content by making brief summaries and/or drawing simple mind maps.
Cover: Cover up the work that you have just read and understood.
Recall: Try to remember the key information and write it down in bullet points.
Check: See if what you have written corresponds with your original notes and learning material. If you have left out some key information redo the exercise and add the missing information to your list.
This technique involves the following routine: survey, question, read, recite and review. SQ3R helps you to get an overview of the information and build a framework, in addition to helping you to hold on to the information in long-term memory.
Step 1: Survey
This is a quick scan of the reading material. Depending on the amount of material, this will take approximately 1–5 minutes. While you scan through the information you should try to understand the general theme or meaning of the chapter or section.
When scanning, look at the following closely:
The main headings are usually in a larger font and different colour, or highlighted in bold. They will tell you what the main concepts are.
Step 2: Question
Take a couple of minutes longer than Step 1 (roughly 5–10 minutes) and take a closer look at your reading material by asking yourself questions. Ask yourself what you are trying to find out by studying the material. As you progress write down your questions on your exam pad.
Take note of the headings and convert them into questions.
Step 3: Read
Now read slowly through the information. Make a note of everything you do not understand fully. You will have to come back to these points later and explore them in more detail, perhaps by consulting other resources. As you read, search for the answers to the questions you wrote down in Step 2. This process is known as active reading and takes concentration and focus.
Reread the captions under pictures, graphs, etc. Take special note of the underlined, italicised and bold printed words or phrases. Examine all graphs and diagrams. These will sum up and clarify the content that you have just read.
Step 4: Recite
Summarise the information you have just read using your own words. Write down what you have summarised and say it out loud to yourself.
Step 5: Review
This means going over everything you have done by:
You can combine the SQ3R technique with Study technique 1 (‘Teaching others’) by adding a 6th step – tell or explain to someone what you have just read.
If you are struggling to remember some of the more difficult concepts you can make flashcards, or develop mnemonics. Mnemonics are rhymes or sentences that can help you remember content. (See the section ‘Use appropriate strategies for rote learning’.)
Long-term memory is more receptive to images than to words, therefore using visual aids is a powerful study technique. Although most of what you study will be given to you as written information, you can still turn the information into a visual aid.
A mind map is a visual aid that is a great way of summarising and storing information. Below is an example of what a good mind map looks like. Use colour where possible, as this creates an association that can help you to recall the information from your long-term memory.
Click here to view a larger Mind Map
Look for relationships
When creating a mind map it is important to understand which sections of information relate to each other, and how they relate. Place a central idea in the middle, and relating themes and what they entail around your central theme, question or idea.
How to draw a mind map
Step 1: Pick the section of information you would like to transform into a mind map.
Step 2: Write the central idea, question or theme in the middle of the page and outline it with a shape, for example a circle or rectangle.
Step 3: Draw several branches from this central shape and give each separate branch a heading that relates to your central idea. Draw a shape around each of these headings.
Step 4: Expand each of the separate headings by adding keywords or bulleted information. You can also add further sub-branches
Leave enough space when drawing your mind map in case you want to add information or questions later.
Use capitals for your main ideas. The more prominent your information is, the easier it will be for your brain to memorise the content. Use capitals for the more important information and lower case for the less important words.
Other examples of visual aids are diagrams, graphs, tables and flowcharts. Creating visual aids is a great way of learning because you have to pick the most important points. This means that you have to read the material carefully, selecting and understanding the information as you go along. You will also pick up important connections that you can display in a memorable way on your visual aid.
When drawing any type of visual aid it can be very useful to use different colours. However, do not use colour indiscriminately – use it meaningfully, for example to group ideas together, or show the relative importance of different concepts, or to show the relationships between ideas.
From your very first day at university you will be reminded that you have to write exams in order to receive a degree at the end of your studies. Lecturers will remind you throughout the semester, and may hint at what could be in the final exams. Attend all lectures and carefully read through all communications (e.g. study letters) from your lecturers to ensure that you do not miss out on something important. By doing this and by using the study techniques on this website and following a consistent timetable, you will be more than ready to tackle the exams. Below is a list of what you can do in the last few weeks before your exam that will help you to pass.
It is important to revise all your subjects. This means going through all your notes, summaries, assignments and visual aids for reading material on each subject. The following points are important:
The first thing you need to do before you begin revising is to organise all your work. Everything should be dated and in the correct order so that you can start revising from the first day of studies to your last class. Keep the work for different subjects separate. Estimate how long each subject will take you to revise, and use your exam timetable to check how much time you have left for each subject before you write the corresponding exam. Then create a special exam study timetable in which you allocate time for each of your subjects. Try to have a varied timetable (a mix of subjects per day) so you don’t get stuck focusing on only one subject.
It is a good idea to spread out your learning. For example, spend two hours on a subject, then take a break and after that change to a different subject. Use your kitchen timer to break up the two hours into manageable sections (as described in the section ‘Dealing with procrastination’). When you come back to a previous subject try to recall what you have studied so far, before continuing.
When drawing up an exam study timetable you should take into consideration when you feel that you learn best. Also consider the subject that you are studying. If it’s a subject you find particularly difficult you should study it during your ‘best time’. Don’t forget to build in breaks between subjects. Use a slightly longer interval than usual (15–20 minutes) for breaks between subjects.
It is important that you don’t mindlessly go through all your notes without really taking in any of the information. Constantly ask yourself relevant questions on the material before you. What have I just learned? What sort of question can they ask about this in the exam? It may help you to join or start an exam study group or to study with a friend. However, try not to get distracted by chatting about non-exam related subjects.
Ensure that you thoroughly understand the content of the subject you are studying. You will not be able to answer certain exam questions if you do not have a clear understanding of the concepts.
Rote learning is the accurate memorisation of facts and figures. You can use the following methods:
Flash cards: Make flash cards of what you find difficult to remember. A flash card usually has a word or concept on the front, and a definition, formula or more relevant information on the back. Test yourself using your flash cards whenever you have a moment, for example while you are having breakfast. Look at the word on the front and try to recall the information on the back. Turn the card around to check if you are correct. Use bold colours and capital letters for the important words.
Post-it notes: Use Post-it notes or small pieces of paper to write important definitions, formulas or other facts and figures that you need to remember. Stick or tape them to your physical environment, for example above the kettle or on a mirror.
Mnemonics: It can be fun to design mnemonics for detailed information that you need to remember. Types of mnemonics include songs, names, expressions or words, rhymes and images. Try to create a mnemonic that contains the essential points by using a personalised memorable phrase. Here are two examples of such mnemonic phrases:
Make sure to constantly test yourself on the work you are studying. Try to remember what you have studied by saying the information aloud to yourself. Do this before you move on to the next section in order to help cement the information in your long-term memory.
In some subjects, such as Mathematics, Statistics, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering and Accounting, it is not enough to go through the material by reading, summarising and trying to recall information. In these subjects you have to practise solving problems. You will have problems from your assignments, test papers and from your textbook that you can work out again. If there are worked-out problems in the material you are studying, don’t just read through them and assume that you understand how to solve the problem. Read through the solution once to see if you understand each step, then cover the solution with a piece of paper and try to solve the problem yourself. You will be surprised how often you get stuck, even though you have just read through the solution. Make sure that you are constantly testing yourself by solving problems for each topic in a particular subject. Practising solving problems is crucial to prepare yourself thoroughly for the exams in such subjects.
Fill in your basic student information
It is best to fill in your student information on your exam paper before the exam begins. You do not want to waste time doing this during precious exam time.
Take note of the instructions
For some of your exams you will be given time to read through your question paper (roughly 15 minutes) before the exam starts. Take careful note of the instructions section. In cases where you are not given special time to read through the paper, allocate about 10 minutes to do so as soon as the exam starts. It is a good idea to highlight or mark on the paper which questions you are going to answer and alert yourself to the questions that you feel you will be able to answer best.
Use your time wisely
It is extremely important to take note of the amount of time you have available to write your questions. Look at the total exam marks and divide this into the total exam time. This will give you the amount of time you can spend per mark. For example, if the exam counts 150 marks and you are given 3 hours (180 minutes) you can spend 1 minute and 12 seconds per mark. (180 divided by 150). This means that you can spend about 24 minutes on a 20-mark question. Give yourself some time to plan longer essay-type questions before you start writing. For example, for an essay question for which you have allocated 45 minutes, use about 10 minutes for planning and 35 minutes for writing.
There may be a compulsory question made up of multiple choice sub-questions. Generally you should spend about one minute on each multiple choice question, but this depends on the mark allocation and on the subject.
Read the questions carefully
If there are options, choose them wisely. Start with the questions you feel you can answer the best. Take your time to read the question carefully and make sure you understand exactly what the question asks of you.
Make sure you that you ANSWER THE QUESTON!
When approaching a question that you believe you can answer, do not rush straight into it. Make sure that you answer what is asked, and not just write what you know about the topic. Pick out keywords that tell you exactly what is being asked of you. Examples of these keywords are: explain, discuss, give an example, apply, contrast, compare, briefly, summarise, etc.
To answer questions appropriately, make sure that you:
This exam-questioning technique is used by examiners to test your overall knowledge on what you have been taught. In some cases there is no right or wrong answer but simply the most correct answer.
Try to use the tips below to help you when answering MCQs:
Avoid the following when writing an exam:
You need to develop and practise a variety of writing skills to perform well at university. The most important of these are:
Writing notes of important points is a skill that is not taught at university. This is something students have to learn on their own. Writing notes usually takes place in three different contexts:
Taking notes in a lecture setting
It is usually impossible to take down everything that the lecturer says. Therefore you must learn to interpret and summarise the content of the lecture by writing down the key points. You don’t have to write full sentences that are grammatically correct. It is more important that you understand what you have written. Accept that you won’t be able to get everything down. It is more important that you follow the logical argument or explanation as the lecturer speaks, and jot down keywords and phrases that will help you recall his words when you later read through your notes. Your text book and handouts will provide the full context, so don’t get anxious. Think of yourself as a sponge that absorbs the information as the lecturer speaks. A few drops of water will inevitably escape!
Notes do not have to be neat, but ensure that you’re able to read what you have written.
How to take good notes
Taking notes from books and articles in study or research settings
During your university career you will be presented with a number of assignments. Assignments may take different forms, such as essays, problem-solving assignments and reports. Each of these needs to be approached in a different way.
How to illustrate your answer in your essay
One of the most common mistakes that students make when writing an essay is that they don’t answer the question. You may be able to write on the topic and may thoroughly engage with the information that you have researched, but this does not necessarily mean that you are answering the question.
To make sure you answer the question you must understand it. Read and re-read the question, taking note of specific words that tell you how to answer it. Highlight these key words. There are also other words that identify what information must be in your answer. Circle these words.
Plan what you are going to write
There is usually a large amount of material that needs to be carefully organised before you begin writing your essay. An effective way is to draw a spider diagram or a mind map of what you need to answer and the information you need to provide in your essay.
Why bother to plan?
Planning your essay ensures that you include all the information that you are required to provide. It also helps you write an essay with a clear argument and a logical structure. In addition, planning ensures that you make consistent connections throughout the essay between the information you provide and the question that was asked.
Writing your essay
Your introduction must show how you are going to structure your information in the remainder of the essay, identifying the main points that you will address, as well as how they relate to the question.
The body of the essay is divided into a number of paragraphs. Each paragraph gives a section of the information and must correspond with what you wrote in your introduction. You must provide a clear argument, backing up each of your points with the evidence that you collected. You can quote from books and other research material to emphasise a point or to explain why you are making some claim. However, use quotes sparingly. Do not fill your essay with another person’s words. Your lecturers want to know what you think, and are more interested in your own words and explanations of concepts.
When writing your conclusion you must briefly summarise your argument and findings. Emphasize your main ideas and how they answer the question.
The conclusion summarises the main points and leads the reader back to the question. The conclusion should be brief and not include any new information.
In some subjects you may be given a research project. Your lecturers will provide you with full details of what will be expected from you and how you should conduct your research and present your findings. The following is a generalized and brief description of some of the issues involved in research projects.
This involves gathering information yourself, and does not refer to using secondary resources. For example, data collection can involve interviewing people or doing experiments in a laboratory setting. If you need to interview people, you must design a questionnaire first. Similarly, if you need to collect data by doing experiments, you must first design your experiment. The following criteria will give you guidance in designing suitable questions for an interview:
A written report is used to describe an investigation or enquiry, or to present the results of a research project. It should be written in a specific format – your university will have its own guidelines for writing research reports, and you should read them carefully before writing your report. A report should consist of evidence, findings and recommendations. The introduction to a research report discusses the purpose of the research (the research question), how the research was conducted and briefly indicates your findings. The body of the report explains the method of investigation, and discusses your findings in detail. Finally a conclusion states your recommendations, why they are important and how they answer or address the research question. In the conclusion you can also identify possible research that may be undertaken in future to further illuminate the research question. Be as objective as possible when writing your report.
Plagiarism is copying what someone else has written or taking somebody else's ideas or words and presenting them as your own, without acknowledging the source. Even if you do not quote verbatim from a book or article, you still need to acknowledge it in your reference list if you made use of it. When you paraphrase (rewrite in your own words someone else’s ideas or thoughts) without acknowledging the source, it is still considered plagiarism. It is therefore extremely important that you always acknowledge your sources in all your work. Universities consider plagiarism in a very serious light. If you are found guilty of plagiarism you may not be allowed to continue your studies. If you are unsure whether something in your report or assignment needs to be acknowledged, check with your lecturer or tutor.
To acknowledge a source you insert a citation in the body of the text, and add a full reference in your reference list at the end of your assignment, essay or report.
When writing assignments, research reports or theses, you are required to find both secondary and primary sources. This involves looking for books, journal articles and websites that will give you information on the topic you are researching. These sources must be cited in your work whenever you refer to them. This includes quotations as well as paraphrasing information. It is therefore important to write down the details of a book or article when you make notes from it. This will help prevent accidentally plagiarising someone else’s work. ‘Citing’ means to refer to the author of your source, the date of publication, and where necessary the page number.
Different universities, and sometimes academic faculties within a university, may follow different formats for citing and referencing in academic writing. Check with your lecturer which type of reference style your faculty requires, and how to use it.
Examples of different reference styles
Examples of citing and referencing a source
In an assignment for Psychology, you may find the following:
(Note that there is no direct quotation, but the information has been paraphrased and therefore the source has to be acknowledged. The page number does not have to be included because it is not a direct quotation.)
(Note that here there is a direct quotation from the source. Quotation marks are used and the author, year of publication of book, as well as the page(s) on which the quote can be found, are specified in brackets.)
In addition to the citations in the text of your assignment or report, you need to include the full reference in your reference list, which usually appears at the end. For the above examples, the full reference will be:
Diamond, J (2002). The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee. How our animal heritage affects the way we live. London: Vintage.
How to reference an Internet website
When you use information from Internet websites for an assignment, you need to include the reference in your reference list. Take note of the following:
An example of a reference to the Internet:
Richardson, P W. ‘When Animals Speak’. Columbia Journal of Language Studies. Available online at http://www.coljls.org/2014/dec/when-animals-speak/. Accessed 22 Nov. 2014.
In our digital age presentations have become very common in the workplace, and the technology available is varied and exciting. It is therefore important to practise your presentation skills during your university career. Although it is important to learn how to use the different technologies available, for example how to set up and use PowerPoint slides on a computer, the most important skill is to verbally communicate your research or argument to a large number of people.
To become an effective speaker, you need to do the following:
Presentations are similar to essays in that a presentation also consists of an introduction, a body and a conclusion. You should pay particular attention to the following when planning each section of your presentation:
Introduction: Give an attention-grabbing introduction. The introduction should hook your audience and make them keen to listen to the rest of the presentation.
Body: This must be well-structured, informative and logical. Your argument must be made clear in a point-by-point fashion.
Conclusion: Summarise your argument or findings. Leave the audience something to think about or present them with a challenge.
Make sure that you plan your presentation to fit comfortably into the allocated time. Establish how fast you need to speak in order to convey everything within the allocated time. Practise the pace at which you need to present. However, do not rush through your material to finish within the allocated time – rather plan properly and leave out or shorten some parts of your presentation. Decide what is most important and relevant for the audience to know before cutting your presentation.
When planning your presentation think about audio-visual material that you can use to illustrate your points and keep your audience’s attention.
You should take the following points into account when planning your presentation, as they determine the style in which you present (casual, formal or entertaining):
There are a number of techniques which you can use for your presentation, depending on your style, audience, purpose and context. These techniques can help you feel more prepared and in control when you finally present.
The most important technique to ensure delivering a successful presentation is to practise it. Repeat it until you are familiar with the content, and feel comfortable and confident.
Practising your presentation will help you become a better speaker because it:
Practising your speech in front of a friend will help you with the last two points.
Using visual aids
When using technology such as PowerPoint, it is important to use it as a visual aid only. Your presentation should not revolve around the slides. This means that the visual aid should not take the place of what you want to say, but should only be used to emphasise certain points. Below are a number of tips on how to use visual aids such as PowerPoint slides appropriately.
One of the most important non-verbal cues is the eye contact between the speaker and audience. Look at your audience when you are giving your speech. This shows that you are confident about your material and encourages their undivided attention. It is important to do this throughout your entire presentation, including the question time at the end. Do not fix your eyes on one person only, but let your gaze move and rest on different members of your audience. If you need to use notes, keep them to a minimum and take a quick glance at them when you change the slides or when you finish a section of your presentation.
Establishing eye contact throughout your speech increases your credibility.
Facial expressions and gestures
When presenting to an audience, try to smile at times. This creates a friendly atmosphere which will make your audience more likely to listen and give you their attention. It is important not to remain rigid in one position – use some form of movement. This can be as simple as using your hands to show enthusiasm and emphasis, or moving your head slightly to indicate a question. Use movements that come naturally to you.
Posture and body orientation
One way of showing confidence in yourself as well as in your presentation is to stand up straight in an assured and comfortable manner. Look at your audience and avoid staring at the floor. Having good posture helps create respect from the audience. Avoid turning your back to your audience as this makes it difficult for them to hear what you say. If you have to write on a board or flip chart, finish writing first, and then turn back to the audience to explain.
Using humour as a presentation technique is a great way of connecting to your audience. It can help to create a friendly relaxed environment and an engaged audience. However, do not overdo it. Also avoid using verbal humour if this does not come naturally to you – you can always add humour with an appropriate slide.
Devices to use when speaking
The following devices can be used to communicate your ideas more effectively:
A pause is a useful way of emphasising a certain point. It also helps your audience by giving them time to process the information. Pauses can also help create anticipation and suspense. The audience will pay more attention as they will be curious to hear what you are going to say next.
A rhetorical question is when you ask a question but you don’t expect an answer – the answer is obvious to the speaker and the audience. This is a way of encouraging your audience to agree with you.
Emphasis and volume
There are different ways in which you can emphasise a point, for example:
Always avoid speaking in a monotone (i.e. with no change in pitch or intonation).
An analogy is when a speaker compares the concept he (or she) is explaining with something simple that the audience can relate to. This helps the audience understand the content more clearly and easily.
Repeating a point, term or definition during a presentation can help the audience remember it better. Repetition also emphasises that this particular point is important.
You can use changes in tempo to emphasise certain points. Changing the tempo is also a way of making your presentation more interesting and expressive. Use a slightly faster tempo to show excitement, humour or surprise. A slightly slower pace can be used to indicate emphasis and gravity.
Using inclusive/exclusive pronouns
When preparing your presentation it is important to consider the use of pronouns, such as 'I', 'you', 'we', 'they', 'he', 'she' and 'it'. Inclusive words such as 'we' and 'our' can help the speaker connect to the audience and create a bond.
There are a number of resources at your disposal at university. You should learn how to access these resources and how to pick the correct and appropriate information for assignments, research and reports. It is important that you are able to identify credible resources that are relevant to your subject and to the topic that you are researching.
Examples of resources that are available to you:
Using the Internet as a resource
Unlike the other resources the Internet can be an unreliable source of information. Anyone can create a website and add information which may be incorrect or biased. Therefore it is important that you are able to distinguish between credible sources and unreliable ones. Here are a few tips to help you access reliable information:
Selecting relevant information
When you first begin to research a topic you usually start with your assigned textbook or other reading material that the lecturer has provided. You read through the topic in your initial material and pick out keywords that are relevant to the topic or question that you need to research. Use these keywords to find information in other resources. Look out for the following keywords in your initial material:
The above keywords are a starting point only. You should look for more keywords that are related to the specific topic you are researching.
Also look for citations and references on the topic in your textbook. These often lead to valuable material for your research.
Techniques to use when seeking relevant information
If you have access to an online library system you can use keywords in a search to find relevant books, journal articles and papers. This is a quick way of finding the appropriate resources. When reading through these resource materials you will need to do a further selection as the information presented can be vast and overwhelming.
The following two techniques can be useful:
Scanning involves moving your eyes swiftly up and down and side to side across the page, while looking for specific keywords. Do not read the material or attempt to understand it, but simply scan for keywords. Also look for the author's use of ‘organisers’. Organisers include numbers, letters, steps, or words such as ‘ first’, ‘second’, or ’next’. Note words that are in bold or italic. Once you have established whether the document or section is relevant to your research, you can skim through it.
Skimming is used once you have decided that the document will be relevant to your research. You will then skim through sections that contain certain phrases, ideas or concepts that you have identified with your keyword search. Skimming should be done faster than when you read through an entire document.