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Sixth Form Study Skills: Study Skills for the EPQ

Time Management

1. Work out WHEN you work best

Do you concentrate best in the morning or are you hopeless until after lunch? Are you always too tired to think properly after 10pm or do you love that quiet time with no distractions? Work out which times are best for 'thinking' activities (reading and writing) and which are best for 'admin' activities (searching and organising).

2. Work out HOW you work best

Are you a sprinter or a marathon runner? Do you work best with a deadline looming or does that stress you out? Acknowledge your working patterns and plan your time accordingly.

3. Work out when you CAN work

Use a grid or a diary (paper or online) to work out when you are busy and when you could work. Even half hour slots may be useable. Be realistic - give yourself some time off!

4. Get a full list of all your deadlines

Find out all your deadlines and put them in your diary.

5. Plan, plan, plan

Using all of the information you have from the four points above, and working backwards from your deadlines, fill in the available times in your diary with 'SMART' targets (see below) for each session.

6. Use SMART targets

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. So instead of planning to 'do research' or 'write some of the essay' during a 1 hour slot you should be more specific i.e. 'read and make notes on two articles' or 'write a paragraph on point B (200-300 words)'. That way you know what you need to do and you will know that you have achieved it. This is better for keeping motivated too.

7. Fill your time 'fragments'

It is easy to waste slots of 10 or 20 minutes because we don't think we have enough time to get anything done (waiting for things to start or people to arrive, sitting on a bus etc.). These time fragments can actually be useful if you plan ahead. For example, you can use the time to find a suitable article on your phone; read a paper; brainstorm initial ideas for an essay etc. Keep a notebook with you or use an app on your phone and you can fill these wasted moments and save time when you could be working on something more complicated later.

8. Stay organised

When you are too tired to work on something complicated, use the time to organise your workspace, your notes, your files etc. It will save time in the future (as you will be able to find what you need) and make you feel more able to work on the 'thinking' tasks when you are more rested as you won't be tempted to tidy up instead.

Essay Writing

Being able to write a good essay is a key skill to master if you want to succeed at university. By completing the EPQ you are providing evidence when applying for university that you can write an essay. Our top ten tips for writing essays are below:

1. Read the question carefully and understand what is required

Although you will be setting the question yourself for the EPQ you still need to ensure that you answer the question! Be clear about the focus of the essay and check that you are answering this with each paragraph.

2. Preparatory reading

Do not begin writing your EPQ until you have enough knowledge (information from books and journal articles) to support your overall conclusion. As you read you will confirm your conclusion.

3. Make an essay plan

This will help enormously when you begin to write. You can use a mind map or a spider diagram - whatever works for you. It just helps to get your ideas down on paper before you start writing. Decide on the main ideas or issues to be covered in the EPQ. What points will lead to your conclusion?

4. Gather information

As you will usually be writing your EPQ on a topic completely unrelated to your A level subjects you will need to gather the information yourself instead of using class notes. Visit your 6th form library and see what they can offer in the way of books, journal articles and websites. If your school arranges a visit with the University you will have some time for independent study and will be able to use our resources.

5. Structuring your essay

All essays need an introduction, main body and conclusion. The introduction and conclusion should be approximately 10% of your total word count each.

Your paragraphs also need a structure: as a general rule remember one point = one paragraph. A typical academic paragraph should follow the PEEL structure: Point (assert something), Evidence (back up your point with references or experience), Explanation (how this helps answer the question), Link (to the next paragraph or back to the essay title).

6. Most essays will require you to think critically

It is in the analysis/explanation part of your paragraphs that you will gain marks for showing an ability to discuss and analyse the facts and argument that you have presented. Make sure that every paragraph explains why it is relevant to answering the question or reaching you conclusion.

7. Use academic writing style

In essay you need to write in a formal, clear, cautious and balanced manner. Only write in the first person (I) if your teacher has said that it is acceptable.

8. Sequence your argument

This means developing a clear line of thought. Your ideas need to be organised in a sequence meaningful to the reader, and which can be sign posted in the introduction. Include sign posts throughout your writing to show how your argument is developing: phrases such as 'in addition', 'furthermore', 'conversely', 'consequently' etc all help your reader follow your line of reason.

9. Support your argument by citing and referencing your sources

Make notes as you read and record publication information and page numbers so that you can create your reference list.

10. Remember, your first draft is exactly that

Be prepared to amend, add, expand or adjust parts until you are satisfied with the presentation and content. Check for: your content, argument and meaning; referencing; spelling and grammar; punctuation; and style.