University Study Skills: How to take the step up from college or sixth form

It takes time to start developing those all-important university study skills. But, where do you start? Many students find the transition to university hard to navigate because they don’t know what to expect. You can successfully take the step up from college or sixth form by understanding the essential study skills you need. Whether you’re a new student preparing to enter university or an undergraduate looking to improve your study habits, a strong foundation of study skills will be beneficial throughout your education. In this blog, we’ll cover six essential university study skills that will help you thrive in your studies and make a smooth transition to higher education.

Essential University Study Skills

Independent Learning

One of the most highly valued university study skills is independent learning. In college and sixth form, your teachers closely monitor your attendance and progress. However, at university, this responsibility is now yours. Outside of lectures, you’ll need to learn independently. Although this might seem daunting at first, it’s an opportunity for you to take charge and study a subject that really interests you. You have the freedom to create study habits that are tailored to your needs. Don’t worry if you do get stuck, there’s still help available from your lecturers, subject tutor, and academic services within the university.

Time Management

Effective time management is essential to successfully navigating the workload and responsibilities of university. You’ll need to attend lectures, seminars, and workshops throughout the week. More importantly, you’ll have a lot of free time to dedicate to readings, revision, and assignments. Time management can help you feel less overwhelmed and make it easier for you to stay on top of your studies.

Planners and calendars are the simplest way to keep track of your schedule, commitments, and deadlines. Digital-based tools are good to set yourself automated reminders and notifications. This will prevent you from forgetting or missing important lectures and deadlines. In addition to this, you can implement a study routine, and the Pomodoro technique to use your time effectively as a student.

Study Routines and Pomodoros

A regular study routine can help you to build good study habits. You can create a simple, easy-to-follow routine using your term schedule and upcoming deadlines as a guide. Each term, use this information to break down your assignments, exams, and lecture preparation into weekly to-do lists. You can then use your weekly university schedule to break this down into a daily task list. This will take some trial and error but over time, you’ll develop an idea of how long it takes you to complete readings, work on assignments, and prepare revision material. Be patient with yourself as you learn how to best juggle the workload. You can then add these tasks and study sessions to your planner or calendar.

The Pomodoro technique encourages you to work in short, focused bursts of 25 minutes. This is a good way to encourage yourself to work consistently without feeling overwhelmed. This technique also ensures you’re in a focused state while working. Instead of studying for long hours and losing focus, you know you’ve completed 25 minutes of real work. It’s also easier to make time for short study sessions or 60-90 minute study sessions that consist of 2-3 pomodoros.

desk covered in books and open notebooks with student using university study skills


You can make the most out of lectures and seminars by taking good notes. This essential university study skill can help you to make sense of the learning material and follow along during the lecture. For assignments and exam revision, those notes will help you to cover the right topics and key points. It takes time to figure out how to listen actively while taking well-organised notes. If you find it hard to focus in lectures and take effective notes, Jamworks is the ideal distraction-free assistive note-taking tool. 

You can use Jamworks to record lectures and seminar recordings with live captioning. During the recording, you can break the lecture material into sections using 1-button highlighting and pinpoint interesting information using the flags feature. Each highlight can later be reviewed as an audio clip, word-for-word transcript snippet, or a smart summary powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

Exam Revision

Learning how to revise effectively can reduce your stress during the exam season. University exams will differ depending on your subject but the common exam formats are essay-based, short answer questions (SAQs), and multiple choice questions (MCQs). It’s important to study smart and start early when revising for exams at university. 

To revise effectively, you can use the following techniques to plan and schedule your revision and implement evidence-based revision tips: 

  • The Retrospective Revision Timetable: Start revision early and focus on your weakest points using this timetabling method. This is a simple technique that lists all the topics you need to learn, how confident you feel about them, and the last time you studied them. You can use this to guide daily study sessions and progress each week as the exam season approaches.
  • Active Recall: But, how exactly do you revise? The most effective way to revise is by using active recall. Using this method, you focus on retrieving information from memory without your notes. Essentially, you test yourself often and fill in the gaps in your knowledge as you go. One easy way to do this is using flashcards. Jamworks also supports active recall by turning your lecture highlights into flashcard-style quizzes.  

Learn more about the best revision techniques in our dedicated article.

Critical Reading and Writing 

A core characteristic of university learning is the ability to think, read, and write critically. This is a key university study skill that involves students being able to analyse and evaluate arguments, ideas, and research evidence. Over time, you’ll be able to engage with complex learning material in a meaningful way. This highlights that higher education requires more than memorising facts, instead, you learn to make sense of the learning material, and develop arguments. 

You can learn to engage in critical thinking, reading, and writing by asking questions. Although it sounds difficult, this skill can be developed simply by exercising your curiosity. Identify what assumption exists and think about the related evidence. Does the evidence support or contradict these assumptions? Is the evidence strong or weak? And how reliable do you think this information is? These are just some of the kinds of questions you can start asking. You’ll often find answers in your lectures and academic papers. It’s easier to pick up on these critical questions and answers if you understand this is a key university study skill.

Research Skills

Another really important aspect of higher education is academic research. You’ll need to refer to research papers in your essays, assignments, and exams. For most courses, your lecturer will recommend key research papers, and point you in the direction of the relevant academic journals. However, you’ll also need to learn how to find research papers yourself and summarise their key findings. There are dedicated databases and research tools that you can search using keywords and filter using things like language, date, and relevance. 

Naturally, this skill will take time to develop and that’s okay! You’ll most likely be taught about research during your course. You can ensure you are well-equipped by making sure to follow their recommendations and not shying away from research papers. The more you familiarise yourself with them, the easier it will be later on to understand them. Moreover, it’s usually the research findings that are the most important part for your essays and assignments. 

Finding 1-2 papers of your own to support the arguments made in your assessments is a good way to demonstrate independent learning and research without overwhelming yourself. You’ll also need to learn how to reference. Find out early on what reference method is expected and use online guides and university resources to follow the correct formatting. If you’re confused, seek support from the university’s library services, and make use of digital tools and reference managers.


Finally, remember higher education is a journey. These university study skills are important but you’re not expected to be the perfect student straight away. Instead, be mindful of these skills and look for opportunities to practise them. The best thing you can do is adopt a growth mindset when adapting to university learning. It’s normal to get things wrong, feel confused, and find things hard. You’re there to learn and this is all part of the process!

Keep trying and don’t be afraid to seek support and ask questions. This will help you build good relationships and highlight that you’re a proactive student. If you find reaching out hard, try using online resources instead, this can be directly from your university but you can also find a large amount of valuable information for studying on platforms like YouTube, study blogs, and social media accounts.

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