10 things you can do, to become an independent learner.

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  1. Study even when you don’t want to
    Independent learners understand that present frustration is worthwhile to achieve future success. So rather than procrastinating and watching an entire season of House of Cards in one day, they know that starting their essay now will benefit them next month. Or that beginning revision early (when they could be relaxing) will help them later and should get them a higher exam grade.
  1. Believe you can become more intelligent
    Fixed mindset is the belief your intelligence is unchangeable. You’re either smart or you’re not. You’re either ‘an exam person’ or you’re not.On the other hand, independent learners have or are developing a growth mindset – the belief that your level of intelligence can be improved.
  1. Don’t be afraid to read outside the course material
    Sometimes you’ll come across a concept in your textbooks YOU.JUST.DON’T.UNDERSTAND.But this doesn’t mean you should skip it and move onto the next chapter. There were times in my study that my textbook just didn’t explain a theory well enough for me to understand. So I found the full reference and researched the theory online until I could understand and apply it in my studies.When you reach a barrier it may seem sensible to just turn back. But an independent learner tries to find another explanation. They dig deeper and look at other sources. Often this fills in the blanks and they’re able to understand the idea and continue on their journey.
  1. Know when to seek help
    An independent learner knows the value in solving problems by themselves. Sometimes looking at a problem differently or taking a break and coming back to it will help you see a glimmer of a solution. But if you’ve tried to work out a problem and you’re still struggling – ask for help. An independent learner understands that seeking support is a strength, not a weakness. So contact your tutor if you’re struggling to grasp a concept or you can’t work out how to tackle your next essay.
  1. Never be surprised by due dates
    There is never an excuse for missing a deadline you didn’t realize existed. So don’t try to remember due dates. Instead, find a way to record every single practice test, essay due date, and exam. Independent learners plan their workload by their due dates. They work backward from essay deadlines so they know when to start when to have the first draft, and when to submit. They know when their exam or exam period is so they can plan when to start their revision.
  1. Know where to find your notes and documents
    At school, I definitely didn’t have a system for my notes or documents. I remember I used to arrive at my Maths classes with a scrap of paper and I normally had to borrow a pen. Those class notes went in my bag and then just disappeared. When it came to my exams I had next to no revision notes and what I did have was completely disorganized. An independent learner uses simple but effective systems to keep their notes and documents organized, so they always know where to find them. Take time to set up a simple folder structure so you don’t lose your documents or waste valuable study time searching for them.
  1. Don’t fall behind by not spending enough time studying
    It can be hard to find a balance between making time for studying, but also having a life. An independent learner knows they need to build studying into an everyday habit. Look closely at how you’re spending your time for a week. Then decide if you’re committing enough time to study. When you’ve got a big deadline coming up, adjust your schedule to make studying more of a priority.
  1. Be willing to try new study techniques
    It can be easy to always take notes or revise in the same way. But an independent learner understands that different subjects and modules may suit different techniques. They regularly re-evaluate what they’re doing for effectiveness and aren’t afraid to change.
  1. Be intentional with your study time
    Independent learners are deliberate with how they spend their time, whether it’s studying or relaxing. You may spend 2 hours studying but half of it you’re reacting to notifications on your phone, having a quick scroll through Facebook, or posting on Instagram. An independent learner would instead spend 1 hour studying with intention and then spend 1 hour relaxing guilt-free. If you make every study session productive and distraction-free, you will have more time for what you actually want to do.
  1. Seek and act on feedback
    Your university tutor’s aim is to get you through their course with a good grade. They should be giving you feedback on your assignments and test quizzes. I studied with the Open University where the comments were always quite detailed.

If this isn’t the case for your university – ask for feedback instead. This demonstrates you are motivated so tutors should be willing to help.

Then, you need to make sure you do something with this feedback otherwise it’s pointless. Independent learners understand they must act on their feedback if they want to improve their grades (and make sure they don’t repeat the same mistakes).


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