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Seven things I wish I knew before I started my master's degree (PART 2)

So you've got your place, registered with your university and ready to study, study, study! So here are a few study tips from my personal experience.


Start your work from the very first week (YES freshers week!) try to start your reading early so you know what to expect during your first lectures. Since this is a one year course you're going to hit the ground running, this is one thing I found when looking for tips online. The speed will pick up very quickly and you must try to keep up or you will find yourself drowning. With that being said, a master's is not as scary or as intimidating as you think. Again, I'm speaking from my own experience, and I did a scientific mixed with humanities course, so I can't speak for more lab-based courses.

BORROW OR GET THIS BOOK AT THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR - it's extremely helpful and will help you from your very first assignment to your dissertation:
Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (SAGE Study Skills Series) 3rd Edition
You can also look for similar books with the same theme, your university library should have a good stock of them.


This is a very important matter because everyone has their own learning style and you must find out what makes you feel comfortable. DO NOT WRITE WHAT IS ON THE SLIDES! WRITE WHAT THE LECTURER SAYS, WHAT THEY SAY IS PRICELESS! The slides will be made available online.

There's a couple of different ways of taking notes I saw during my master's year:

The classic pen and paper route (what I did):
I had a notepad for each module, where I took notes from the recommended reading and the lecture notes with pen and paper, and highlighters for the key bits of information. It helped me keep the information in my brain and retain it after the lecture. Sometimes the lecturer provided their lecture slides earlier, so I downloaded the notes and wrote in the notes section.

Listening (little to no notetaking):
Some students preferred to listen more than write down notes. They would only take down notes to follow up after the lecture or take them to a meeting to ask the lecturer a few questions regarding the material.

Check your universities guidelines on this first. Record the lecture on your phone or a recorder to listen to later, you'd be surprised to hear what you may have missed out during the lecture.

The Laptop:
Occasionally, I would also use my laptop to take notes on. Google Docs is great to get all your notes down and not worry about saving them. It's also quicker than pen and paper, so you manage to capture the lecture notes quicker and more efficiently.

My friend usually took notes on Microsoft Word during the lecture. After the lecture, she would reorganise (cut and paste) the notes into an order that made sense to her and helped her highlight the most important bits.

The Tablet / iPad (brainstorming)
I haven't used this method before, so I think my friend is the best person to talk about the way she took notes during our lectures:

"I do mind maps during lectures and link to slides if available, then I've only one page to look at if I want to review a lecture, easier than scrolling back through PowerPoint to try and find something. I can also link to websites or readings I want to follow up and highlight important points.
I use the Simplemind app on Android but Freemind is better if you want to integrate with Microsoft programs later on..."

Each semester (10 study weeks) you will have 4 modules, usually, and they all require different types of assignments and you will find out the dates that they're due at the beginning of the semester. So prioritise the weeks according to the workload you have so you have enough time to write the first draft of the essay and have plenty of time to edit it before submission day. You need to be organised to keep up with all your deadlines. A diary can help you with this, either online or notepad or calendar where you can keep track of everything.

Sometimes this isn't possible or realistic, sometimes it's just in your nature to submit stuff like at 4:59pm when the deadline is 5pm! And that's okay! But you'd definitely benefit and score higher marks if you complete your assignment early or at least a day before the deadline.


Trying to keep up with the reading workloads is essential so that you can keep up with the discussions in the lectures. When reading, keep your critical mind open, highlight and make notes about points you'd like to better understand in the lecture or you think is interesting. You can either print out the notes and highlight (and recycle them after graduation). This is something I preferred or use your tablet or notepad to highlight and add notes directly in the PDF.

Again, assignments are going to take a toll on this, so what I recommend, is that you skim read the introductory paragraphs, a bit in the middle, and the concluding paragraphs so you at least get a snippet of what's going to be discussed in the next lecture.

*EDIT* I completely forgot to add in REFERENCE MANAGERS!
Reference managers are absolutely essential, they organize all of your references, insert a bibliography automatically into your document and in any citation style. I started off using EndNote for my first semester, then for the rest of the year, I used Mendeley, because it has a Google Chrome 'Import to Mendeley' function which makes it easy to save citations of websites and PDF's online. There are so many different choices, try them out to see which one will help you most with your assignments.


Everyone's thoughts and opinions are valuable. So discuss with each other what you thought of the reading, the lecture, your thoughts and ideas around the essay/assignments. It's great to bounce ideas off each other.

!NOTE! When I say bounce ideas off each other I mean you get a general idea of what you want to write about. Please don't steal any ideas or plagiarise anyone else's work. That is not the point of postgraduate study.


  • Ask them questions (LOTS OF THEM)
  • Discuss your assignments with them
  • General discussions during and after the lecture 
  • Get their opinions on your dissertation so you get a rough idea of who you want as a supervisor 


There's going to be another blog post on the dissertation process, and my tips on how to go about your dissertation. But for now, my main tip is that you start thinking about it early and who you want to have as your supervisor.

If you have any more tips or know of any good note-taking apps, leave them in the comments below... please and thank you!

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