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Study Methods

The following information is intended as a general guide and you should check the specific information about delivery, assessment and expectations for any course you are considering.


The culture of independent learning

Higher level education institutions in Ireland encourage a great deal of independent learning. Thus, you may find that you are given long reading lists to tackle, as well as many academic assignments. In addition, transcripts of lectures are not provided and it is the student’s responsibility to take notes at each lecture. This system may be quite different to the system you have experienced in your home country.

Although you are expected to do a lot of work by yourself, academic staff are generally very committed to the success of their students and are usually available to give help and advice.

It is important to realise the value of talking to your lecturers and academic supervisors about your assignments and any difficulties you may have. In addition, you should ask for feedback on your general academic progress and on assignments you have completed (unless this is already arranged by the lecturer).

Study, the library and reading lists

If you are returning to studies after a period of time away from an education environment, you may experience difficulty settling into a routine of study. It is important to think about how you are going to organise your study time around your classes. It may be helpful to read some of the books available on the subject of study methods. These books contain helpful tips for successful study.

Using the library is essential for all academic courses and going to the library will become part of your daily academic life. Therefore, it is essential to understand the library system in your college. Library tours are usually provided by the college at the beginning of the college year. Referencing systems may be quite different to those you have used at home and so you should not be afraid to ask questions, as the staff are on hand to help you get the best from the library, the college and your course.

Reading lists can first appear to present an impossible task. But do not despair - you are not usually expected to read everything on your reading list. Several books may be suggested to cover one topic because the demand for information will often exceed the number of titles kept in a library. Students in Irish colleges are expected to work through titles on the list throughout the year, as a background to lectures and in preparation for assignments and examinations.

Lectures and Note-taking

Note-taking at lectures may prove difficult at first. You should not aim to take down everything, but enough to jog your memory when you return to the notes and not leave you guessing. You may need to understand them in several months time before your exams! So, the most important thing to remember is to keep things clear.

Tutorials and discussion groups

Tutorials are small teaching groups organised by the lecturer that provide an opportunity for students to debate ideas and thoughts they have on topics raised in lectures and to ask the tutor any questions they may have about the course.

Language challenges

Many students are concerned about language difficulties, problems understanding accents and being understood. Although it may be daunting, it is worthwhile to participate in discussions in lectures and tutorials. To minimise problems, try to speak more slowly and clearly than you usually would, and likewise, if you have difficulty understanding other people in your class or the lecturer it is quite acceptable to approach them and explain the problem. Usually all that is required is that they speak slower and more clearly (as you will do for them) and/or that they remind the class to do the same.


Assignments are a vital part of most academic courses and usually form part of your overall marks at the end of the year. Although you are expected to complete the assignment by yourself using library/ internet research, you may discuss the assignment with your lecturers. It is important to be absolutely clear about what is expected in the assignment and if you are in any doubt or you would like some advice, do not hesitate to speak to your lecturer.

Referencing material

This is a very important aspect of assignments and is taken seriously by academic departments. Each academic department will have a preferred system of referencing material and you should discuss this with your lecturers before writing assignments.

Referencing work means giving due credit to the source of ideas, sentences and phrases you have researched and may use in your assignment. Failure to reference work where appropriate is taken very seriously and is called plagiarism. If you have used a sentence word-for-word from a book to illustrate a point in your assignment, you must put the sentence in quotation marks and reference the author, including name, date of publication, name of publication and page number. Reproducing an author's idea must be referenced, too, even when you are expressing it in your own words.


Exams are a traditional method of course assessment in Ireland but may be a source of anxiety for you, as the system in your home country may have been different. Exam preparation takes place throughout the year by reading and doing assignments, as well as by carrying out revision in the weeks leading up to the exam. A very helpful way to prepare for exams is to practice doing the exam papers from previous years. Past exam papers are usually available to students online. It is important to remember that you will be awarded marks for every relevant point you make (or every correct detail in a technical question), so you should always write something that could be relevant, even if you feel you know very little about the topic in question.

It is common to experience stress about exams. Although Irish students will probably have taken their first major state exam when they were 15 years old, most of them still get very stressed about exams. There are many helpful books about exam techniques and coping with stress. You may find it relaxing to do some exercise, go for a walk or relax with friends before an exam. You should always try to get a good night's sleep before exams and eat healthily to keep your energy levels up.


On some postgraduate courses, independent research leading to a thesis is required. You will be assigned an academic supervisor for your thesis and you can expect individual help with any problems relating to your thesis and some guidance from him or her. It is important to clearly understand the conditions and requirements for your thesis at an early stage in the academic year. Check with your academic supervisor about the timetable for the submission of a draft proposal of your thesis, which is normally early in the academic year.


Last updated: May 2017