Study Methods

Study Methods


Here you will find information that is intended as a general guide only. You should check the specific information about delivery, assessment and expectations for any course you are considering by visiting the course webpage.

A 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).

Lectures and Note-taking

Note-taking at lectures may prove difficult at first for some who are not familiar with this style of teaching. The most important thing to remember when taking lecture notes is that you will be using them again in your study. Therefore, your notes should be very clear. You should not aim to take down everything, but enough to jog your memory. Make sure your notes are clear, though, as you may need to understand them in several months time when you have exams.

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. 

Be aware that some postgraduate courses consist entirely of tutorial-style lessons, with no formal lectures. You will be expected to arrive well prepared to discuss the topic of each tutorial having read designated reading materials in advance. Part of your final grade for each module may be based on your attendance at, and participation in, these tutorials.

Study, the Library and Reading Lists

It is important to think about how you are going to organise your study time around your classes. Particularly if you are returning to studies after a period of time away from education, you may experience difficulty settling into a routine of study. 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. Many colleges will also provide study methods seminars throughout the academic year.

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, as well as how to locate books on the online library catalogue. Library tours are usually provided by the college at the beginning of the college year. In addition, library staff are available throughout the year to answer any of your questions and to help you find the materials you need.

Libraries may have different referencing systems to the one you have used at home, for example, 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 at first appear to present an impossible task, but do not despair! You are not usually expected to read everything on your reading list. Several titles 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.


Language Difficulties

Some international students can experience language difficulties and problems understanding accents at first. Likewise, lecturers and domestic students might experience difficulties adjusting to your accent!

To alleviate these problems, it may be useful to try speaking 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 the tutor or the lecturer, explain your problem, and ask that they do the same for you. 


In Irish schools and higher education institutions examinations are the traditional method of course assessment, although increasingly many modules and courses have no exams and are graded primarily on assignments.

Exams may be a source of anxiety for you, as the exam system you are used to may have been different to that in Ireland. 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 from your academic department or Student’s Union. Sometimes they can be accessed in the library. 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.

There are many helpful books about exam techniques and coping with stress available. 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. When experiencing stress at any time, your institution’s student counselling service might run workshops that will help, and you can always make an appointment to speak to someone, often free of charge.


Assignments are a vital part of most course modules 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 and 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.

Academic writing is very important and is an area in which many international students face challenges. If you are having difficulties writing in academic English, consult your lecturers. Colleges sometimes run academic English writing classes for international students, which may be available in your institution (often free of charge).

On many courses, independent research leading to a thesis/dissertation is required, usually in the final year of your course. You will usually 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.

Referencing 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. If you are reproducing an author's idea you must also reference this, even if you are not quoting directly.