Learning online and academic reading

R21–0895 PHAR10600

Please can the following go in three folders titled:

  • Learning online
  • Effective learning strategies
  • Effective academic reading

Planning your studies

Organising your study to make the most of your time — Pharmacy


Hi there, welcome to this section where you are going to organise your study to make the most of your time. The strategies that we are going to cover here are to encourage you to realistically plan ahead and simultaneously incorporate a study strategy that works.

Managing your time

Time management is an essential skill for all of us, but it’s particularly important in relation to online learning as more than ever you are responsible for taking action to approach your learning.

Organising your study

There may be unpredictability to your schedule, however, any consistency that you’re able to create may help you to succeed in your online learning, research encourages identifying regular times for study.

Activity: Listen to the Student team talk about time management

(Embed video and link to Medium)

Top Tips for Time Management — video resource

You heard the students talk about how valuable it is to plan both study time and other commitments like these

  • Timetabled teaching
  • Family commitments
  • Part-time work
  • Household tasks
  • Commuting
  • Exercise and hobbies

Activity: plan your timetable (5–10 minutes)

In this activity you will plan all of your current weekly commitments in order to identify the best times for you to study. The aim is to create an achievable timetable which you can stick to.

Using your own calendar or the timetable template ( Revision plan example (week) [ Word] | 2020–09–02) add all of your current commitments.

Build in flexibility:

When planning your time it is important to build in scope to be flexible, as sometimes you may have to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. When making a schedule build in more time than you think you need. Be realistic about what you can achieve and schedule breaks to keep your motivation going. Then if something takes longer than expected it will not disrupt your whole timetable.

Spaced practice

Spaced practice is the act of spreading out learning over a long period of time rather than cramming it all at once.

Cramming usually involves studying for a long and intense period shortly before an exam or assignment. Cramming is not the best way to make the most of your learning. When done properly, spaced practice is the opposite of cramming. It allows you to move learned information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory.

By spacing your learning, you spread your study out across a much longer period of time. For example, six hours spread out over three weeks usually results in more effective learning than the same six hours right before an exam.

It is important to remember that each study session should include reviewing information from previous study sessions, online seminars and group activities. By organising your study into sections, your study time will produce more sustained learning.

How to space your learning:

  1. Plan early

Plan your study time early — little and often is best.

2. Review your learning

Review the information from each study session, but not immediately after. Take a break away from your study time and review your notes later.

3. Review older information

When reviewing information from a recent session, try to revisit important older information to keep it fresh. You may forget some of this older information from day to day, but in doing so your brain is forced to retrieve information, leading to longer lasting learning.

4. Structure your study

Simply rereading your notes is a passive strategy and you are unlikely to retain information in the long term. Instead, try to adopt other practical learning strategies.

For example, you could create flashcards to include the most important pieces of information or use techniques such as elaboration or interleaving. You could apply the retrieval practice (also known as the testing effect) to your study by creating tests to complete from content from previous study sessions. Research has consistently shown that frequently testing yourself improves the retention and recall of information.

To find out how to apply this approach then read this post from Jain a member of our student team: How to create a great study plan.

Activity: Incorporating spaced practice

On your timetable identify and schedule blocks of time for independent study. These don’t have to necessarily be huge blocks of free time. You can study effectively in short, sharp bursts.

Reflect on your timetable

  • Have you found a balance between work, study and leisure time?
  • What activities might you use each time you review information from previous study sessions? How will you know whether the techniques are working, and whether you are learning well?


You should now have a personalised timetable that you can amend as you progress through the year. Being organised and keeping a balance of activities contributes towards your own wellbeing and will support you in studying more efficiently.

The content here is adapted from the Library’s Essential skills for online learning’ course that I would encourage you to explore and return to throughout your first semester.

Standard support /Feedback

Effective learning strategies



please note 3.1.1 and 3.3.1 need to be discussion boards

Effective academic reading


In this section we are going to cover how you can develop your reading skills to be a more critical and efficient reader by focusing upon developing what you do when you read. You will have the opportunity to apply five different strategies, each with a slightly different purpose, to an academic journal article. The five strategies you will use are:

  1. Reading with a purpose
  2. Actively engaging with a text
  3. Recognising signposting within writing
  4. Identifying the author/s’ main argument
  5. Summarising for understanding

We will use the following article to practice these reading strategies. If you prefer to read in hard copy, please do print the article off or you can read it on your device.

Brown, D. (2017). ‘An evidence-based analysis of learning practices: the need for pharmacy students to employ more effective study strategies’ Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 9(2), pp. 163–70

You may need to log-in with your university username and password to access the journal article.

What is academic reading?

Before applying strategies, however, it is important to understand what we mean by academic reading and why it is so important at university. Reading is a core part of your learning.

Academic reading is different from reading for pleasure. When you are reading academically you are actively engaging with the text rather than passively absorbing the information like you would do perhaps if you were reading a novel or a magazine. There are a number of factors that make academic reading different, you can discover more of them in pages 13–14 of this journal article.

Academic reading is about examining the text. You will evaluate the evidence and arguments presented by the author/s, and decide to what extent you accept their opinions and conclusions.

Effective academic readers have been found to demonstrate a selection of behaviours that support their approach to reading. Here you will explore these critical reading behaviours allowing you to practice them in your own academic reading.

Strategy 1: Read with a purpose:

Knowing why you are reading something is key to giving your academic reading the focus it needs. Before you start reading, it is important to decide what information you want from the text — setting a number of questions you want the text to answer can be really helpful for this.

If you have a clear understanding of why you are reading what you are reading then you can be sure that you are identifying what you need. Typical reasons for reading might be one of the following.

  • Context: to get an overview of the topic that you are studying
  • Data/Evidence: to locate relevant data and evidence
  • Deep understanding: to gain more detailed knowledge of a topic

Activity — Strategy practice!

Read the article to answer the following questions:

  1. What study strategies have previous pharmacy students found useful?
  2. Why do students find these strategies useful?

Before you start, we have a few tips to help you get started!

  • Before reading depth, quickly scan the text to find the sections that are most relevant to the two questions you are trying to answer
  • You don’t have to read a whole journal article if you only want specific information from it.
  • Explore the below infographic which outlines the type of information you can find in the different sections of a journal article.
    (embed infographic pdf.)
Image of the Read What you Need Infographic
Read what you need infographic

Strategy 2: Actively engage with the text:

Before opening a book or looking at a journal article it is important to be aware of your method to engage with the material. This is what makes academic reading significantly different to reading for pleasure. Below are a few options available to you.

  • read in more detail or more quickly
  • take notes
  • highlight/ underline key words
  • annotate the text with own comments/questions

Activity — Stop and Reflect

Individually consider what method you usually adopt when it comes to note-taking when reading? Reflect on what changes you may need to make to read academic texts effectively.

Strategy 3: Recognise signposts within the writing:

Effective readers typically read a lot and can recognise signposts within writing that signal to them that there is something to examine more closely. Identifying signposts can facilitate reading for your purpose. Here are some examples:

  • References to the work of others.
  • Statistics, numbers and data.
  • Words that are unfamiliar.
  • Words that indicate an absolute (something that is certain or known to be true). For example “Everyone learns to read”.
  • Contrasting and comparisons of ideas.
  • Phrases that show the author’s own thinking.

Explore the Academic Phrasebank to become familiar a range of words and phrases that can be used to signpost the above (Top Tip — this is also a great resource to use when writing your own assignments!)

Activity — strategy practice

Read through the article and highlight or annotate any words or phrases that signal any of the transitions above.

Strategy 4: Identify the authors main idea:

One of the most important things to remember about academic texts is that the author is trying to convince the reader (you!) that their idea is correct. This means an important part of academic reading is identifying the author’s argument.

The author’s main idea is the author’s opinion, it is not the data, it is not the facts.

Once you have identified the author’s idea, your next job is to decide whether you agree or disagree with it — by critiquing their reasoning and the evidence they use to support their argument.

Three circles to highlight the meaning of the author’s main idea. Opinion not fact. Supported by evidence. Argue or Agree.
The author’s main idea is opinion, not fact. It is supported by evidence and is something that you can either argue or agree with.

Identify the evidence

The evidence supporting the author’s opinion, or main idea, will include facts. Wherever you see references, citations, footnotes, web links, statistics or quotations, you know you the author is attempting to back up their opinion with some evidence. So identifying the evidence that an author is using is a valuable step in you taking a critical view of the authors main idea.

Identify the analysis

The analysis is where the author examines the evidence they have presented. They may discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence. In the analysis the author will make connections to trends, larger ideas and the rest of the text. The author will use the evidence to make an argument and communicate their main idea.

Argue or Agree

Your own analysis of the text will revolve around deciding you will either argue or agree with the author. To help you make this decision, consider the following questions:

  1. Do you find the evidence the author has used relevant, reliable and objective?
    In helping you think about and answer these questions, you will find this blog post on ‘Evaluating Information Sources’ really useful.
  2. Does their argument make sense in relation to the evidence used?

You should be able to articulate why you are arguing or agreeing with the author using the notes that you have made that are based upon the connections that you are making with the content.

Activity — Strategy practice

  1. Read through the journal article.
  2. Identify and highlight as much of the evidence the author has used as you can.
  3. Identify and highlight as many examples of the author’s analysis as you can.
  4. Decide if you agree or disagree with the author’s main idea.

Strategy 5: Summarise for understanding

Summarising a text allows you to test and reinforce your understanding. It helps clarify the author’s main idea and what you have learnt from reading their text. Putting an author’s idea into your own words is also an important technique in academic writing.

All of the reading strategies you have used earlier help to build your understanding of a text and will make writing your summary easier. Scanning the abstract, introduction and conclusion can also help you to identify important information to include in your summary.

Activity — Strategy practice

  1. Look back through the notes you have made in the other activities.
  2. Imagine you are explaining what you have read to a friend and succinctly summarise the article in your own words.

Next Steps

Academic reading will be a core activity during your time at university. It is how you build your knowledge and understanding outside of taught lectures, tutorials and seminars.

The My Learning Essentials team has a lot of resources you can use to continue to learn new strategies and approaches to academic reading which you will find useful throughout your time at university. The two resources below are a great place to continue thinking about academic reading.
(Embed resources)

Being Critical: thinking, reading and writing critically
Note making: capturing what counts

Contact Us

The Library and the My Learning Essentials Team are here for you, so get in touch with us using any of the following methods.

  • Email us uml.teachingandlearning@manchester.ac.uk
  • Use the ‘Ask a question’ tab at the right side of the page on any Subject Guide.
  • Use Library Chat by going to the Library Website or MyManchester (log in required).



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