The One Hour Writing Challenge

Image of hands writing in a notebook. On the desk in front of them are a cup of coffee, some glasses, a laptop, some books and photographs.
Image from: ThoughtCatalog

Are you tired of spending all day writing away only to feel like you haven’t made any progress? Maybe you’ve been rewriting the same paragraph (or sentence!) for hours on end or putting off writing altogether because you have no idea where to start. If so, give our one hour writing challenge a go!

The one hour writing challenge is a structured hour of activities designed to improve your focus and motivation and, most importantly, help you get some writing done:

Step One: Goal setting (5mins)

Setting a realistic goal for your writing before you gets started helps make sure you stay focussed on the task ahead (and that the task isn’t too overwhelming or unmanageable). It also ensures you get a nice dopamine hit when you achieve your goal and can tick ‘writing’ off your list for the day.

When it comes to goals, the less vague the better – the SMART approach can help you pin down and clearly define your task:

Specific: the specific idea I will write/section/paragraph I will work on is ….

Measurable: I will write _____ words

Achievable: this will be a rough draft/quick bullet points for me to work up later/polished final version/edited final draft

Relevant: where this section will fit in is …

Time- bound: I will write for 40 minutes.

Bear in mind that there may be some days when 40 minutes of writing is just too much. It’s fine to decide that 30 minutes or even 15 minutes is all that you can manage today. On the other hand, you may find that you want to write for longer! Goal setting is therefore a useful way to check-in with yourself and decide what’s realistic for you today.

Step Two: Freewriting (8mins)

Freewriting is like a warm up for your writing muscles, helping ease you into the task and giving you some time to think your ideas through before you try to communicate them to your reader.

It’s a great strategy for helping with writer’s block and procrastination too, which often occur because we’re trying to write something ‘perfectly’ first time or are unsure what we want to say in our writing. Freewriting gives you permission to write a ‘messy’ first draft and work out your thoughts without fear that your language isn’t ‘academic’ enough or your structure doesn’t ‘flow.’

The rules of freewriting are:

  • Set a timer for 8 minutes
  • Start writing whatever comes to mind about the section you’re going to be working on.
  • Write in full sentences
  • Don’t stop writing
  • Don’t look back or edit
  • If you get stuck, write about that – why are you stuck? What would help you get unstuck?! You just might be able to untangle yourself!
  • If you don’t like what you’re writing, write about why

Step Three: Review (2mins)

Look over what you’ve just written. What points could you pull out of your freewriting that you might use in your draft?

Step Four: Write! (40mins)

Write for 40 minutes and work on your draft.

Step Five: Next Actions (2mins)

Use the final couple of minutes to leave notes to your future self about the next steps you need to take to progress this piece of writing. This helps you maintain momentum.

If you’d like to try out the One Hour Writing Challenge in the company of others and with some guidance from one of our Academic Skills tutors, sign up for our Write Here, Write Now writer’s group which will be running online every Wednesday at 10am from 2nd November to 14th December. Find out more here.

A Quick Guide to Reading and Notetaking

Reading and highlighting
Image by Raul Pacheco-Vega

Taking notes as you read helps you:

  • Engage with the material
  • Process your thoughts
  • Gather information and evidence to use in assessments

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of taking too many notes, though, and it can be overwhelming to end up with pages and pages of notes that you don’t quite know what to do with. The key to avoiding this pitfall is to identify your purpose: if you don’t know what you’re reading for, you’ll risk turning into the ‘human photocopier’ and noting everything down.

To begin with, then, think about why you are reading and, relatedly, what you will use the resulting notes for. For instance, are you:

  • Reading for background to prepare for an upcoming lecture and/or seminar
  • Reading to clarify understanding from a lecture and/or seminar
  • Reading for further knowledge for an assignment. 
  • Reading to develop an argument by evaluating existing viewpoints on a topic or synthesising current knowledge and understanding with the viewpoints of other authors
  • Or, another purpose?

If you are reading to gain background knowledge, or to clarify your understanding of a topic, these questions might be useful in helping you stay on track and avoid tangents. They’ll also help identify exactly what you might need to make notes of:

  • Are there any specific questions you’d like your reading to answer for you? Any particular gaps in your knowledge you’re looking to fill?
  • What wider context do you need to understand and why?
  • What knowledge, information or data do you need and why?
  • Do you have any articles/texts in mind that it would be useful to consult? If you are looking to construct an argument, what answers/positions/debates/arguments already exist?

Once you’ve identified your purpose for reading and notetaking, you can think about the type of reading you need to do. For instance, if your main purpose is to get a general sense of somebody’s argument, you probably don’t need to read the entire article to begin with. Reading the introduction, conclusion and first line of each paragraph could well give you what you need (and ensure your accompanying notes are concise and relevant!). If you are working on your dissertation and are looking to adapt an existing method for your own use, then focusing on the methods sections to begin with will give you what you need. Identifying your purpose thus means you can be selective when reading and notetaking, which can also help you save time. If you’d like tailored advice on reading and notetaking, feel free to book a 1-1 session with us.

Seminar Participation

“I’ve got something to say, but I just don’t know how to say it. What if I say the wrong thing or forget what I was going to say halfway through? I probably don’t know as much as everyone else here, anyway. What does that word even mean? Should I look it up or keep listening? What am I supposed to be doing anyway?“

Let’s face it, whether they’re online or in-person, participating in seminars and tutorials can be tricky. You might find it quite unnerving or intimidating talking in front of your peers or a tutor. Or maybe you find it easy to speak, but that it’s difficult to get a conversation going. Or maybe you’ve got things that you want to say, but just don’t know how to enter the discussion.

Well, if any of this sounds familiar than the Academic Skills Team have got you covered. We’ve been working with our colleagues from the university’s Counselling Services to put together a bunch of resources, strategies and tips for effectively participating in seminars.

They key thing to remember is that seminar participation isn’t all about talking or answering questions, there’s lots of different ways to valuably contribute to a seminar. You can ask a question about something you didn’t quite understand, provide space and support for others to express their ideas, build on something someone else said or even just express agreement or disagreement.

If you want to find out more, you can follow this link to hear AST tutor Nicky talk about the Speculating, Enabling, Challenging [SEC] framework for seminar participation and how it can help you get the most out of seminars.

You can also book a 1-1 appointment with the Academic Skills Team if you’d like some more tailored guidance on seminar participation or other academic skills.

And stay tuned for more videos and study guides on seminar participation. Next up we’ll be looking at some concrete strategies for doing each of these things in a seminar.

Time Management Essentials: getting the most from an independent study session

Time Management” by RLHyde is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

We’ve all done it: set aside some time to start that assignment or get some pre-lecture reading done and … somehow got distracted instead, spending a lot of time doing very little. Often, this is because we’ve sat down to do some work without really considering what it is we’d like to achieve. Our aims are either too vague or too ambitious to fulfil within the time we have available, meaning that we lose focus and motivation fast. Setting a clear, manageable goal for each session is the key to successful independent study and we’ve put together our top goal-setting tips for you here.

Be specific and break it down

A clearly-defined goal is easier to achieve. Instead of telling yourself you’re going to work on your assignment, for example, break this into smaller, more manageable chunks. The first few tasks might be choosing a question, analysing the question, and deciding what reading you need to do. Breaking a larger task down in this way makes it easier to recognise how much the process involves, meaning you’re less likely to be caught out with the realisation that something will take longer to complete than you thought it would. Setting smaller goals also makes it easier to …

Try working in short bursts

You don’t have to work for hours at a time to be productive. Often, you can make more progress by working in shorter bursts and taking regular breaks. Work with your concentration span and not against it by setting a timer for however long you feel you can focus for but no longer than 30 minutes. You might want to start by working in 15 minute bursts and then building it up. Follow each short session with a 5-10 minutes break. It’s easy to lose motivation if you feel you have to work for long stretches without a break so this method makes working feel more manageable. It’s also a good method to use if you’re trying to break a cycle of procrastination or feel particularly anxious about starting a task: spending 15-30 minutes making a start is a gentler way of ‘breaking the ice’ than committing to hours of studying or writing. 

Setting priorities

Deciding what to work on – especially if you have multiple deadlines and lots of tasks competing for your attention – can feel overwhelming and lead to procrastination. Additionally, if you’re feeling stressed about your workload, it can be tempting to view everything as urgent, making it harder to prioritise. Using the ‘3 Ds’ at the start of the day can help with this:

Do: Think about where you need to be at the end of the day: what do you need to have made progress on today to stay on track? This will determine what you need to spend your time on

Defer: What tasks are important but not urgent? You might need to get to them this week, but not today.

Ditch: Items on your ‘ditch list’ might be on your ‘to do’ list in a week’s time, but aren’t urgent right now, meaning you can easily switch your focus to more pressing tasks.

We hope these tips help you manage your workload and make the most of your time. Remember, it’s just as important to schedule in regular breaks!

If you’d like tailored advice on managing your time and workload, feel free to book a 1-1 session with us.  

Step it up: Your Skills sessions for navigating your next level of study

Autumn is finally here – season of mists, mellow fruitfulness, and pumpkin-spiced deadline anxiety. Fortunately, we’ve designed some upcoming Your Skills sessions to help you navigate the demands of a new level of study, and help you make sure that your autumn term is more ‘Nora Ephron’ than ‘Stephen King’. Read on to find out why you need this series of sessions tailored to each stage (and see how many laboured Hallowe’en references it’s possible to fit in a single blog post).

What is the Your Skills Programme?

The Academic Skills and Liaison Librarian teams have joined forces to bring you a central programme of academic skills sessions. In addition to sessions and resources offered by individual teams, this central programme will be co-taught by staff members across the board to give you a holistic and wide-ranging series of workshops and resources. We’ll be covering everything from planning your work to editing the final draft. The programme also includes sessions on less talked-about areas of academic life. Ready to confront eldritch horrors in the vaults? Indulge your inner M.R. James with our sessions on Special Collections and Archives. Problems with The Others? Try the session on managing conflict in group work. Keep an eye on the calendar to see what’s on offer and how to book in. All slides and recordings from these sessions will be posted online afterwards – find them here along with slides from previous sessions.

How can it help you?

These sessions cover key topics and core skills at each level, including…

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”: planning and time management

  • We all know there’s nothing more likely to induce zombie-like exhaustion than the desperate, caffeine-fuelled rush to finish the work we should have started weeks ago. Make sure your Sleepless in Seattle doesn’t become Night of the Living Dead with practical strategies for managing your time and planning your work.

“What’s this? What’s this?”: searching and finding information

  • It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of potentially useful sources. Before you know it, you’re struggling through piles of disparate articles like Jack the Pumpkin King skimming the baffling tat of Christmas Town. Learn how to streamline and refine the process by developing your skills in finding and managing relevant sources.
  • “What do you want from us?”: the demands of academic writing at each level

Writing at a new level can feel like trying to navigate a haunted house helped only by annoyingly cryptic messages from the resident ghosts. “Be more critical”, they intone. “Improve your academic language”. Like the unfortunate inhabitants of Hill House and 112 Ocean Avenue, we simply don’t understand what these mysterious forces are asking us to do. These sessions aim to clear away the fog and shed light on the shadowy corners to help you get a better understanding of the requirements of your new academic year.

Session dates and how to book

Book your place and find out more via our online calendar.

Step it up: academic skills for second years

  • Monday 10th October, 13.00 – 13.45

Step it up: academic skills for third and fourth years

  • Thursday 13th October, 14.00 – 14.45

Step it up: academic skills for taught postgraduates

  • Friday 14th October: 11.00 – 11.45

Welcome to the new academic year from your Academic Skills Team!


It’s autumn and the start of the new academic year and you may well have questions about the work you’ll have to do on your course and your assignments.  Luckily, the Academic Skills Team is on hand to help! We’re based in the Philip Robinson Library and are here to support you whether you are new to Newcastle University or are a returning student, whether you’re entering at stage one or doing your PhD. We have a wide range of resources and services to help you develop your academic skills throughout your time at Newcastle.

Firstly, we’re running a meet the team event from the 27th -29th September in the foyer of the Philip Robinson Library. During this event, we’ll be able to answer your questions about our services, show you some of our resources and help you book one-to-ones and workshop sessions. Plus, we’ve got some great freebies to give out!

Throughout the year we’ll be running focused clinics to help you with for example, exams and revision and completing a dissertation. You’ll also find us across Campus in a variety of locations where we’ll be able to answer your academic skills questions. You can find out when and where you can catch us at one of these events on our booking page.

We’ve also got lots of great material for you on the Academic Skills Kit, where you’ll find curated collections to help you at key points of the year. Our latest collection, New at Newcastle, contains useful resources around studying, from applying critical analysis to your work, avoiding plagiarism to time management and healthy study habits. We’ve been working with students over the summer and have created a resource around managing and planning your time, and we’ll be releasing a student led podcast over the next few weeks, where students talk about a range of academic skills issues and provide some useful contacts and advice.

Throughout the year you can make use of our one-to-one sessions, which we offer in person or online. You can book an express slot if you have a quick, focussed question such as how to get started with your work or talking about different reading strategies. If you’d like to discuss a piece of work in more depth, you can book a 50- minute appointment, which will give you the opportunity to work with one of the team and develop strategies you can apply to your work moving forward. Again, you can see all existing availability and book an appointment on our booking page.

Keep an eye out for us on your course, too, as we work with academics across the university to embed our teaching into a range of courses and Canvas sites. In addition, we contribute to the Your Skills programme, where you can sign up to our wide range of sessions run in conjunction with colleagues across the university. These sessions are interactive and focus on information and academic skills to help you reach your full potential as a student. You can find out more on the dedicated Your Skills page ( If you’d like to get in touch quickly, you can use our LiveChat service, just click on the icon on any of the Academic Skills Kit pages between 12 and 4 pm on weekdays and you’ll be able to make contact with one of the team. Lastly,  you can email us with any questions, comments or suggestions on

The Academic Skills Team wishes you all the best for the coming academic year!

Tackling essay-based exams

Exam season is almost upon us and one challenge you may find yourself facing is revising for essay-based exams. These can cause a lot of anxiety, not least because essay-based assessments are often something we are used to doing over the course of several weeks. How do you plan, structure and write an essay in the space of a couple of hours? And how on earth do you revise when you don’t know what you’ll be asked? 

Read on for our guide to effective revision and exam technique for essay-based exam questions:

What are essay exams testing?

Before you jump into your revision, it can be helpful to remember that essay exams are not just testing your memory. Instead, your lecturers are looking for evidence of how well you can apply the knowledge you have gained throughout the course to solve a problem or answer a question under timed conditions. Therefore, whilst memory is still important – you’ll need to be able to recall that knowledge in the exam – it’s only part of the story. You’ll also need to make sure you have an in-depth understanding of that knowledge and have practiced applying it to different questions, problems, and contexts.

How do I revise for essay exams?

You may be tempted to write a ‘generic’ essay on each of the topics you’re revising and memorise them so you can repeat them in the exam room. However, keep in mind that your lecturers are asking you to solve the specific problem they’ve set for you and simply ‘dumping’ everything that’s relevant won’t address the question and is unlikely to earn you good marks.

A more effective approach to revising for essay exams is incorporating strategies that develop your understanding of the topic so you can apply your knowledge to different problems effectively. Some revision strategies you might want to try for this are:

  • Questioning and interrogating the knowledge: why does this happen? How does it happen? Does it always happen this way? Is this always true? What about if we apply it to a different context? What are the implications of this?
  • Try applying the knowledge to case studies or different scenarios to get a better understanding of how theory works in practice.
  • Look at past papers or devise your own questions and either answer them in full or sketch out an essay plan under timed conditions. This will help you to test your recall and practice skills you’ll be using in the exam.
  • Compare and weigh up different approaches to the topic. Does everyone agree on this? Why? Why not? Which perspective is stronger?
  • Identify gaps in your knowledge and do some additional reading to fill them.

What about strategies for the exam itself? 

You might be used to spending hours or even days planning, writing, and editing a coursework essay and be wondering how on earth you do all of this under timed conditions. Keep in mind that your lecturers know that this is a big ask and they are not expecting the same level of sophistication in the way you construct your arguments that they would be looking for in a coursework essay. However, it’s still necessary that your lecturers can follow your answer and see clearly how it addresses the question so:

  • Spend some time at the beginning paying attention to what the question is asking you. Our video on question analysis offers some strategies for understanding essay questions: 
  • Sketch out a basic structure to follow. This needn’t be more than the main points you want to argue and the order you want to argue them in.
  • Clearly state your point or communicate your main focus at the beginning of each paragraph to help your reader get their bearings and follow your argument.
  • If you find yourself running out of time, write down a few bullet points around your remaining points – you may still pick up a few extra marks for this! 

Do I need to reference sources in an essay exam?  

While you won’t be expected to reference others to the extent you do in a coursework essay, it’s worth incorporating a few references to back up your points and show how you worked out your answer.

Try to memorise a couple of key arguments and/or debates made by others for each topic as well as the authors’ surname(s) and the year of the article so that you can cite it in the exam. Don’t worry about the details – just one or two lines summarising their main argument is enough.

What about other types of exams?

Exams exist in various formats in addition to the traditional essay-based exam type. For example, your course may also have multiple choice papers, vivas/oral presentations or exams relating to specific processes, techniques and interactions. All types of exams test your ability to recall and apply your subject knowledge, so most advice on revision and exam technique is applicable to different exam types. Effective revision trains your brain both to retain and to retrieve information; a process that’s equally useful for all exam formats. However, different types of exams can also present different challenges, and transitioning from online to in-person exams is a key change for this year. For more details on this and other exam-related issues, see our ASK Exams Collection and our calendar for upcoming workshops on revision and exam preparation.

How can you learn *everything* for an exam?

an image of a full dinner party table
Photo by Matheus Frade on Unsplash

Exams are a common cause of stress, and I think one of the reasons is that the ‘curriculum’ at university, unlike the school curriculum, is very open-ended – there isn’t a finite, definitive list of all the things you have to learn, just a suggested starting point. You’re expected to ‘read around’ on top of the material covered in lectures, so there’s no ‘end point’ where you can say ‘i have learned everything and I can stop now’. It can feel unmanageable and overwhelming. Anything could and might come up in the exam, so how do you, how can you, prepare for that? 

So there really is a limit to how much you can realistically learn, and just because in theory with an open-ended curriculum, if it’s relevant, you could include *anything* in an exam, doesn’t mean you have to learn *everything* just in case. One of the keys to doing well in exams is understanding what is really being tested, being selective about what you learn and thinking about how and why you select it.  

What’s often behind this stress, this perception that you need to learn ‘everything’, is that we’re often not clear about what exams actually test and how that’s different to other forms of assessment, and we’re not sure what the expectations are that we’re trying to meet. We try to hold ourselves to the same standards we’d expect when we’re working on a piece of coursework, because that’s a standard that’s familiar, that we know, and exams are the unknown (which is kind of the point of them). This is true even of take-home exam papers – although you often have a longer time period, such as 24 hours, you’re not expected to learn everything or research *everything* within that time frame as you would with coursework – you’re working with information that’s already to hand and familiar.

There are differences between subjects – if you’re studying the physical or medical sciences, for example, there is especially in the first years, an emphasis on memorisation and understanding of key information, and a bit less on the kind of open-ended analytical thinking that you’d find in an Arts and Humanities subject where it’s less about learning core facts and more about building arguments- but certainly in higher stages, there is less of a difference.  

Let me give you an analogy to help illustrate the difference between the expectations for coursework and exams. So coursework, whether it’s a report or an essay or a dissertation or other piece of writing, is like giving a dinner party. You know in good time that you are going to throw a dinner party for your friends, and you can fix a lot of things in advance – which friends you’re going to invite and how many people, what they like and or can’t eat etc. You then have time to do some research in your cookbooks and online recipe blogs to decide what the menu will be, find just the right recipe, you can spend time sourcing the right ingredients in all the different places, you can go to the deli, to the posh supermarket, that specialist shop you’ve found, and you can plan how you’re going to approach it, practice any techniques and make sure everything’s prepared on the day. Your guests expect you to go to that effort and put in that extra work to make it a bit special for them. Now, you don’t throw dinner parties that often, and even if you did, you’d probably not cook that exact meal again for those same people, so chances are, the ingredients you’ve bought might not get used again much, they are quite specialist, for a particular recipe and occasion, and that’s ok. You *might* find another use for that particular jar of unusual spices you bought, or you might not and it’ll quietly go out of date at the back of your cupboard, but that’s not the point. It was sought out and chosen for a particular purpose, and that’s been achieved, you’ve shown that you can plan, source and prepare a special meal and you’ve impressed your friends. Coursework tests your ability to do just that – think about how you’re doing to approach it, find and choose just the right knowledge and use it in just the right way for that particular task, and if it’s a bit unusual or special, so much the better, you’re showing off. And you don’t need to memorise or keep all that knowledge handy – the point is that you were able to find it and use it when you needed it.  

Now, an exam is much more like an evening when you’re sitting at home and a couple of your friends turn up at your door unexpectedly, they were in the area and thought they’d drop in and say hi. They’re also hungry. Your job here is to keep a well-stocked store cupboard of things which you could throw together to give them a couple of options depending on what they fancy and whether one of them is vegetarian or doesn’t like spicy food, whatever. And by ‘well stocked store cupboard’, I don’t mean you’ve got every possible ingredient in, I mean you’ve got the basics, the rice, the pasta, the bread, the tins of tomatoes, maybe some cheese, onions, peppers, lentils… enough things that are the foundation of a meal and could potentially be turned into a number of different dishes. You’ve also got the herbs and spices and other things that could be thrown in there to help you create those different options and make it tasty and interesting. No one is going to expect a three course meal with elaborate ingredients, but with the basics and a few creative options, you could offer a pasta dish, a curry or tasty soup according to what’s needed. IF you still have that jar of spice from that dinner party last month, fine, throw it in there if you think it would work. And that’s what exams test – can you answer questions and problem-solve under time pressure with what you have to hand – not *everything*, but do you have the fundamentals, the essentials and a few useful, adaptable things you can use flexibly in multiple ways, throw in there to spice it up a bit creatively so that you’re responding to whatever challenge is set on the day. You’re not expected to know absolutely everything, no matter how niche, or create perfect, polished and in-depth answers- that wouldn’t be realistic under the circumstances, nor would it be a useful thing to test. Students often ask us if they should include references in exams – it might add a bit of interest if you could throw in the names and dates of a couple of relevant or key studies, but there would be little value in asking you to memorise the full bibliographic details of references – why would you need that information in your head? 

So when it comes to selecting and managing your revision, you’ve got two starting points. The first, to ensure that you’ve got the essentials in stock, are the lectures. These will cover the fundamental, essential facts, concepts or techniques you will need. When you’re going back over lecture recordings and notes, don’t get sucked into revising everything, but try and distinguish which is the core knowledge, and what are illustrations, examples, demonstrations or just interesting asides. If you want to cross-check this, you could map your understanding of the fundamentals with a textbook or handbook or two – where the coverage overlaps, that’s reassuring you that you’ve covered the essentials. You can also add in anything else you find in your reading around as that extra spice, those additional ingredients you can throw in to adapt those essentials in different ways or give them different flavours to respond to the question you’re set in the exam, but again, you can’t learn everything – the key is to go for things that could be used flexibly in various ways or for different purposes. 

The second starting point, which might give you reassurance that you’ve covered the essentials AND that the kind of extras you’re selecting will earn their keep, is past papers. Try working with past papers right from the start of your revision process – NOT to question-spot or predict what will come up this year, that’s very unreliable, and NOT to test yourself to see if you HAVE learned something, but as a guide to the kinds of thing that are typically called on in exams, as a way to think through how you might use a piece of knowledge in an exam, how useful or adaptable or central it’s likely to be. What would you need in order to answer that question, bearing in mind the time limit in the exam and the fact that you can only be expected to work with what we can reasonably assume is in your head? If you’re wondering whether or not you need to learn a particular piece of information, could you see how you might potentially use it in more than one question, or is it so niche that it’s unlikely to be an essential or even useful as an optional extra? 

No past papers for your module? Try this – put yourself in the examiner’s shoes and set your own questions. If this was your module, what questions would you set to test your students’ knowledge of the essentials and also their ability to problem solve creatively under pressure, with a time limit and only what it’s worth carrying in their heads rather than researching? How much would you test, how much depth, how much detail, before you felt you’d got a reasonable measure that they know their stuff? Would it be worth them learning that knowledge or is that more the kind of knowledge they just need to know how to find if they needed it for coursework? 

So when you’re revising for exams, and perhaps looking over previous coursework from the module to help you prepare, don’t feel that you need to reproduce a coursework-standard answer in an exam – they’re testing different kinds of learning, and expect different sorts of response. You don’t have to learn *everything*.  

How to manage difficult behaviour in seminars

Photo by Ming Jun Tan on Unsplash

‘Wow, they’ve been talking for a long time, I wish they’d give someone else a chance to speak…but I don’t want to seem rude.’ 

‘Hey, they just interrupted that person. And I really wanted to know what she had to say!’ 

‘I mean they’ve got a good point, but they that was a really rude way of saying it’ 

‘I wish those two would stop just talking to each other and include the rest of us’ 

Working with others isn’t always easy and sometimes it’s just straight up difficult. And if you regularly take part in seminars or tutorials, chances are that you’ll eventually encounter some behaviours that make it difficult to get the most out of the situation, or that just seem plain rude. But it can be hard to know how to respond when there are people dominating the conversation, or not giving enough space for others to speak or interacting in a confrontational way. You might feel like you want to address the behaviour but don’t know how to do so without creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. Or you might notice yourself doing some of these things every now and then – we’re all human and we all pick up bad habits every now and then. 

If any of this sounds familiar, check out the link below to hear WDC tutor Nicky talk through some strategies for managing unhelpful behaviours in seminars and tutorials. 

Add remember, if you want to discuss seminar participation with a friendly, professional tutor you can always book a 1-2-1 appointment with the WDC!

How to contribute effectively in seminars

 “I think I’ve got the start of an idea, but it’s not really fully formed yet…can I just say it anyway?” 

“No-one’s spoken for a really long time, how can I get a discussion going?” 

“I think this person has a great idea, but doesn’t seem very confident in it – I wonder how I can help?” 

“I really disagree with what that person said, but I don’t want to sound rude…maybe I just shouldn’t say anything…” 

 Sometimes you know what you want to do in a seminar, but you’re just not sure how to do it. It’s easy to spend so much time wandering how to contribute that you miss your opportunity to do so altogether. Or you might find yourself so worried about doing the wrong thing that you end up not doing anything at all.   

Although there isn’t necessarily a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to participate in seminars, there are some approaches that you may find more effective than others. You’ll likely find that throughout your time at university you’ll gradually develop your own approaches to seminar participation that work for you. But it can also be useful to have a couple of strategies to fall back on when you’re not sure what to do or if you’re still new to seminar participation. 

 Check out the link below to hear WDC tutor Nicky build on the Speculating, Enabling and Challenging framework we looked at last time and provide some strategies for how you can effectively enact these behaviours. 

And stay tuned for more videos on seminar participation. Next up we’ll be looking at some strategies for dealing with unhelpful seminar participation.