Concentration

Tech Tuesday – Noisli

Noisli is a web and mobile application that allows you to listen to different sounds in order to create your perfect sound environment. This can then help block out background noises and improve concentration and productivity, and given that most of us are working or studying at home presently, help with creating a more productive environment may be just what is needed.

With 16 different sound background sounds (on the free plan) to play individually or in combination, customised sounds can be quickly created and listened to while studying or working in order to drown out distracting noises, or to help switch off and relax when taking a break. If you don’t fancy making your own mix, Noisli provides pre-mixed playlists for productivity, relaxation, noise-blocking and more.

With a sound timer and distraction-free writing tool also available on the web application, we think Noisli is definitely an application worth checking out. The free plan gets you 16 sounds and 1.5 hours per day of streaming sounds. For $10 per month, you get unlimited streaming and 28 sounds, plus a more advanced timer and writing tool.

See our study software and applications guide at https://ultimaeducation.co.uk/software-guide/

Why printing can be a quick win

Do you sometimes struggle to take in information when studying on screen? 

As well as using our screens for education, we use them for casual communication and multitasking so are often tempted to apply the same techniques to online study texts – scrolling through at speed and not making a deeper connection. Most of us spend a considerable amount of time on our digital devices and when we’re given something important to read here, like an academic paper, it can be challenging to give it our full attention.

Some experts think that these factors combined with the constant glare and flicker of a screen can make screen reading more taxing than reading on paper, making it harder to retain what we’ve read and contributing to visual and mental fatigue. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that many students feel more comfortable printing out their study materials. 

Evidence also demonstrates that reading text in a printed form can help you absorb, retain and recall information better; particularly for longer, non-fiction study texts. Reading printed material is a more tactile experience and one in which you are physically involved. It’s something tangible – you hold the text in its entirety and can turn pages, visibly see the beginning and end, and where you are within the document. You can also annotate directly on the page and pick it up to reread and review at your own pace.

If printing is your preference, it’s worth being selective on what you plan to put to paper. Do you need all that material printed out or just a few key sections? It can also be useful to reformat the text before hitting the print button to ensure it is presented in a way that works best for you. For example, change the font style and size to something clear and readable, alter the line and paragraph spacing so the text is easier to follow and text-heavy documents are broken into easy to follow chunks. 

So, if you feel you’d absorb something better on paper, print away – it just might improve your comprehension and give you better results.

If you have a disability, long-term health condition, specific learning difficulty or mental health condition that affects your studies, you can access a package of support that’s tailored to your specific needs. See if you are eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA). DSA funding can include specialist software and equipment such as a printerGet in touch with us today to see what support you could receive through the DSA.

Creating your study space

As a student, you’re expected to spend a considerable amount of time on independent study, but how, when and where you do this can have a big impact on your productivity.

If you’re feeling frustrated and unmotivated, it’s worth reviewing your workspace and making some changes to build better habits. It’s time to create a study sanctuary.

Balancing a laptop on your knees in a noisy communal area or multitasking at the kitchen table probably isn’t the best environment for effective learning. Consider where you feel calm and comfortable when studying and most able to focus. This could be your bedroom, a corner of a cosy café or the library. If you decide on a spot in your bedroom, clear anything that could divert your attention and try physically dividing it off to create a dedicated study area. Wherever you choose, your surroundings should have minimal distractions, a suitable temperature, good ventilation and ideally natural lighting to help prevent visual fatigue from your screen. 

Next, assess your equipment to ensure you have a good sitting posture and neutral wrists to avoid discomfort and prevent injuries. Adjust your desk and chair height if possible and the position of your monitor so the top of the screen is at, or slightly below, eye level and about an arm’s length away from your eyes. A quick way to do this is to place your laptop on a pile of books to bring it up to the correct height. There’s no need to purchase specialist equipment, however, an external keyboard and mouse may be worth investing in to allow a more flexible typing position. 

Now take some time to organise your space by checking you have all essential tools to hand such as chargers, pens, notes, drinks and snacks. Remove all unnecessary paperwork and devices and close any applications that aren’t critical to your current assignment. Empty your head of other tasks onto paper or perhaps as notes or voice memos on your smartphone. 

As well as where and how you study best, consider when you are most productive. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Experiment with a few different times, then once you’ve found a routine that works for you, you can schedule all your study sessions in advance.

If you work better with ambient noise, try Noisli – an app that allows you to custom mix your own calming sounds to play. Need complete silence to concentrate? Try a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. 

It’s also important to take regular breaks to prevent boredom, eye strain and to release physical tension from sitting in the same position for a long time. Frequent breaks improve focus and reduce stress and if you can get outside for a few minutes, even better – a quick walk in nature eases brain fatigue and enhances wellbeing. Alternatively, a pause in the form of a meditation session can work just as well using tools such as HeadspaceStop Breathe Think and Calm.

And lastly, it’s useful to keep your goals in mind while studying, perhaps by placing words of motivation on your desk and to regularly reward yourself with simple treats such as a coffee with a friend or a TV break.

Once you have your new space prepared, you’ll be ready to enter ‘study mode’ and focus on reaching your full potential.

If you have a disability, long term health condition, specific learning difficulty or mental health condition that affects your studies, you can access a package of support including specialist software and equipment that’s tailored to your specific needs. Jump to our guide to see if you are eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA). 

Get in touch with us today to see what support you could receive through the DSA.

Get more from Office 365

If you experience difficulties with motor skills, reading, listening, comprehension and maintaining focus, every assignment can feel like a mountain to climb.

Your university can offer many useful resources for improving and developing these skills such as online guides, courses and workshops but there’s a set of tools already at your fingertips.

You’re probably already familiar with Office 365 and its suite of productivity apps, but are you using them to their full potential? There are many features built-in that you can customise to create and consume documents faster and more efficiently.

To save you time exploring all the options, the experts at Ultima Education share six of their favourite (and free) Office 365 features that help with reading, writing, spelling, presenting, notetaking and getting organised. 

MS To Do is a task management app that allows you to keep on top of whatever you have to do, wherever you are. Everything can be organised quickly and easily, and your assignment deadlines can live happily alongside your shopping lists. Simply set up your categories, drag tasks to re-order them and add details such as reminders, due dates and supporting files. If you have a larger project to tackle, you can also add steps here, breaking it down into bite-size sections. 

You may already use OneNote to take notes in lectures, but a feature that’s often overlooked is the ability to record audio at the same time to ensure you never miss a thing. What makes this especially useful, is that the program automatically syncs with your notetaking so you can play back a specific point just by selecting a section of your notes. You are then free to concentrate on actively listening and taking your own notes which further aids your understanding.

Find out more about how tech can take the stress out of notetaking.

If you struggle with concentration and think faster than you can write, MS Word Dictation can help. This function creates content with your voice so you can get down your ideas quickly and easily. It’s simple to get started and you can edit, format, add punctuation and comments all while dictating. Your transcribed text can then be used to create essays, presentations and coursework.

Discover more dictation software options with our comprehensive guide. 

Another quick win in Word is Read Mode which changes the document layout for a more comfortable reading experience. Read Mode automatically fits the page layout to your device, opening full screen in a landscape format which is ideal for absorbing long documents. When you read in this view, you get fewer distractions from menus so you can remain focused on the text itself. You can also make changes to the page colour, text size and brightness to suit you.  

One aspect of essay writing that can feel a bit intimidating, is correctly recording your source materials to avoid plagiarism. Luckily, MS Word makes this easy with their referencing tool which automatically formats in-text citations and generates a reference list. To add a citation, position the cursor at the point in your text where you want to reference something and click Insert Citation. Once you’ve added all the sources, you can use the tool to create a bibliography. 

After all that effort, you want to present a polished piece of work which is where Presenter Coach in PowerPoint comes in. Having to showcase your work in front of your peers can be daunting, but Presenter Coach gives you all the skills you need to confidently deliver an impactful presentation. This feature allows you to rehearse your presentation whilst getting real-time feedback and guidance on your pacing, recommendations of inclusive language and even letting you know if you’re using too many filler words. At the end, you’ll get a summary so you can see how you performed and advice for making improvements. 

If you have a disability, long term health condition, specific learning difficulty or mental health condition that affects your studies, you can access a package of support including specialist software that’s tailored to your specific needs. Jump to our guide to see if you are eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA). 

Get in touch with us today to see what support you could receive through the DSA.

Sharp Focus

Student life is busy. You’re juggling a constant stream of new information, meeting new people and settling into new surroundings not to mention the impact that mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, attention-impairing conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and epilepsy can have on the way you organise and process information.

Luckily, there are many tools and techniques that can help improve your focus and manage your time more effectively.

As study needs assessors, we have extensive knowledge in assistive technology and the various software programs that aid reading, learning, comprehension and organisational difficulties. Read on to discover some of our favourite free and DSA funded apps.

Trying to study in a communal area can really impact concentration but you can improve your focus by using Noisli to create your own calm space by custom mixing your own sounds to play while studying to block out annoying noises. This also works well while travelling and winding down after a stressful day. 

If constant pings and pop-ups on your devices are affecting your ability to concentrate, there’s a clever app and website blocker for Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Chrome from freedom that can give you control to temporarily block distracting websites and apps when you’re trying to study. This is a great tool to help you stay on track and build better habits.

Do you have lists coming out your ears? Global Tasks helps you do away with all those to-do notes by keeping all your tasks and projects in one place. Colour items to group them, prioritise important stuff and add due dates so you never miss a deadline. You can also temporarily hide less urgent jobs to improve focus and help reduce stress levels. It’s an effective way to plan and organise activities and can be used for everything including work, social and personal reminders. 

Students with conditions such as ADHD may find mind-mapping tools extremely helpful and MindView is a leader in this field. This intelligent piece of software turns critical information into visual maps where the user can quickly organise their ideas, time and resources by simply dragging and dropping pictures, text and more. These mind maps can then be easily exported into a range of different formats including Microsoft Word to create a polished piece of work.

Other useful (and fun) tools to boost memory include flashcard programs such as Anki which uses the evidence-based learning technique of spaced repetition to help you remember things quickly and easily and Quizlet, which enables you to create your own flashcards for any topic you like or the option to choose from sets created by other students online. 

As well as tech solutions, there are also many study skills anyone can use to improve concentration such as the Pomodoro technique. This simple time management method is based around breaking down work into short intervals which helps reduce overwhelming tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. 

Another free but powerful technique is a meditation method where you count your breathing cycles. This exercise in mindfulness focuses on your natural breathing rhythm which can improve your concentration skills and help you focus on the task in hand. Headspace, Stop Breathe Think and Calm are all great meditation apps.

If you struggle to stay focussed and keep on top of your workload due to a disability, long term health condition, specific learning difficulty or mental health condition, you may be eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowances. The package of support you receive is individually tailored to your specific needs and equipment such as the specialist software mentioned here can make a huge difference to your studies. Find out if you are eligible for DSA funding here.

In the meantime, check out our extensive guide to find the software that best meets your needs.

What are your tips for staying on track when studying? Join the conversation on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

If you’d like advice or more information, get in touch and we’ll go through the options available to you.