Reading tips

How to study smarter on screen

Studying online can sometimes feel like an assault on the senses. A bombardment of fonts, features and multimedia content can make it harder to stay focussed, but there are a few quick things you can do to improve your screen reading experience.

If you find that you’re often losing your place and getting distracted, it can help to evaluate the format of the material you’re reading. One of the benefits of digital text is that you can manipulate your content at the click of a button, and with a few simple tweaks to change how the text looks, you may find that you read faster and take in information more effectively. 

Tip: To edit a PDF, change it to a Word doc first.

Change the font to a style you’re more comfortable with. Generally, san serif fonts such as Arial and Calibri are easier to read, but there are also specialist fonts, such as Open Dyslexic which have been designed specifically to support dyslexic readers.

Try changing the line spacing to 1.5 so that the text doesn’t feel too cramped and it’s easier to follow without jumping to the line above or below. It’s also worth making sure that text is left-aligned so that it’s easier to visually identify the end of each line.

Play around with different text and background colour combinations. A white background can often cause a glare that distracts from the text so a cream or pale-yellow background can be easier to read from.

Do you find it tricky to track text along a line? Consider increasing the size of the margins so that the text is narrower on the page and each line is therefore much shorter.

Once you’ve found a format that suits your needs, Word gives you the option to save your customised style in the toolbar to apply to future documents. 

If you are mainly reading online material, a browser extension that changes how text is displayed on websites may also be helpful. Try OpenDyslexic Font for Chrome (Chrome extension) or Mobile Dyslexic (Firefox add-on) to change all fonts on web pages to the OpenDyslexic font or Clearly and Mercury Reader (Chrome extensions) to remove ads and distractions from websites. Another option is BeeLine Reader (Chrome extension or Firefox add-on) which uses an eye-guiding colour gradient to pull your eyes from one line to the next.

And finally, give your eyes a break and enable the text-to-speech feature to have long passages of text read aloud to you. The language, voice and reading speed can all be set to suit your preferences.

By making a few small adjustments like these, you can study on screen more efficiently.

If you have a disability, long-term health condition, specific learning difficulty or mental health condition that affects your studies, you may be eligible for the Disabled Students’ Allowances. The package of support you receive is individually tailored to your specific needs and includes specialist software to help you reach your full academic potential. Find out if you are eligible for DSA funding here.

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

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.

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.

What’s your type?

If you struggle to take in information when reading, find that you lose your place or reread lines, it’s worth taking a few minutes to evaluate the format of the material you are reading.

With a few simple tweaks to change how the text looks, you may find that you can improve your reading experience, helping you to read faster and take in information more effectively because you are not having to apply so much effort to visually following the text.

Here are some things to try (tip – with Office 365 you can open a pdf document directly in MS Word these changes can be made):

  • Change the font. Generally san serif fonts such as Arial and Calibri are easier to read, but there are also specialist fonts, such as Open Dyslexic which have been designed specifically to support dyslexic readers.
  • Change line spacing to 1.5 so that text doesn’t feel too cramped and its easier to follow a line of text without jumping to the one above or below.
  • Make sure text is left aligned so that it is easier to visually identify the end of each line.
  • Try different text and background colour combinations. A white background can often cause a glare which distracts from the text so a cream or pale yellow background can be easier to read from.
  • If you struggle with tracking text along a line, consider increasing the size of the margins so that the text is narrower on the page and each line is therefore much shorter.

If you are mainly reading online material, there are a few browser extensions which you could use that will let you make some of these changes to how text is displayed on websites:

  • OpenDyslexic Font for Chrome (Chrome extension) or Mobile Dyslexic (Firefox add-on) – changes all fonts on web pages to the OpenDyslexic font
  • Clearly and Mecury Reader (Chrome extensions) –  remove ads and distractions from websites, leaving only text and images for a clean and consistent reading view
  • BeeLine Reader (Chrome extension or Firefox add-on) – uses an eye-guiding colour gradient to pull your eyes from one line to the next

Yes you scan

A phone taking picture of some books

Students who struggle with reading speed or comprehension are often offered text-to-speech software, such as ClaroRead to support their reading difficulties. This can work well (check out this meta-analysis for the evidence), removing the need to decode text and thereby help readers to follow and understand the material, but its usually thought of for reading material that’s already on the computer or can be easily scanned and converted to a digital document.

However, what if you’re in a library and want to quickly get a page from a book read out, or in a class when printed handouts are given out. Well, the Claro software team have you covered with an app called Claro ScanPen (Android / IOS). This lets you use your phone to take a photo of printed text, then select what you want read with your finger, and hear it spoken straight back to you!

See demo below:

Hit the highlights

Texthelp Read&Write is a popular literacy program available to students eligible for DSA funding, which provides a range of features to support reading and writing difficulties. One feature that students really like are the highlighting options. These allow for key points in a text to be highlighted and then collected into a separate document, forming a summary of the main points from the reading.

If this sounds like it would be helpful, a similar feature exists in Microsoft Word, so if you're not eligible for DSA funding, this might be worth checking out...