study skills

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/

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.

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.