Book Review

Essential Study Skills – Reviewed

[The people at Sage have sent me a copy of the latest edition of “Essential Study Skills: The Complete Guide to Success at University” by Tom Burns and Sandra Sinfield. This is my personal review of the book.]

Sometimes you need a place to start in order to start organising your thoughts. Sometimes you need a place that’ll give you some thoughts to start off with. “Essential Study Skills” attempts to do that.

The authors are keen to make their book as easy to digest as possible. The first chapter guides you through the layout of the book and how to use it effectively.

With more than 450 pages, Essential Study Skills —which they call ESS3 for short— is not designed as a fast read to be digested in one go. Rather, the book covers many aspects of your learning and also advises on various other aspects of uni life that you’re likely to encounter.

Each chapter starts with aims and learning outcomes, then ends with review points. Within each chapter are many additional tips to help you on your way. Even at a glance, you can see this is a feature-packed book.

ESS3 is written with a focus on students who are the first in their family to go to university, so it doesn’t assume you have any prior knowledge or guidance. And there is still plenty to chew on, no matter how many generations of your family have attended uni.

With so much information at your fingertips, you may even feel overwhelmed. Must you *really* know all this in order to study effectively? Well, no. The point of the book is to help you ease into your work and pick up important tips and techniques as you go along. It’s the type of book you would be glad to have around throughout your degree, not the day before your essay is due in.

There are times when the advice goes so far that I can’t see many students following the whole way. For instance, the chapter on working in groups has so much detail on making the team work that it ends with a group building exercise to bring everyone closer. There’s nothing wrong with the idea, but it’s an idea of how the authors clearly did not want to leave any stone unturned. If this is going to benefit one group of students, then the authors have succeeded. This type of overkill is great, unless you’re overwhelmed by so much detail, as I mentioned earlier.

But I urge that you take a deep breath and let the book work over time, as it’s designed. Here are two reasons:

  1. We are all different – One person’s potion is another person’s poison. The book gives you various alternatives and lets you explore what works best for you. ESS3 isn’t a ‘this is how to…’ book, it’s a ‘this is how you…’ book.
  2. You will find things you wouldn’t have expected – As I looked through the book, I found a list of 10 sites for creating outlines. There were sites I hadn’t heard of. Sites that I was glad to discover, such as Quicklyst.

And going back to the first point, you’re bound to find at least one outlining tool from the list of ten that works for you. That’s the beauty of having alternatives to try. If the first doesn’t suit, you’ve got nine more to try!

You will probably find yourself devouring some sections of Essential Study Skills, while merely glancing through others. You may or may not return to those chapters later. I would have spent little time on the chapter about making notes, while you may think that the most useful chapter in the book.

The book covers more than the “Essential Study Skills” that the title suggests. The book’s subtitle is “The Complete Guide to Success at University”. That’s why you’re treated to information about being a fresher, using university services, dealing with emotions, and working on your Personal Development Planning (PDP).

The final chapter on what to do once you’ve finished university is strangely brief. The authors are aware of this and explain that many of the necessary skills required to be a successful graduate are similar to those skills required to be a successful student. Precisely what the whole book is about!

While this is true enough, any student about to graduate should look for more information elsewhere for a fuller picture. In particular, only one paragraph discusses the possibility of postgraduate study and the main advice is to prepare like you would for “an especially tricky assignment”.

However, if you have bought this book in your first year (or even before you start), it will easily take you through several years of study. The brevity of the final chapter is not exactly a major issue. Think of it more as a surprise when you’re used to chapter after chapter of detailed advice on mastering your academic technique.

Essential Study Skills is a great book to keep close to you while you develop during your degree. You’re not expected to be perfect after years of practice, let alone after a single term in your fresher year. This book helps you to understand that, yet at the same time helps you strive to bring out your best at all times.

The book is available now in paperback (RRP £14.99) and hardback (RRP £56.00) editions.

Stuff You Need To Know For University – Review

The people at Zidane Press have sent me a copy of their book, Stuff You Need To Know For University for review. I expected a book much like Lucy Tobin’s A Guide To Uni Life and other books preparing students for their study.

Stuff You Need To Know For University isn’t quite like that. It takes its own place.

Many books in this vein either prepare students for university life, or look at study skills. While the authors cover this at the start of the text, the main bulk takes a different approach. First things first, though, the book begins with a summary for everything required to enjoy university and excel in your essays. It’s almost worryingly brief.

But ‘brief’ isn’t the right word and doesn’t do it justice. Think more ‘to the point’. You’re expected to put the work in. What this book doesn’t offer is a magic pill. And I like that. The purpose of this book is to expand your horizons and get you thinking clearly about your degree AND beyond your degree.


The first three pages contain the ’10 Commandments’ for how to do well at uni, starting with “Treat it like a job” and ending with “Enjoy yourself”. There is no mystery. The process isn’t complex. It assumes you will take responsibility for your learning. Some of the opinions within the commandments are a bit sarcastic, but that doesn’t mean the advice is a joke.


Next up, you’re given a short overview of health issues, Freshers’ Week, writing and grades. Just enough to take into account and not too much to make you bored or overwhelmed. You may want to explore in more detail at a later point, but when you’re given so much to take in as a Fresher, this type of overview is useful.

And if you’re looking for more detail on what happens when you first hit campus, take a read of my free ebooks on Fresher Success and Studying Hard.

The Stuff

Past the summary, the rest of Stuff You Need To Know… is part Bluffer’s Guide and part introduction to the wealth of information and scholarly output you’re due to encounter on your academic journeys. Not all of it is relevant to your course, but don’t let that stop you exploring. This book is an easy-going introduction to many ideas and it is up to you to take things further. You can pick and choose what interests you, as well as pick up the book from time to time when you need some inspiration.

The authors even suggest that “you can just take the ‘how to write essays’ bit and disperse of the rest”. Yet, in many ways, that would be missing the point and you wouldn’t be making the most of the book.

The authors cover the humanities, literature, drama, history, politics, economics, science, globalization, art, and music. And tucked away between the art and music chapters (I don’t know why it’s specifically placed there) is a selection of ‘Top Ten’ lists. From safety to theories, from food to films, the authors suggest what they think is best.

What’s refreshing about Stuff You Need To Know… is how it brings you the basics to allow you to step off from and take further in any way you fancy.

Some readers may consider its open-ended nature to be its flaw, but it’s a personal decision. If you’re interested in grabbing the fundamental points and grounding yourself, this book does that job just fine.


The bottom line is this: buy the book if you want a useful place to dip your toes in and get the basics covered. Then explore!

If you’re more interested in a thousand different suggestions on preparing research, exam techniques, and the finer details of essay construction, look elsewhere.

I’ve never seen a uni book quite like this before. I enjoyed its quirky layout and concise nature. Stuff You Need To Know For University is a worthwhile and undemanding read.

And because the book won’t take you long to consume, you’ll have plenty time to follow those ten commandments set for you!

[Stuff You Need To Know For University by Richard Osborne, John and Mary Reid, is available now. Retail Price: £9.99]

7 Ways to Feelbetter – Review

University is a time when you can experience great changes and do all sorts of amazing things.

Sometimes you need a bit of focus and direction to make the most of what’s available.

So as I was going through my Google Reader, I noticed a promotion for a new book, “7 Ways to Feelbetter“. Written by the team behind the website FeelGooder, I thought I’d give the book a read and review it for you.

7 Ways to Feelbetter (FeelGooder)

As the title suggests, “7 Ways to Feelbetter” focuses on seven themes to help people feel and be better:

  • Exercise
  • Save
  • Connect
  • Eat
  • Act
  • Play
  • Think

Sounds pretty straightforward, huh? As with most things, though, it requires a leap on our part to make it something big.

7 Ways to Feelbetter” gets you started in making that leap and thinking ‘big’.

Although the book is a quick read, it is meant to be read and actioned over seven days. If you interact with the book (i.e. work on your own actions and complete the exercises) the week long digest will help you take on board the ethos of the book, as well as your own focus.

The book “isn’t about giving you all the answers – rather it’s a springboard into the next week to help you more intentionally explore 7 ways to feel — and be — better”.

Each short chapter contains:

  • a set of questions about yourself;
  • an introduction to getting started;
  • simple tips to inspire you;
  • resources;
  • motivational quotes;
  • space to expand upon your plans going forward.

As you can see, you’re given a platform to help you focus on improvement. That requires dedication and a sense of responsibility, but that’s how it should be.

Take anything seriously and you do assume a certain amount of responsibility. The book offers up advice on how you could start, but the main thrust is that you can find a course of action to suit your individual circumstances. I definitely prefer something that lets you call the shots.

By making your own choices — perhaps with a bit of help from the inspiration — you can make each step as big as you like. Prefer small baby steps? Fine. Want to take a huge leap? Go ahead.

Much of the advice given in the book is to help you start forming new habits and practices. The aim is to get a new view of the world and return to past views that you once valued but thought were lost.

This doesn’t automatically require hard work or a lot of planning. For example, chapter 6, ‘Play’, helps you open up in fun ways. Sometimes you just have to do something unusual or something you haven’t done for a long time:

“Tap into the solitary play you used to enjoy as a child.
Haven’t drawn a picture in years? Give it a try. Remember your old train set? Get it out! That cute miniature barnyard? Set it up!”

The final chapter, ‘Think’, somehow manages to focus a lot on relaxing, letting go, and removing all the noise from everyday life. By doing this, you’ll hopefully be able to hear yourself think!

The chapter states, “Meditation and philosophy are just two studies that have resulted from the human need to make sense of your own thoughts”.

The final page of the book closes with a social/community feel. The hashtag #FeelGooder7 is used for readers to share their experiences and personal tips through blog posts and tweets. Since the FeelGooder team are set to share the best tips at their website, it’s a good hook to get more people in on the brand.

If you’re feeling reflective and want a boost of inspiration for life, give this a whirl. The book is written with a wide audience in mind, so not everything relates to students. Nevertheless, there’s plenty you can do and a lot of scope to find stuff to suit your lifestyle.

At the time of writing, some copies are still available for $4.99 (around £3.00) and the usual price is $9.99 (around £6.00). I may ask Darren Rowse if I can give away a copy or two on here…

Darren is the main name behind FeelGooder and is best known online for ProBlogger. Darren offers a full money-back guarantee on the book, so you don’t need to worry even if the content doesn’t fit for you.

In summary:


  • Easy to read;
  • Quick bursts of inspiration to get you thinking and acting fast;
  • Nicely presented;
  • Focus is on *you* and the way *you* want to do things.


  • Requires some responsibility on your part. Simply reading it won’t change you;
  • Web links aren’t all relevant to UK. Mostly fine though.

This isn’t a sponsored review and I’m not an affiliate for the product. I just wanted to bring “7 Ways to Feelbetter” to your attention as a tool to help you focus on making the most of being you.

You are special and unique. So is everyone else. Work with this book and let those unique qualities shine even brighter.

Review: A Guide To Uni Life

There are loads of books about essay writing and studying effectively.  However, there’s not much around to help with the general, everyday, student experience.

Lucy Tobin’s book, “A Guide To Uni Life”, looks to set things straight with a book that’s easy to read and digest.

Lucy Tobin - A Guide To Uni Life

Tobin, who graduated in 2008, has written a guide that covers the following eight subjects:

  1. Freshers’ Week
  2. Money
  3. Halls and housing
  4. Health
  5. Food
  6. Work
  7. Exams
  8. Righting wrongs

The uni guide has only just been published (August 2009), so information is up to date and relevant to students now.

I’ll review it, chapter by chapter: