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Strategies for study and the ‘Can’t study’ workshop

The Advice and Counselling Service run ‘Can’t study' workshops for any students struggling with study concerns which might centre on emotional and psychological rather than strictly academic issues.


The workshops are for a small group of students to think together about their study struggles. By the end of the session and after you have had a chance to share lots of thoughts and ideas, you will be asked to share one underlying reason why you might be struggling to study at the moment and one practical strategy that you might find it helpful to take away and try out.

These workshops take place several times each semester. Find out more about the workshop and others run by Advice and Counselling which are open to all Queen Mary students. 

The Advice and Counselling Service recently presented some reasons why students may feel they can’t study. Here are some practical strategies that might, hopefully, be of use:

  1. Do the work and hand it in. It may not be perfect, the process may have been a struggle, you may get some critical feedback (notice that you will probably get some positive feedback as well), and you may not be entirely happy with it, but if you can keep producing and learn from criticism, you will make real progress. Face your anxious feelings and just do it.

  2. Watch your language. Sometimes the words we use to talk to ourselves reinforce the idea that studying is just a burden: "I’ve got to, I should/must". Think about changing these ways of talking to yourself to something that emphasise your own agency: "I will… I decide… I choose". You may have doubts about the course you have chosen, but you might decide to commit to it anyway to get the very most you can from it. It is ultimately your choice to be doing this course at this university.

  3. Challenge the critical voice in your head which undermines you. That inner voice which tells you that you are no good, that there is no point, has been bullying for too long. We all have doubts about our ability, but sometimes those doubts drown out the more thoughtful (and realistic) voices which know that you have been successful, you do have ability, and while you might not be flying as high as you want to be (yet), allowing those more positive, realistic parts of you to have an influence would certainly help.

  4. Just make a start. It is always difficult to start, and sometimes it feels overwhelmingly difficult. You don’t have to be in the right place, in the right mood or have the most perfect set of notes to make a start. Focus on the process rather than the idea of producing, from the outset, the perfect piece of work. Anything you write now can be changed and re-drafted; it is just a first effort. Some amazingly successful people set themselves goals to reach each day: 1,000 words of writing, three hours of solid work etc. They know that just setting a target helps them focus not on how good the work is (they can go back and make it better when they edit) but just getting started and producing.

  5. Let yourself feel anxious. Know that it’s normal to be anxious and you can probably bear it. Can you see anxiety as preparation for positive action? Pushing yourself forward when you feel fearful is, in terms of studying, a crucial skill to develop. There is a famous self-help book called ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.’ You might want to read the book (available in the library) or you might just want to do what the title says! Anxiety often makes us want to avoid rather than go towards something. When it comes to studying, the anxiety we feel makes the threat seem bigger than it is. Have you ever had the feeling that you dreaded something but once you went towards it and started, it wasn’t as bad as you thought? So try to go towards and not avoid.

  6. Try to make studying more like work. Set yourself some working hours. Take plenty of breaks. Maybe work for 45 minutes every hour with a 15 minute break. The brain needs a rest and you can get more done in 45 minutes of concentrated work than in an hour of grey time when you are ‘sort of’ working. So set some boundaries around time. Set yourself some goals to complete in the day, in the hour. We respond well to clear achievable tasks being set, like a boss would set for you at work. So you need to be your own (friendly but firm) boss. Try to vary the tasks you set yourself for the day too. You don’t want to be reading and noting the same book all day. Give yourself structure and make sure you have a clearly defined end to a day of study. And when you stop studying at the end of the day, reward yourself and look after yourself too.

If you need any help with these issues, try attending the 'Can’t study' workshop.

Alternatively, if you feel emotional or psychological issues are adversely affecting your time here at Queen Mary and you would prefer to speak to someone individually, you may want to speak to a counsellor.

Or, if your ability to study or engage with university is affected by practical or financial problems, you may want to speak to a Welfare Advisor.

Good luck with your studies!



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