To be successful in your studies, you need to learn how to create meaningful summaries of your course material. This is especially important if you are a distance learning student, as you won’t have a teacher or lecturer to point out key concepts, or to give you tips about the types of questions you can expect in the exams.

Summarising your work gives you the opportunity to:

  • Organise your study material into a structure that makes sense to you.
  • Arrange your study material into a format that suits your learning style.
  • Create memory aids for yourself.
  • Identify key ideas and concepts.
  • Focus on what’s important.
  • Prepare for exams more easily.


So what exactly is a summary?

A summary is more than just a condensed or shortened version of your work. A summary requires you to analyse your study material, to identify the key concepts, and to explain it in your own words.


To make a good summary, you need to:

  • Keep it brief.
  • Make sure to use main headings and keywords.
  • Focus on the main ideas.
  • Classify and organise the information in a logical manner.
  • Use your own words where possible.
  • Include examples.
  • Remember that your summaries are there to help you.


You can make your summaries in different formats. Here are some examples:

  • Mind Maps (Spider Diagrams)

A mind map is a visual expression of thoughts, ideas, and concepts. It usually takes the form of a diagram, with the main concept in the centre, and the related concepts branching out from there. Here is an example:


Example of a mind map or spider diagram


The benefits of using mind maps include the following:

  • They help you to see how the different bits of information fit into the bigger picture.
  • They help you to understand the relationships between concepts.
  • They help you to memorise information more quickly (by engaging both hemispheres of your brain).


Tips for making mind maps:

  • Use different colours to distinguish between concepts.
  • Use key words and phrases, instead of writing in full sentences.
  • Include images or drawings that are relevant to the topic(s).
  • Use arrows to show how different concepts are related.


  • Bullet Points or Lists

If you find that you memorise things more easily when they are in list form, then it might be a good idea to use bullet points when summarising your work.

Using bullet points can help you to understand (and memorise) your work more easily, as it requires you to:

  • Identify the key points that you want to include in your lists.
  • Come up with a logical structure for your lists.
  • Categorise information into relevant lists.


Here is an example:

Example of a list summary 

  • Flash Cards

Flash cards are pieces of paper (or card) with questions on the one side, and corresponding answers on the other side.

Here is an example:

Example: Flash cards


Tips for using flash cards:

  • Include images or visual cues on your flash cards, as this will help you to memorise the contents.
  • When studying, shuffle your deck of flash cards regularly (to make sure that you aren’t simply memorising the order of the answers).
  • Add new flash cards to your deck as you cover new topics or learn new concepts.


General tips for making summaries:

  • Underline or highlight key points as you work through your study material, and make notes.
  • When you come across a word or concept you don’t understand, look it up in a dictionary, or do some research on the concept, and add your own definition to your summary.

Digital mind map 

Remember to look out for the next part of this series, in which we’ll give you tips on how to ask for help from your tutor.