When I returned to education I genuinely had no idea whether I could learn to learn again. I’d achieved good grades at school but that was a long time ago and I knew that university was going to be another level of academia altogether. So, rather than letting it daunt me or make me anxious I embraced the fact that I needed to re-educate myself in becoming educated.
I decided to apply the life skills I had discovered along the way to my new career of studying. Here are a few tips I have applied to how I study which have helped me immensely:
- Make studying a full-time job – you genuinely will only get out what you put in to your education. You can’t possibly learn everything necessary to pass assignments and exams without allocating the same amount of time to it as you would a real full-time career. Just turning up for lectures is simply not enough. Take it seriously and you will be rewarded with grades to be proud of.
- Plan your time effectively – at the beginning of each semester you will be given your timetable and assignment or exam due dates. Make a plan working backwards from these dates; week by week and day by day so you can effectively manage your time across all your modules. Breaking it down this way will also make the months ahead seem less intimidating. Make sure you allocate time to yourself of course too, a balance is very important.
- Start early – you know when your exams are going to be and when your assignment deadlines are so start working towards them NOW. Don’t leave anything until the last minute, we’ve all heard people say “I work better under pressure” – I don’t and I’ve not met anyone who truly does either. The sooner you start the better.
- Breakdown your assignment tasks – all assignments look baffling when they are first allocated. The trick is to read the brief a few times, then go through the text with a highlighter (either electronically or on paper, if that’s your preference) marking out the important action words and phrases. These can be referred to as Command, Content and Limiter words, I’ll write more about how to go about this in future articles so make sure you subscribe to this blog to avoid missing out. Once you’ve isolated the key actions then go ahead and further breakdown each one into smaller questions that you need to answer. Achieving multiple shorter actions is far simpler than taking on one whole instruction and will make the task appear less complicated. Tackle each little step at a time.
- Make mind maps – I wasn’t a fan of mind maps when I was at school, however I have recently found them to be incredibly useful for getting my thoughts down on paper before attempting an essay or assignment. They seem to clear my mind. I work with post it notes for this process as they can be moved around more easily however there are many free tools available online such as Mindmup and Mind Doodle. I’ll also be writing further posts about mind mapping and planning so keep following to pick up additional tips.
- Listen in lectures – it may sound obvious but listening in lectures is critical to becoming a successful student. The main reason for this is clearly to absorb the topic fully but secondly, it is true that lecturers give us clues about what we need to include in assignments during their talks. Listen for phrases such as; “this would be useful in your group task”, or; “this may help with your assignments”. Every time I pick up on one of these phrases I write a large star in my notes next to the subject matter so I can refer back to this little nugget of information when it come to writing my piece. You can use a highlighter if you prefer, but I can never find one handy when I need it.
- Exercise – it is a proven fact that regular exercise will make you a more successful student. Not only will it improve your concentration and boost your energy levels but it’ll make you feel superb and reduce your stress too. You don’t need to run 10k everyday, even a quick 15-20 burst of physical activity will make all the difference.
- Take advantage of University resources – Robert Gordon University (My University) has a phenomenal support network for students which incorporates study skills teaching which I found invaluable in my first semester. The programme teaches a wide range of subjects from academic writing through to assignment structuring. Check with your university what they have available and go along – you’ll definitely pick up some new competencies which will help you become a more successful student.
- Turn off Social Media and your phone while you study – allocate yourself regular breaks to check your accounts, however while you are studying turn your phone off completely and log out of all of your social on your computer. You may think that looking at one quick message won’t harm but we all know how quickly our life is zapped away once we look at Facebook or Instagram. Don’t let it distract you – you can live without it for a few hours. Allocate yourself 15 minutes every 2 hours for a browse if you must but limit it to that. I know FOMO can be overwhelming but trust me – you can survive. If there are certain people you need to be in touch with, such as in my case my husband and boys, then you can set your phone to only accept calls from specific numbers and send all others to answer phone. Being without a phone will not kill you, I promise! Try it – it’s surprisingly liberating.
- Set a timer for when you check your emails – I am incredibly guilty of reacting to emails as soon as I hear the inbound ping on my Mac. Like your social media, turn off your emails and only check them at certain points during the day. Limit yourself to looking at them every 4 hours if possible, and even then only respond to those that are urgent. All other emails can wait until you’ve finished your task.
- Drink plenty of water and remember to eat – being absorbed in an assignment or revision can make us forget to eat and drink. Prepare yourself some snacks before you start so you can keep your energy levels high while you study, ideally fruit or protein bars. Water is crucial for effective brain function, keep a bottle on your desk at all times and fill it up regularly. The advice on How much water we should drink varies depending on what source you consult but a good rule is that 2 litres everyday is ideal.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions – the chances are that if you have a question to ask in a lecture or tutorial there will be many of your classmates wanting to know the same thing. Don’t be afraid to ask, even if you think the answer may be obvious – if it isn’t to you then it may not be to others either so you’re helping your team.
- Takes breaks – we cannot remain focused without breaks, even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes, discipline yourself to regularly stop your task and leave your desk. Your concentration will be heightened when you return and you’ll be more successful for it.
- Have balance – your life must be balanced or you will not be focused on studying effectively. If you don’t already have a hobby, find one – join a gym or a club and make sure you stay in touch with your friends. If you have family, ensure you give them the attention they deserve and don’t simply drown yourself in your studies and neglect the other parts of your life. You will be a better student for taking time away from your desk and enjoying other activities.
- Enjoy yourself – finally, and in my opinion, most importantly enjoy your learning experience and you will be a success. Don’t be anxious or fretful about the work that lies ahead of you – embrace it! You have chosen this path because you want to gain further education and although we all have different reasons for pursuing learning, the common denominator is that if we don’t enjoy it we won’t stick with it. A happy and free mind will absorb information far more effectively than one that is caught up in fear and dread so, unshackle yourself from any doubts or worries and look forward to your future, you’re certainly on the right path.
Thank you for reading, please feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any comments or suggestions and don’t forget to follow this blog by subscribing below and sharing through social media.
Have fun with your learning journey
The Voice of the Mature Student Tribe