I wish that university were all about attending lectures, meeting new people and attending different school social events. Sadly wishes are not horses in real life therefore I cannot have such a free ride through the university education. Assessments happen at university to give students the opportunity to evidence the fact that they have understood every learning outcome proposed by the module leader at the start of the programme.
When I first began the nursing programme, I realised after a few lectures that I would have many assessments. Some were examinations, essays and even practical. There never seemed to be enough time to study. We had lectures nearly four times a week initially. As a mature student I still had my family, work and personal commitments to balance against that. I also had to be prepared for the lectures. There was no use attending a class without adequate preparation. That just made it difficult to get the best out of the interactive sessions on offer. In no time, I began to struggle. I fell behind on schoolwork and I knew I could not meet up with the demands of university unless I made some changes. It became apparent that I had to make sacrifices, compromises and tough choices if I wanted to succeed. Below are a few tips that helped me along the way
Acknowledge your struggle
It is quite normal to feel lost as a student. From the perspective of being a parent-student, it feels more daunting. As a parent, there is the assumption that you will always know what to do when things get tough. However, this is not always the case. It is alright to acknowledge that you cannot always have the answers. Fighting the feeling by refusing to confront the reality of school becoming overwhelming can be like struggling in quicksand. It almost always ends one way- with you sinking deeper and deeper. Realising that you will remain at a loss unless things change is always a good first step.
Talk to other students
It really helps when you ask other students about their experience of university. Sometimes it can make your feelings less alienating. It was such a relief to hear that other students in my cohort were experiencing the same challenges as me. It provided the opportunity for us to share ideas. I learnt from them what was working and felt more confident about trying to make my studies work.
Attend university support events
While it seems obvious, in reality, support events organised by the university can sometimes feel like an additional task to add to an already over squeezed time. However, I found them to be very helpful. At University of Northampton, there are many sessions offered to students by the learning development/library team. They teach time management, timetabling, note-making, rest and self-reward yourself to sustain your interest and motivation.
Come up with a plan.
Sometimes, plans are easier to view when they are written down. Something called “being organised” happens when you write out all you have to do. It really makes sense. By the time you know all that needs doing and balance that against the time you have available to achieve them, it becomes a bit easier to come up with a plan. Such a plan may be as simple as prioritising your activities, changing work shift patterns, cutting down on housework, parties, accepting more help from family and friends. These little strategies can make a big difference to your ability to cope better with the demands of university.
Create time for study
Spreading out activities through the week instead of cramping them all up into a day gets them done at a slow and less exhausting pace. Doing too much in a day can be overwhelming and tiring. However, spreading activities through the week can free up time within the day for studies. For example, many mature students find that they sometimes try to do all their housework and have no time to study. They find that by undertaking a little housework at a time or delegating tasks to others they free up time that can be used to rest or study.
Being a smart studier is not just about having big brains. It is also about learning to make the best out of the pockets of time you spend studying. There is really no use reading for hours when you are not clear about what the focus of the study would be. Being more specific about what needs doing ensures that you maximise every available study time that you create. Having a timetable or essay plan can be helpful. Referring to learning outcomes for each topic also helps to focus your study. The learning outcomes are the module leader’s way of telling you what you should be learning within the subject. It is also their way of telling you what will be assessed. Academic study has to be specific to be effective.
Use your reading lists
When you first start the course after a long study break, getting to grips with how to use the physical library, electronic library or how to get relevant study materials can be daunting. Referring to the reading list provided for the module you are studying can help save time. The reference lists within relevant books in the reading lists can also provide books with higher likelihood of relevance to your study.
Make an appointment with the academic librarians
If you are really struggling, make an appointment to see the academic librarian. They are happy to give direction and answer questions related to using the online library, essay writing and other academic skills. They have flexible appointments that can be either Skype or face to face.
Every little always helps
When you are a student sometimes you need some more non- academic help along the way. It can be in form of kind offers of assistance from family and friends to help take some of the strain off. A good supportive network around you offering to take some of the strain is an invaluable resource not to be taken for granted.
Use your personal academic tutor (PAT)
Your PAT is always there to support you through your time at university. Life happens and so do challenges. Building a rapport with your PAT from the start can provide invaluable support especially at times when you struggle. From academic and emotional support to signposting you to more appropriate support, your PAT will be there to help. However, the help you get can only be led and directed by you. This ensures that you only get as much help as you need. The help is set up in a way that only you trigger it. So if you don’t contact your PAT, there will be no way to access all the help and support they can potentially offer you.
Thank you for reading.
Written by Lauretta Ofulue
Photo credit Pixabay