Back to our muttons: How I use the study resources available to External students

It’s time to get back to our muttons as the new term approaches. What are the essential, basic, practical details of study? How am I going to manage this term’s work while handling other commitments and demands?  What can I realistically achieve while managing multiple commitments? I began to consider how the assets in this program contribute to my longevity and success over the course of the degree.  Although I didn’t know it when I started, the University of London External Program provides tools ideally suited to help achieve goals while managing a busy schedule.

Managing effective study and a busy schedule requires good time and goal management. For me this year includes increased professional commitments and time constraints. It’s a good time to review my reasons for studying in this particular program and make a plan to use its resources effectively. I searched for an English program for a few years before finding the University of London External Program.  My personal learning style, goals and other commitments are things I considered very carefully. For me, finding a program compatible with these issues is as important as the program’s rigorous course work, academic reputation, stature of the degree and culture of the academic community.

The independent, flexible nature of the University of London study schedule, the support schemes, printed materials and the September through May term are very important factors. I’ve learned they are tools that make continuous, effective study possible.  I’ve also learned a lot about how I learn during the last three years of study.

How I learn is unique to me. It is shaped by my experience, needs and goals. For me, the pedagogical methods in the study resources are an important source of structure. There are so many resources; the Student Café, Athens [Online] Library, ‘Study Guides’ for each course, the ‘Student Handbook’, ‘The Good Study Guide’, on-line seminars, essay submission, [English] summer school and the ‘Examiners’ Report’.  I use these resources heavily when studying texts.  They also provide excellent structure for self-analysis, time management and defining short, mid and long-term goals.  Using the materials effectively allows me to ask ‘open ended questions’ and research areas of particular interest. They also keep me focused with their ‘closed ended questions’.  In addition to structured probes about literary topics I’ve learned to check my progress by asking strategic open and closed ended questions about managing time, measuring goals and staying on target.

Studying effectively while managing competing demands begins at registration time with an assessment of what work I can realistically attempt.  I have a better understanding of what I can achieve and an improved skill set for setting goals and executing the work.  As I review my tattered, worn Study Guides I must decide which two courses I can most effectively attempt while achieving goals like producing a serious research paper for the support scheme and managing my other commitments.  For me, effectively utilizing the resources provided in The University of London External System is my best tool for success.

5 thoughts on “Back to our muttons: How I use the study resources available to External students

  1. For me, the best resource by a long way is Athens access to JSTOR, at least in terms of gathering information.

    VLE is great in terms of countering the inevitable isolation that goes with being an external student. My entire Diploma study was one long, lonely, drag that left me feeling somewhat forgotten and unsupported. VLE suddenly appearing, with Athens attached, has made a huge difference. Now I feel as though I do actually have a University – and it even has other students in it doing what I am doing! Maybe the Student Cafe is not that useful in strictly academic terms, but it is a significant morale booster.

    I can’t say I make a big issue out of time-management or goal setting, even though I am doing four units. When I get my hands on the study guides I spend maybe 30 minutes setting a timetable for the year ahead – this many weeks on this unit – and that is it, finished. Then I know I have x amount of time to get the reading leg-work done, and x amount of time later in the schedule to pick up exam reports and grind through a load of practice questions. Other than that I flow where the study process indicates. Yesterday, I found myself surfing around to find out what a Saturday Pie is, as it cropped up in Middlemarch. This is something that is unpredictable and hence can’t be built into any goal or target, and for this reason I like to leave my organisation light enough to allow for these diversions.

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  2. Very strict time management and planning, plus cross-referencing and working closely with all the resources Catherine listed has been absolutely crucial to my first year of study. I spend many hours on working out my reading strategy, which texts compliment one another, which secondary readings will have to be bought, etc. I always set myself realistic goals so I don’t get miserable not making my targets. I generally manage to get ahead of my own plan, which gives me some breathing space and allows for the unexpected diversions, as Andrew mentioned. Strict routine works for me, especially during the revision months.

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