Hello readers and colleagues!
I know… it’s been a while since our last conversation but I’m back with some potentially interesting thoughts for you.
How to plan your studies? How to make sure we begin the new academic year in the best possible way? It sounds like a subjective matter but there are some general considerations that apply to almost all of us.
We should take advantage of this relatively quiet period – academically speaking – to carefully devise a basic plan. In my brief experience, I learnt the earlier we start planning (i.e. structuring our studies), the better our results and the more enjoyable the journey.
Why should we plan in the first place? Well, it helps stay calm over the year by providing us with a bigger picture of where we’re heading towards, irrespective of how blurred the picture is at this stage. Like a pyramid, you need foundations: a plan serves that purpose very well.
So, here are some questions for you to ponder on before proceeding any further:
- Who am I? Be realistic as far as our abilities are concerned. How quickly do we absorb concepts and crystallise them into our mind to successfully solve problems? Are we comfortable with each module’s subject matter or is it something totally new?
- Objective. What’s our objective? Which mark do we want to achieve? Is it personal satisfaction and enrichment that we seek, simply a good mark, or a mixture of the two?
- Interests. Amongst our subjects, are there some we love and plan to read about extensively, way beyond the required readings? Generally, these are the ones where we’ll do very well. Yet, consider time constraints.
- Time. How much time can we devote to study? Do we have plenty of time? Do we work or have other important commitments to account for? What about the environment in which we study? Obviously, each of us has a particular profile.
- Student ‘status’. Are we studying independently or do we have lectures to attend?
Okay. That’s the first step. Don’t care about the numbers, you can easily add other points. These are just my proposed ones, which I think should be stressed more than others. Asking yourself questions and answering them ‘cages’ your thoughts and puts you in a position where you can proceed to the next step.
Good. But how do we actually proceed?
Again, I’m not going to tell you what you must do. Rather, I’ll just list some possibly valid ideas you might want to address your strategy with.
- Warm up the engine. Log into the VLE and navigate through discussion forums of subjects you wish to study for. Look for general information about the course but also specific information on essential readings and exam papers/commentaries. What’s the general opinion? What do past students say about textbooks and exam difficulty? Do they suggest pertinent books presenting topics in a different fashion or links to videos or other resources on the web? How many extra resources are there on the VLE for each module?Download them whenever possible and create folders on your PC where you can access them easily. Yes, creating folders is also part of the story. It’s like creating a map or a tree: a main folder named after the title of the course and sub-folders for each type of resource (recorded lectures, slides, journal articles, exam papers and commentaries, …) divided by, say, chapters of the subject guide. A tidy environment helps us deal with information overload, especially true for intermediate/advanced modules. With a map, you won’t get lost.
- Travel buddies. Seek fellow students’ advice. If they’ve just sat for the exam you’ll take in a year, they should be happy to give you some tips. Actually, they may be your best source of information, provided the course is not going to be revised substantially. I must say discussing with your peers is bound to be helpful in the long run. Mutual assistance is fundamental and you’ll likely help others too, once you complete your modules. At least, that’s what I do.
- Choose your baggage. Establish how many subjects you want to take and, consequently, how many exams to sit for next May. This phase is essential to independent students whereas those studying at teaching institutions – which tend to follow the standard route of four subjects per year – benefit from the expertise and schedule of an external recognised body. So, although we independent students have a good deal of flexibility, we’d better choose at this stage and stick to our plan.
- Acquaintance phase. Scan the subject guide and look at chapter titles, keywords, and so on. You can also do this at random. Is the subject guide comprehensive or is it just a guide? Are there journal articles to be read?Keep in mind it’s not real studying we’re talking about here. You just want to be aware of the main features of the subject before analysing it in detail. Search the web for general information (e.g. real-life related issues). Stimulate your curiosity. Scan relative past papers and memorise their structure. Really, get acquainted with the discipline. The purpose of all of this is to build the right mindset so that you’ll feel embedded in the subject itself when sinking your teeth into it. Hopefully, this will make you part of it rather than a mere student of it.
- Readings. You should always have a copy of the essential reading(s). However, it sometimes happens that further recommended readings suit you better or fill gaps in the essential one(s). So, spend some time reflecting on this matter and explore all the options before buying a text. The books are your teachers: choose those you can work with fruitfully! How many of them do we need to buy? How much do they cost? Where can we buy them? In addition to famous e-commerce companies, here’s a couple of extra options. Check out the ‘Buy & sell used textbooks Forum’ on the VLE; you might strike some good deals. If not, visit Earthprint.com, the official on-line book store of UoLIP. Moreover, surf the internet and look for PDF copies of essential/further readings, if applicable! A targeted on-line search could help you save both time and money. The Online Library is at our complete disposal and it’s been recently redeveloped. Great tool to retrieve and download journal articles!Finally, don’t forget to visit the Official Student Blog!
Just an aside on point 3, which I think needs a separate paragraph. After we’ve chosen our subjects, for each of them, we need to do something to influence our behaviour: writing a note down stating we want to achieve 100/100 in the final exam. You’re right, the odds of achieving such a mark are not high, but I’ve already stressed elsewhere that’s extremely important psychologically. By writing that down, we’re not simply writing a number, we’re not forcing ourselves to blindly achieve perfection, we’re not being machines mechanically trying to complete a task. It’s not that simple unfortunately and it’s not that sad fortunately. The truth is we’re committing ourselves to work REALLY HARD to achieve our goals. In other words, we’ll be pleasantly forced to pay attention to details, perfect our preparation, and so on. We’ll be constantly asking questions and doubting every sentence we read. We’ll be active learners who want to know deeply.
Now, if you struggle to visualise 100/100 on your ‘mental transcript’ or simply believe it’s impossible (which is not true since a few students I know did score 100/100), at least write you want to achieve 90+. Finally, stick your note somewhere, make sure it’s ALWAYS visible, and – most importantly – BELIEVE IN IT each second! Should you ever stop believing in it, that would mean you’re not working hard enough, as simple as that. From this perspective then, the degree of our believing in it during our studies measures our level of commitment and preparation as we progress. So, we can adjust the latter accordingly.
Nice. That’s it from my side. We’re now ready to take off. Once we gather enough information and feel we’ve got a clear picture of how the new academic year is going to be, let the dance begin. Literally, study!
How to study? Well, this is another interesting topic and deserves an entire post… stay tuned then!
But remember, studying is a pleasure. You won’t always love it but it should be a pleasure most of the time. Therefore, help yourself with a solid plan!
Oscar is studying for the BSc Economics and Finance independently in Italy.