How to plan your studies

PlanningHello 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.

PyramidWhy 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:

  1. 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?
  1. 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?
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

  1. 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?Students virtual mapDownload 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

10 thoughts on “How to plan your studies

  1. Great advice Oscar! Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I am inspired!
    Let’s see how far I can stick with it given a high pressured job and family commitments.

    Thank you,
    Bala

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  2. Hi Oscar, great advice!! I will follow your tips for sure. Is it possible to contact you personally? I am from Italy too but living in Dubai.
    Here attached I will drop my contact in case you want to get in touch.
    Look forward to hear from you soon
    Thank you
    Umberto

    Like

  3. Hello Bala.

    Thanks for your comment. I’m happy you find it inspiring!

    Good luck with your studies and other commitments this year :-)

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  4. Hey! I am just going to start studying for the programme and i was very scared cause i am going to study independently and had no clue but thank you Oscar the post really helped me find a way and also boosted my motivation. Are you in the third year of the programme? Thanks :)

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  5. You’re welcome Romal!

    Motivation is indeed an important ingredient.

    Most students refer to UoLIP programmes as being intellectually stimulating and I very much agree with that. So, I guess keeping yourself motivated won’t be an issue!

    Yes, I’m about to begin my third year.

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  6. It is impossible and unrealistic to score 100/100 in an examination setting, even with the most lenient examiners, let alone UOL examiners who deliberately mark down students for various reasons…

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  7. Hey!
    I plan on doing the bsc in econ and finance independantly,but im very confused about the way it works online….the exams, how to get my doubts cleared, where the graduation will take place after the degree is completed, etc…
    Your post was really motivating…
    Thank you for it.

    Like

  8. Hello Fathima I,

    Thanks for your comment :-)

    Even if you’re not registered yet, you can already gather a huge amount of useful information about examinations, graduation ceremony, and other questions you might have at the following webpage:

    http://www.londoninternational.ac.uk/community/students

    Explore the options you have on the left side of that page. If that’s not enough, you can navigate by clicking on the horizontal-blue-bar options on top of that page (global reputation, application and admission process, teaching institutions, and so on).

    Once you’ve explored the site in full, you should have a very clear idea of what it means to be a UoLIP student. As for specific questions, you can contact the University directly:

    http://www.londoninternational.ac.uk/contact-us

    Consider that students often ask questions whose answers can be found by reading the pages above. So, I’d suggest to read first.

    You may also want to take a look at our YouTube channel:

    https://www.youtube.com/user/UniofLondon.

    If all of the above is not enough, well… you just need to enrol!

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  9. Hi Cyrus.

    Assuming you’re either a student or an alumnus, it seems you interpret examinations results as a variable depending on the work of others, namely examiners.

    This is neither helpful nor advisable.

    Let me explain why I think you’re wrong.

    I can easily disprove your first statement with a counterexample: two students I’m in contact with achieved 100/100 in Mathematics 1 and Optimisation Theory.

    Considering the small circle of students I’m in touch with – I study independently –, it’s highly likely that others around the world replicated their performances.

    Moreover, I know of a few students who scored between 95/100 and 100/100 in Elements of Econometrics and Quantitative Finance. These are just examples. Again, I’d bet other students replicate such performances every year in other subjects.

    All of them share a common feature: they either put lots of efforts into their studies or are particularly gifted.

    Having that said, I believe you didn’t see the point of that particular paragraph. I suggest you go through it again. Scoring 100/100 is a target. It doesn’t matter whether you achieve it or not! Plus, it’s just my suggestion, you can also aim at 40/100, 53/100, 71/100, 86/100, whatever! It depends on your goals, although I advise against aiming at a pass (i.e. 40/100) as you might end up failing.

    As far as I’m concerned, my highest mark so far is 91/100 (Statistics 2). As you can see, still quite far from 100/100. Yet, had I not aimed at 100/100, I’d have never achieved it.

    Let’s now turn to the second part of your comment, which probably derives from frustration.

    At least two examiners mark your script. They are not aware of your name and do not mark you down on purpose. The mere thought of it is absurd.

    Over the past two years, I noticed some students are not aware of the level of preparation required to achieve high grades. In short, their expectations are based on inaccurate assumptions and/or lack of understanding. Let me remind you that we are examined to the same standard as LSE internal students, which is not a trivial matter. In fact, success doesn’t fall from the sky. We need to work hard to achieve it. On top of that, irrespective of how hard you work, excellent results are not always guaranteed. Many variables affect our examination performance and they’re sometimes beyond our control (e.g. did we sleep well the night before?, did we fall ill?, …).

    One thing is pretty sure though. Your performance does not depend on examiners’ mood. It depends on how good and well-prepared you are. That’s precisely why students’ results differ and marks range from 0 to 100.

    Here’s some information about our examination results (taken from https://my.londoninternational.ac.uk/web/student/exam-rechecks):

    “Candidates should be aware of the following information:
    – Please note that marks are routinely checked and re-checked before results are sent out to students.
    – Every script is marked by at least two Examiners or by one Assessor and one Examiner, who shall afterwards prepare an agreed list of marks.
    – The marking of scripts is subject to internal moderation and sampled by an External or Intercollegiate Examiner.
    – The confirmed result is determined at a Board meeting at which all Examiners are represented and includes External Examiners who have specific responsibility to ensure consistency in the standard of award.
    – There is no provision in the Regulations for the consideration of an appeal on academic grounds; the decision of the Board of Examiners is final.
    – All results are checked by the Student Assessment Office to ensure that the marks awarded by the Examiners are correctly allocated to the individual student record.
    – The Board of Examiners will consider any evidence of illness or other extenuating circumstances, which has been received no later than three weeks after the date of the last examination, when they meet to determine results. Medical or other evidence not presented within the specified period cannot normally be submitted at a later date.
    – The University will carry out an administrative re-check of the examination results, upon payment of a fee, where you have a concern that an administrative error may have occurred.”

    I hope my reply convinced you of the falseness of your arguments. If you still hold different opinions, let me know. If so, could you also elaborate further on you last words (i.e. “for various reasons…”)?

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