It’s been a long month so far, as my course doesn’t begin until February, leaving so much spare time in my life, therefore time to get organized. I have decided to write this to perhaps inspire some new students as well as remind myself how to stay on track when distractions arise- which they always do. I’d also like to say from the beginning, these are points I’ve made based on my own experience and that I am in no way an official educational adviser or anything of such title- just a student with a lot of experience. I hope many of you find my tips useful and I’d be interested in how you guys plan your studies and if you have any more tips, so please do comment.
1. Know your deadline.
I feel that the most convenient piece of information to be aware of when you begin an assignment, is how long you actually have to plan and complete it. Once you know the date, you can make that first step towards completion. I like to aim to complete my assignments at least a week prior to the deadline to allow time for delays and those random days where I’m just not feeling it. If you don’t feel like putting effort into your assignment, guys, you are not going to get great results. If I have a day where I know it’s not going to happen, I take time out- it’s surprising that taking a break, actually keeps me motivated. Clearly, depending on your time to complete the assignment, you might not have time for too many of these “time out” days- perhaps this needs to be changed to hourly breaks the closer you are to your deadline.
2. Take notes & plan in advance.
Even if your deadline is months in advance, as soon as you have the relevant information there is no reason at all to prevent you from taking notes and thinking about how you are going to structure your essay. I like to have this in mind right from the beginning, as I feel the more familiar I get with a project, the more confident I feel when it comes to actually putting my work together for the final draft. Notes that only I understand really help me go back to the lecture or the point I was reading when it comes to writing up my essays. Sometimes we only need to jot down the most brief words to trigger inspiration.
Another part of planning is to have a look at the reading list and make sure I have enough literature to back up my points. At uni, as us students will all be aware, referencing is everything! A lot of assignments don’t like us to rely on our own instincts and feelings, we need to back up that kind of stuff. I usually tend to read through relevant points and take notes from areas I think would be useful for my assignment. I’m not a big academic reader, so sitting down to read a text book like a novel, is totally bizarre to me. If you are also like this, keep a notebook, skim and just take some notes to keep your brain active while making use of the relevant literature. Don’t forget to write down your references as you are doing it to save you going back and looking for the page number, author etc. right at the end.
4. Have a diary or calendar.
Before you even begin to produce your first draft, set some short-term goals in your diary. I like to break down the assignment into sections and estimate how long I feel it would realistically take to complete it. I mark this down in my diary with a big star, reminding me to get it done! I also tend to write down time slots on days where I’m not busy to ensure I am more likely to achieve my mini goal and there are minimal distractions for sabotaging my goal. Checking off each short term goal as they are completed is a satisfying feeling and something I recommend, if you feel like the assignment is a mammoth task and completion seems so far distant. Breaking it down minimizes any overwhelming feelings and fears that it won’t get done. I think of it this way; if I can do section 1 of 4, I only need to do 3 more sections- but next week I will only have 2 sections and I will be half way there! I think calendars and diaries are very positive for they provide us with a clear, visual timescale of how long we have to complete our assignments (if it helps, you could draw up your plan as a timeline and mark your progression- it’s important for you to see that).
5. Don’t rely on one source for help.
If you are unsure of something during your assignment, the best thing to do is ask for help from a reliable source. When I get stuck, I have learned not to rely on only one tutor. Sometimes they are busy so cannot respond quickly. I have asked friends on my course, but when I get a range of answers, it’s best to check that out with the tutor whom has set the assignment or one that is familiar with the subject. If it is able to be researched online, I also go into this as well as asking for help from tutors. Keep your options open and your excuses to a minimum. Don’t let “my tutor still hasn’t replied to my email” be an excuse. Email other tutors until you get the answer you need. If it is that one tutor you need, give them a call, arrange to meet them or catch them in their office. At least you have made maximum effort to make contact.
When I was at primary school, a teacher told my parents that I was “consistently asking for help” as if this was an issue and I shouldn’t be doing it. So this, inevitably knocked my confidence and it took until much later in high school for me to actually have enough self-assurance to ask teachers a question. Ask questions, guys. Teachers and tutors are paid to educate us and they should be more than willing to help and ensure that you get your work done with concise direction.
6. Keep focused in a positive mindset.
This is probably my most important and valuable pieces of advice I can offer in my experience of school, college and university so far; one that stresses the importance of how a mindset can make a different in what kind of work we produce. It’s inevitable that at some point during a challenging assignment, we are likely to say to ourselves “I can’t do this!” That’s fine- as long as it’s momentary. “I can’t do this” is often in response to frustration and misunderstanding of the task. If it’s a reaction, leave it there. We are all human, we get frustrated when faced with a challenge and no, we don’t always enjoy the projects we are given, so this can often be a rebellious thought. Take care to ensure that “I can’t do this” doesn’t become a consistent internal dialogue for you when you sit down to work on your project. Changing the thought to “I may need some help” or “this is challenging” is a good way to stay clear of the opposing negative mindset. Teachers or tutors are there to help you; regular contact with them can help you stay motivated. Like the point I made earlier, their guidance is key to your success as they have a greater awareness of what is required from you.
Essentially, this point is helpful to keep in mind throughout your project. You could be surrounded with classmates with attitudes which reflect idleness, lack of confidence and low motivation. The worst thing you can do is allow this to contaminate your positivism. Embrace and share your confidence to complete the task at hand. You are all in this together and some people may need your positive reinforcement that it can be done. Statements such as “you will get it done”, “you can do it” or even raising the team spirit can work well with some people, reminding them that they are not alone with this task: “we can do this, come on!” Helping each other by raising the energy, keeping in contact and discussing the content perhaps raises the motivation to get stuck in.
I sure hope this blog was useful and by sharing my experience, I was able to share my optimism with completing academic tasks and restore some faith for anyone whom is snowed under with work right now. These tips can really be summed up in a short statement, think BASS: Break it down. Ask for help. Stay positive & Stay motivated. I appreciated we all have our own methods and the reason I chose to write this from my perspective is that I wish to share the ways I study and prepare in hope to provide inspiration and not imply that I’m an expert at this in anyway.
So take from this what you desire. Feel free to comment and share this blog if you think it is helpful. For now, take care, think about that “BASS” and thank you for reading!
All the best,