Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Juggling part-time study deadlines and work stress? Here’s how to stay ahead of the game when studying part-time

If you’re fortunate enough to have a job and are receiving a monthly or weekly salary, it can become almost too easy to stop thinking about furthering your education. Living from month to month seems like the only option. However, at one point or another, thoughts of developing your career further will probably start to enter into your mind. 

One of the keys to career success is a good tertiary education, and chances are that if you don’t have a degree or diploma behind your name, your career path might just hit a brick wall and you may lose out on your chance to be promoted within your existing company to a better-qualified candidate, or you might be passed over at the application stage when applying for a job elsewhere due to not having the required qualifications.

One of the best ways to advance your career is to complete industry-specific certifications or go back to school to get a qualification. Unfortunately for many, the idea of going to university or completing a diploma while working a full-time job is daunting. Multiply the stress of a spouse, children, and all the other activities you’ve got going on, and studying for a certification seems like the furthest thing from an actual possibility.
Although difficult, it is quite possible to balance your family, job, and obligations while studying for a degree or diploma. The following are some handy tips to help you on your journey to get the qualifications you’re after and give your career a kick start.

1. Enlist the help of family and friends
If you are serious about doing some form of study then it’s vital to have support from those closest to you. Talk to your partner, family and friends before embarking on a new course and make sure they understand why this is so important. That way, they will understand that you may not always have quite as much time for them as you would like. 

2. Split up the reading
Split up your reading into weekly intervals, preferably as soon as you receive your study materials. Calculate how many days you have and how many pages you must read in order to finish the book. Then create a weekly reading schedule, do some calculations and write out how much reading you must do each day on a calendar. Each day when you’ve finished your reading, cross it off.
Reading an entire text book in a week can be done. However, in order to get a strong grasp of the material, slower and more consistent study can be of greater value. Breaking the reading down into small chunks will give you a sense of accomplishment every day and will help you avoid feelings of panic closer to a test.

3. Sneak it in
Try keeping some review materials on you at all times — even if it is something as simple as a note card with review concepts on it. There are tons of times throughout the day that you will have five to ten minute periods when you are free. These include waiting in a doctor’s office, catching a bus or train, waiting at line in the grocery store, etc. You might as well leverage these times to study. The more time you can “sneak” studying in, the less time you’ll have to devote to studying later in the night when you could be spending time with family or doing something more interesting.

4. Make one sacrifice per day
In order to complete your course you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. Skipping an hour of television per night could make it possible for you to complete your reading and still have some free time later to relax.

5. Create a planned cram
The day (or week) before your exam you’ll likely start to feel rising levels of stress. If you can manage it, take the day off work before your exam. Even if you feel totally confident with the material, having the day off will keep your stress levels down, clear your head, and give you the opportunity to brush up on some of the material that you may have been avoiding.

6. Talk to your employer
If you are advancing your education under your own initiative it’s worth letting your employer know about your plans and goals. Employers would rarely frown upon an employee improving their skills and by keeping them in the know you will receive greater understanding and support when you might need to take a day or two off for exams. 

7. Play to your strengths
People’s learning styles vary dramatically, so what works for someone else may not work for you. If you perform better in the morning, set aside an hour once or twice a week for studying. Students’ concentration spans also vary so keep this in mind to maximise learning either in bite sized chunks or longer periods. The key is to find what works for you and then plan your time accordingly. 

8. Create a study zone
If possible, it helps to have an area that is dedicated to studying, whether that means converting a spare room into a temporary study or tucking a desk into the corner of the living room. If you prefer to leave the house then you could try a quiet local coffee shop or your public library. Wherever it may be, creating this distinction between study time and the rest of your day will help to engage your brain and get you in the mood for learning. 

9. Find a study partner
Setting goals with fellow students can be a great way of overcoming hurdles and boosting your own motivation. Making new friends is often an added bonus to adult learning, and technological developments mean it is now possible for people on distance learning courses to develop such relationships via the internet. If you are considering home study then it’s worth checking if the course provider has a virtual student community, which can effectively replicate the social environment of more traditional educational establishments. 

Often the hardest thing about combining work with study is making the decision to do it in the first place. Once you get started you will probably find that it’s not as difficult as you’d imagined. Choosing a course that allows you to study via distance learning can also be helpful as you can work at your own pace without being tied down to specific timescales. Studying doesn’t have to take over your life: just a few hours each week can make all the difference. 

Monday, 25 March 2013

Five ways your phone can help you succeed in your studies

You may have just started university or you may be a seasoned veteran staring down the barrel of your final year. You may be vying to graduate with a summa cum laude or just trying to find a way to pass. Whichever group you belong to, the chances are that the key to giving your results a serious boost may be sitting right there in your hand.
Now obviously this works best if you are lucky enough to have a smartphone but older phones can still serve a purpose - it’s all about utilising what you have to hand. Using your phone in these five key ways can genuinely help you boost your marks:

1. Record your lectures and classes
Lectures, tutorials and workshops are incredibly important. They are filled to the brim with information that is vital to your success but perhaps more significantly they provide key signposts on how you should engage with a topic and crucially, how your lecturer thinks. That’s the person who’s going to be marking your work.
What’s more, lectures are a convenient and quick way to get you up to speed on a topic or provide an overview come exam time. With all that said, it’s almost a crime against your education to let them pass by in an hour-long flash. You need to record them.
This is where your phone comes in. Put it down in front of you, hit record and you can start building your personal library of everything the lecturer has ever said. This can then be used how you wish. If you have the facilities available to you, upload it to a website like SoundCloud which carries the additional advantage of allowing you to attach your own notes to various points in the recording. It’s brilliant and of course, it’s entirely free.

2. Reading
You’ve taken a trip to your study session but you’ve realised you’ve left a book at home. Or a book you’re reading has cited something which sounds interesting, but the library doesn’t have it in stock, or someone has already taken it out, or you’re nowhere near a library and you need it for your assignment right now.
As long as you have access to the internet on your phone you have access to Google Books and many other e-book services which may carry a copy of the passage that you need. Carrying a virtual library containing hundreds of thousands of books in your pocket can enable you to do the breadth of reading required to get you the marks you desire. It also allows you to strike while your mind is hot on wider reading possibilities, therefore optimising the impact on your thinking and on your work.

3. Plan your time
You can use your phone as a mobile diary by using notes and your built-in calendar. Organisation is the key to achieving good grades as is getting your work done in the most efficient way possible. And if you aren’t already using your phone as a way of doing this, you should at least give it a try. It’s the one thing that’s with you 24 hours a day.

4. Turn your phone into a study buddy
Is procrastination winning out after you’ve spent all of that time making your study cards? Well, turn your phone into the personal trainer you’ve been wishing for all of these years. The Study Buddy app keeps track of how efficiently you are working by monitoring the number and duration of breaks you are taking per study session. It will also immediately record the length of time you spend on any phone calls during your ‘work’ and will factor any texting time into account too.

5. Working on the move
Now that you’re working and filing your information efficiently what’s next? Working some more. “But I don’t have any more time to work” you say. Taking a train journey? Going on the bus? Waiting for a friend? Exercising? Get your recorded lectures on your phone out, listen to them and make notes as you go along.

So you’ve got revision cards, recorded material, a library’s worth of books at your fingertips, your essays, your notes, the Internet - available everywhere you are, whatever you’re doing.

You may think of yourself as just a pen and book kind of person but with the potential of that education-boosting powerhouse you carry around with you everywhere - can you afford to ignore it?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Contributing towards education – the best way to celebrate our Human Rights

As we get ready to celebrate Human Rights Day on Thursday, South Africa as a nation reflects upon and honours the men and women who laid down their lives for a rights-based, democratic and just society.
Education has for many years been a very important issue in South Africa, as the education system tries to redress the inequalities of the past to ensure that all South Africans are given an equal opportunity to become productive members of society.
With this in mind, it is up to all of us to become passionate about education and make a difference. Here are some of the ways that you can contribute towards developing the human right of education, not just on one day, but throughout the year.
Get involved
Whether you are still at school yourself, or you have children that are attending school, there is always an opportunity to play an active role in ensuring that the school in your community improves and succeeds in its mandate. Students can join student councils, parents can join school governing bodies and community members can form voluntary groups to help upgrade schools in the area.
Encourage learning
Education is the key to success, so the importance of learning should never be underestimated or downplayed. Studies show that children who are supported by their families with homework and projects are likely to perform significantly better in academic examinations than those who do not. By showing an interest and making sure that homework is completed on time, parents communicate the fact that school work is important and needs to be taken seriously.
A mentor is more than an adviser. A mentor provides you with wisdom, technical knowledge, assistance, support, empathy and respect throughout, and often beyond, your studies. Mentoring helps students understand how their ambitions fit into graduate education, department life and career choices.  
Finding a mentor can be incredibly advantageous to learners and students above the age of 16. The journey into adulthood can be made easier if there is a role model available to lead by example and offer essential advice. Mentorship roles can be fulfilled by parents, relatives, older students, teachers or lecturers or any responsible person who would be willing to lend a guiding hand.
Push the limits
Setting high expectations for ourselves and for others around us can be instrumental in the development of education. Students respond to clearly set expectations. Rather than keeping those expectations low for students with poor classroom performance, raising them to high expectations can help bring them up to higher levels of performance.
Additionally, learner confidence can promote positive attitudes and behaviours that motivate students to tackle challenging learning activities. This is particularly important for learners entering secondary school because during these years many students disengage in school. When students turn away from school, they are less likely to take courses aligned with preparing them for tertiary education, and thus their futures can be profoundly affected.
Research has shown that students who experience academic failure in middle school have a high likelihood of never graduating from high school. Thus, increasing students' academic motivation during the middle school years is paramount to ensuring they remain on the high school graduation path.
Working together
The saying “it takes a village to build a village” holds true when it comes to education. Communities which are cohesive and actively involved in the provision of education often show higher levels of academic achievement than those which are not. Social cohesion happens when there are strong and positive relationships between people from differing backgrounds in the schools, the workplace and other institutions within a local area. But it doesn't happen overnight – building, promoting and sustaining community cohesion is a long-term commitment.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Studying after 30 – how to make your dream of studying further a reality

Although it may seem university is only for those who are 21 or under, these days this is far from the case, as more and more people are applying for higher education courses at any stage of their life. Mature students choose to study for a variety of reasons, for example they may want to change their career, improve their job prospects or just learn more about a subject they really enjoy.
You should not feel put off from applying for a higher education course because you think it’s too late or you won’t fit in. Universities and colleges always welcome mature undergraduates, as they are usually enthusiastic and often have a lot to contribute in class because of their extensive life skills and experience.
Since mature students are valued at higher education institutions, course requirements will generally be quite flexible and a wide range of qualifications will be accepted.

Do I need formal qualifications?
Some mature students will have traditional qualifications such as a Matric certificate with university exemption, a diploma or bachelor’s degree and some will not. Likewise, some institutions will take other forms of qualifications and experience into consideration when you apply for registration.
If you have not had any formal education for a few years or more, you may want to look into attending an access or bridging course at your local college or university to help refresh your study skills. This will aid with your preparation in returning to full-time study and get the qualifications you need for your entry requirements.
An access course will particularly develop your skills and confidence in written and oral communication, numeracy, information processing, and the effective use of information technology and other resources.
Although there are no standard entry requirements for mature students, exact requirements will vary from institution to institution, and you will have to provide evidence of your ability to study at an acceptable level, or evidence of some relevant experience to your chosen course. This is so the institution can rest assured that you will be able to cope with the academic demands of the course.
It’s a good idea to get in touch directly with the admissions tutors for the course or degree you are considering applying to, and ask to make an appointment with them so you can talk about your position before filling out your formal application. They may ask you to provide a CV, listing your employment history and academic achievements.

Will I be able to cope with all the studying?
Any university or college that accepts a mature student on to one of their courses believes they have what it takes to cope with the workload. This will be due to your access course or other achievements you’ve made that are equivalent to studying at higher education level.

Undertaking a degree requires you to:
* Organise your time effectively
* Take comprehensive notes
* Read material, such as text books, journal papers, etc.
* Research and analyse data, and make conclusions
* Write essays, reports and other assignments
* Use a computer, the internet or other forms of IT.

It’s a good idea to find out how much reading, writing, studying and practical work might be involved in a course before submitting your application for it. You'll be studying it for the next few years, so you really want to make sure you'll actually enjoy it.

Family and friends
It’s important that your family and friends are prepared for the changes you will be making in your life so you can study in higher education. This is likely to mean changes in some of your relationships, to a certain extent. You will need to talk to those that will be affected most about what arrangements you can make to overcome any difficulties during your studies.

These plans should be finalised and in place ready for when you begin your course, to help keep any potential disruption to your friends and family to a minimum. If you do not make suitable adjustments, you may become stressed by any problems that arise, or may even have to take time out of your course to sort out these personal issues.

Other considerations
You will also have to organise in advance any financial, childcare and/or travel arrangements. It’s also a good idea to make a timetable of your lectures, seminars, etc. and how you will fit in your studying around this. Try to work out how much time you will need to spend on campus each day, including time spent in the library and at social activities.
Although attending a university or college as a mature student may seem daunting, remember that you will meet lots of new people and make friends from different backgrounds. This will enhance your experience as a student, as will studying with people who have similar interests and who encounter the same challenges. They will be there to provide mutual support when things get tough, and they will value the support and advice you can provide too.