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. 

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