Studying in adulthood comes with it complexities. The need to juggle a family, work, reading and assignments can be a daunting prospect.
If you haven’t already, check out my post on studying with children here.
It gives some effective tips on how to achieve your goals whilst studying with children.
As an extension to that post, I am a sharing 6 key obstacles and solutions I discovered, to help you overcome similar problems you may face whilst studying as a parent.
Before starting university, I wasn't particularly organised. In fact, I didn’t write out plans or set goals for assignments.
I had so much on my mind and I hadn't organised my time, so my essays lacked focus and relevance.
So here’s an info graphic of the 6 problems and solutions I encountered. For an in-depth explanation on how to achieve these solutions, read on.
CAN’T KEEP UP WITH THE READING LIST
College and university reading lists can be extensive. For each module you’re given a list of books, and journals to read in addition to the self-directed reading expected of you.
Not keeping up with the reading lists and assignment deadlines can negatively affect students’ well-being, leading to anxiety and a lack of self-confidence.
When I first started university I struggled to keep up with the readings.
I’d become apprehensive and withdrawn before lectures due to an underlying fear of being asked about the reading we’d been assigned.
This meant I was unable to concentrate and struggled to remember what was discussed in class.
I developed a few solutions to alleviate my anxiety and help me catch up. These included:
Read the present slides in advance
If your university uploads your lecture presentations in advance, have a quick scan of what will be discussed. That way you’re not caught off guard.
Ask your network
Ask your friends. I already mentioned how important building a support network is in my previous post, but it’s worth another mention.
Having somebody to ask questions, discuss texts you’ve read and talk about ideas can help you collate your thoughts and help you get focused.
Thankfully, my friends knew I was a mama, as I was pregnant during my first year at university.
So when I’d ask for a quick summary of the reading, they’d give me the main points, and tell me if they felt it was worth the read.
Know what you’re looking for
What is it the lecturer wants you to find out from the reading? What is your assignment about?
Knowing what to look for means you can use the most appropriate reading strategies to achieve your goal.
You stayed up late last night trying to catch up on your reading, went to a two hour lecture this morning and then rushed to work.
You finally finished work, collected your children, loaded the washing machine and cooked dinner while simultaneously breaking up an argument, and emptying the dishwasher.
This was the most difficult obstacle I faced.
What helped was finding out when I felt most productive, prioritising my work load and ensuring I carved out time in my schedule to complete the most important tasks when I felt my best.
This is unique to everyone. I for instance, feel the most productive in the mornings. However you my get inspired in the evenings, after you know all your other tasks are completed.
Pay attention to when you feel your best. Is it during the:
Thankfully our energy levels dip and rise. Pay attention to how your feel each day, write it down and look for a pattern, it really does make a difference.
So why did I find this the biggest obstacle?
Sometimes we feel our most productive when you can’t set aside the time. Work may get in the way, or lectures may be scheduled.
Unfortunately there’s not always something we can do about that.
Be sure you carve out undisturbed time to do your work, so you can be confident that your tasks will get done.
DON’T HAVE TIME TO STUDY
Get organised and schedule time in your calendar for uninterrupted studying. As I’ve already mentioned, it may not always be when we feel the most productive.
Focusing on a small goal to accomplish in a short amount of time will help you get one step closer to your overall goal.
If you child still naps during the day, why not use this time to get your readings or writing done?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of tidying up, or putting a wash load in, but this will eat up valuable time and before you know it your little one will be wide awake demanding your attention once again.
Assign time to do your other jobs, such as putting your washing load in, or vacuuming the floors at a time that will not conflict with nap time.
This will allow you to focus on your work, and create better quality work, knowing the chores will be completed at their allocated time.
I found going to the learning resource centre after my morning lectures. This was a child-free zone, quiet enough to focus, and a place my friends would often study.
I would often be sitting there at 2am, finishing off a paragraph, catching up with the reading or transcribing interviews.
No, it wasn’t my most productive time of day, but it was a quiet child free space which enabled me to work without distraction from my family.
So start planning your time, but don’t forget to include your family commitments in there too. That way you get a realistic view of where you can schedule your time.
NOWHERE TO STUDY
Assign a space in your home and let your family know not to disturb you when you’re studying.
If your children attend nursery or you’re able to have somebody you trust look after your children, popping to a local coffee shop may give you the quiet environment you need, plus an endless stream of coffee.
Places you could use to study in the home:
Places to study outside of the home:
Learning resource centre
In the park
Try out different places until you find what works for you.
Let’s face it, you’re notes will be your go to when writing your assignments.
From lecture notes to reading notes, you’ll be up to your eyeballs in them.
Using the right note taking method and organisational system can be the key to your success.
You can make notes by handwriting or using technology. Here are some pros and cons for both:
Handwriting your notes helps you internalise the information.
Ensures you have hard copies.
Ability to use highlighters.
Can use different colour pens to organise your notes and thoughts.
You can organise your notes in a way that suits you.
Able to photocopy notes and file in different places.
You can choose how to write your notes; mind maps, bullet points etc.
Difficult to keep organised without a system.
Papers can be lost/misplaced.
Messy notes may be difficult to read.
May miss information.
Struggle to find your notes without a system.
Can use a voice/video recorder (if permitted).
All your notes in one place.
Notes are editable.
Easy to find and access notes.
Can have notes saved in various folders.
Able to send notes to group members.
Note compiling software such as Evernote/One Note.
Can include photographs in your notes.
Need to back up your files.
Can lose your data.
May take unnecessary notes.
May not be permitted to use a laptop to take notes in class.
I used both methods during my studies, however I preferred hand writing, but using my laptop also had its merits.
I'd print all the journals I needed to read, write notes beside each paragraph and use post it notes to summarise the journals key points and stick or staple it to the front of the journal.
This allowed you to do a quick recap of information, plus helps with referencing when writing assignments.
For lectures, I would use the Cornell Note System. This enabled me to write key information, summarise what I’d learned and internalise the information.
Then I’d simply look for key phrases when looking for information.
Want to learn how to take Cornell Notes? Here's an easy to follow tutorial with all you need to know.
Organising your notes
Once you’ve decided on how you’ll take notes, you can decide on a system.
Write key points and references on index cards.
Use a colour coding system using certain colour pens/highlighters and folders to distinguish between modules/subjects. Then duplicate them and place in the corresponding folders.
Use post-it notes to summarise key points.
Use the Cornell Note system.
CHORES, COOKING AND SCHOOL CLUBS TAKING UP YOUR TIME
Planning your time in advance can help reduce stress and free up time. For instance, breaking down chores and assigning them to each member of your family can lessen the work load.
Plus encouraging your children to put their toys away after playing with them will help instil responsibility, whilst helping keep on top of the house cleaning.
Meal times can be a busy time. I found batch cooking and using a slow cooker a great way to save time, and feed your family a nutritious meal.
If your children have swimming lessons at the weekend, ask your partner to take them. This can free up some quiet study time, allowing you to intently focus on your studies.
Then once your family are back, you can enjoy your time together, knowing you're one step closer to your goal.
Referencing and citing your sources is a must. However different departments will require different formats.
Check with your lecturers to see what referencing style they expect you to use.
Not sure you’re referencing correctly? Most universities have their own instructions to help their students. Plus you can book in for a referencing session with your universities library.
Lancaster University offer useful referencing guides, which include:
Royal Society of Chemistry
I wanted to learn how to reference so I could do it without relying on other sources, and spot mistakes to build good work habits.
However, referencing apps can be useful. They save the books you’ve read by simply scanning the bar-code.
But beware; some people found their apps lost their references. You could screenshot your screen every once in a while as a precaution, but do so at your own risk.
Finally, I found writing the reference at the bottom of the page, as you write about it in your assignment, saves you a ton of stress.
If that feels too disconnected, adding a comment box with the name of the book could save you time trying to remember where the information came from.
If you find it breaks your writing flow, or if you’re easily distracted, consider leaving the books you cite to one side, and scan them using an app once you’ve finished writing.
Then you can reference them in your bibliography while catching up on your favourite Netflix program.
So there you have it, 6 key study solutions to help you on your way to achieving your goals. I hope they help you like they helped me.
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