STUDYING DURING COVID 

Studying for a degree, especially in a foreign country, is a major pursuit! The COVID pandemic has had most of us studying from home, making our pursuit an even greater one.

My first semester in September was the toughest and most challenging part of my 2020. From adjusting to a new climate & timezone to unexpectedly studying from my bedroom full-time online – it was hard! Studying from home has its own challenges. As we continue, we may find it increasingly challenging to keep up with the demands of our course AND our lives. I found it so hard to keep track of my course requirements, due dates, concentrate, and stay productive. So, towards the middle of the semester, I developed a system to help ensure that I’d end my first semester strong and make my second semester my best one yet!

MAJOR KEY – SYSTEMS

The major key for me to staying on track is simple: create systems that support me. Systems are those habits, routines, and activities we intentionally create that empower us towards success in a specific area of our lives. Mine may look very different from yours so the key is to create systems that work just for you. The beauty of these systems is that you can apply them to both your study and work-life by adjusting a few things. I’ll share my systems with you and you can use these nuggets to curate the best system for you.

SYSTEMS FOR MAKING THIS YOUR BEST SEMESTER YET – 10 Tips for Staying on Track

#1: Revise Handbooks – Obvious right! It may be obvious, but many of us forget how important it is to intentionally do this. At the beginning of every semester, revise your handbooks AND repeat each week! This ensures that we’re aware of what each module entails. We are then aware of what is expected of us during the course including assessments and exams. Handbooks also tell us how we can contact our module leaders, which texts are recommended for reading during the course, and other key module information.

#2: Yearly Academic Planner – This is where you note all important course dates. Now, you may opt for digital calendars and if you’re a tactile & visual learner like me, you’ll appreciate having a physical calendar to help you stay track of what is to come and due dates. At the beginning of the semester, I make a note of all my due dates on my wall calendar. I have mine on the wall beside my desk with ALL my key course dates to help me see what’s next and stay on track. I also set a digital reminder on my Google Calendar so I can always get a reminder for what’s coming up and plan accordingly.

#3: Daily/Weekly Planners – Plan Ahead. Figure out all the tasks you need to do for your modules for the next day and week and plan for it. I use daily AND weekly planners which flow from my yearly academic planner to note the activities (reading, assessments, etc.). Revising module handbooks each week can help you adequately plan for the day and week ahead as they usually show what’s required for upcoming lessons. Feel free to include your self-care, study, group meetings, webinars, etc. in your planners so you can stay on top of ALL your important activities.

#4: Prep for Modules Daily & Weekly – You’re definitely going to want to do this! To at least have an idea of what’s to come in upcoming lessons, prepping for modules on a daily/weekly basis can be super helpful with staying on track. At the very least, scan through your module handbooks to see what’s coming up and any already released lecture/seminar slides; take notes, and jot down any questions you may need to ask to get further clarifications on concepts you’ve scanned through. Use your daily/weekly planners to guide you to any readings/assessments you need to get done for the next class and give yourself adequate time to do them. If time is against you and you can’t prep the way you want, at the very very least, do a quick review of what’s coming up.

#5: Weekly Module Reviews – Instead of waiting for an exam or an assessment to revise, aim to do it weekly or at the very least every other week. Take time each week to quickly review lecture slides and notes for that week. Spending an additional 30mins or so on each module weekly to revise that week’s lessons can really help to cement new concepts in your mind and help you to see clearly what you understand and what you need to do more reading/get further clarification on. It’ll also help to reduce the time you’ll need to study for an exam later on because the information will be more ingrained and you’ll be sure that these are concepts you already understand.

#6: Time Management | #1440 –  Manage your time! It’s easier said than done. Trust me, I know! We have 1440 minutes each day and how you manage your time will have a HUGE impact on how you flow through your semester. My #1 tip for time management: be essential! Focus on what matters right now. An exam 2 months from now may be essential to you this week or a group meeting tomorrow that requires you to present your insights from assigned research may be essential to you now. Whatever you NEED to do NOW, focus on that, organize, and schedule it in your 1440. Think of the least amount of time you need to get something done (be realistic!). Maximize your 1440 and do TODAY what you can so you can avoid having your tasks pile up on you later. Thank me later!

#7: Stay Organized – If there was 1 phrase to sum up tips 1-6, it’d be to stay organized! My biggest tip for this is to organize ALL module and course-related content. From handwritten lecture notes to PowerPoints, and handbooks – organize them! What works for me is to adopt a hybrid-organization system. It sounds fancier than it really is which is using both digital and manual systems to stay organized. I create a desktop folder for each module and organize all soft copies of each module’s content in specific folders: (1) Lectures & Seminars, (2) Assessments, (3) Additional Readings, and any other relevant folders. In my Lecture & Seminar folders, my content is organized in weeks. I take time at the beginning of the semester to create these folders and populate them accordingly, saving each content as what they are and keeping all related content together.

I also use a physical accordion folder (thank you Amazon!) with different colored & named sections to store related information in separate sections – allocating 1 section per module.  This makes it super easy to find my content when I’m ready to study and revise my content later on. You can adopt a hybrid system like mine or create another organizational system that works for you. The goal is staying organized! However!

#8: Office Hours – Book em! Just… book em! Studying virtually means we can access virtual office hours with our module and course leaders. Lectures and seminars may not be enough for us to gather the insights and guidance we need to move on to the next stage of our module/course so supplement this with office hours. Especially at the beginning of the semester, speak directly with your lecturer/course leader and get clarity and any additional information you need on assessments, the overall content of the module/course, or anything else that’s relevant for you during your studies. Also, while getting major course work done including group work, check in with your lecturers during office hours to ensure you’re on the right track and you’re doing what you should be doing. Trust me. They’re expecting you to!

#9: Stay Updated – We get updates all the time and most times these updates are critical to our course. Stay updated! Keep up with your emails, Blackboard updates, Student Hub, etc. Do this at times that best suit you, whether you check for updates every day, every week or so…. just ensure you stay updated!

#10: Course Buddies – Get yourself one and thank me later! This helped me soo much in my 1st semester and became the key I didn’t know I needed! When studying in-person, we’d usually have access to at least one other person in our class we can engage with about our course. We can have that virtually! You just need one person really. Just one person from your course you can check in with about course-related content including assessments. You can study together, help clarify things for each other, and help keep each other focused during the course. Two heads are still better than one!

THAT’S ALL FOLKS! NOW, DO YOUR BEST!

We all strive to do well…. great even! COVID-19 and studying in lockdown has made that increasingly difficult. By being strategic with our approach to our studies including reviewing our handbooks; scheduling, and noting key days and activities beforehand; preparing for the day and week ahead; meeting with our lecturers; organizing our course content; staying updated with emails and other resource spaces; and having another person to engage with can really amp up our efforts and keep us thriving and staying on track.

Stay on track and make this your best semester yet! You’ve totally got this!

For more insights from international students studying at the University of Westminster and living in the heart of London, please visit International Student Blogs.

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