“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi
At last! I’m nearing the end of my final year at the Open University (OU).
Studying with the OU isn’t easy, especially if like me, you work full-time too. Remote study can be disconcerting. As someone who has also attended lectures whilst living at University, I can confirm that the distance and lack of an academic environment can be disheartening at times. But you must soldier on, and, once you’ve got a system that works for you, you will find everything begins to fall into place naturally.
Here are a few tips that got me to my final year of study with the OU :
Starting Your Modules
At the start of your module you will gain access to an online study planner with tutor group forums, and be sent books (if your course requires it) which you will need to complete your study. Look at these as soon as possible. Print the study planner or copy it into your diary or calendar and more importantly, stick to the planner as best you can, this will help you avoid falling off track, and ensure you take much needed breaks between blocks.
Look at the set books; some courses require you to buy extra books, for example, this year I am studying Children’s Literature, and have had to purchase an additional 12 books to read in order to be able to answer my assignments. You can get ahead of the game here by reading in advance of the course beginning, and gain some insight into your chosen module.
I find working to my planner works well, and if I know I have something big planned which will prevent devoted study, I will cram more study into less busy days, so it evens out. Getting behind is stressful and will mean you skip over key information, just to get something handed in.
Focus On The Question
Personally, I look at the essay question, and put it somewhere on paper in large letters within sight, so that I remain focused on the key words. I work through each relevant block, taking notes as I go. Once finished, I read my TMA question again, and set to work compressing my notes down to relevant points I can elaborate on in my essay. I then work through my notes, adding my comments and arguments and reordering them, starting to compile my essay. With all the information on the screen, the essay editing, tweaking and perfecting begins, along with the referencing, of course.
Make The Time
If you find you aren’t getting enough study in, go to the library or even better your local Costa or Starbucks, make yourself a timetable to ensure you fit it in, this is for YOU after all – I find being at home, I look around and find things to do instead of studying. Removing all this distraction definitely helps the cause.
Look at your diary. Do you have anything planned when you Tutor Marked Assignments are due? Then, question yourself honestly. Are you the sort of person who works well to the last moment under extreme pressure, or are you good at planning and setting earlier deadlines to ensure you have ample time to edit and reflect? If you answered yes to the first and you have plans, cancel them now. You MUST allow yourself time to edit and reflect. Working remotely, you don’t have the reassurance of your fellow students at your beck and call, you need to read your essays through thoroughly before submitting them. The OU tutors are notoriously harsher in their marking strategies – again, on my course this year, we are not allowed over or under the word count whatsoever – no 10% here or there, the count is the count and you WILL be deducted marks. Whilst this isn’t the case across all modules, the guidelines do vary.
Read The Guidelines Carefully
Which leads me on to reading the course guidelines as carefully as possible, ensuring you understand what is required of you from each TMA. Have you fully understood the question being asked? By reading the guidance, you will understand what the tutor is expecting you to have learnt from your study.
Go To Your Tutorials
Finally, make use of your scheduled tutorials and attend as many as possible. Whilst the OU has slimmed back on centres hosting tutorials (when I first started, I was able to attend a College 8 miles away, now I have to travel to central London or to Brighton which are both 30 miles away) they are a useful tool in getting new ideas and honing in on your study techniques. Your tutor will work through the essay question, point out relevant blocks, presenting points of view and perspectives you may not have considered. Tutorials are also great for feeling part of something bigger, as I mentioned earlier, working alone can be a struggle at times; by attending tutorials you open yourself up to networking with other students.
I was lucky enough after applying for a place to be attending the Open University Student Conference on Saturday 21st April in Croydon, which will give me the opportunity to voice my opinions on how my study is structured, comment on anything I feel could work better and interact with other OU students. Luckily for me, they are providing a delicious lunch and I am very much looking forward to attending and potentially being able to help other OU students achieve successfully and with the best support possible.
If you are thinking of taking up study with the Open University, do it now. The time will pass anyway, why not fill it with something worthwhile and get your teeth into studying something incredibly interesting? You can do it!