As a new student, October can be a tricky time of finding your feet, so we called upon the experts to lend a helping hand.
We asked current and past students what they wish they had known before commencing their own Open University studies and we had a fantastic response.
What I love about these responses, as an experienced student myself, is that some of them contradict one another –there is no right or wrong way to study. Access/Level 1 are a fabulous opportunity to find your study style – check out Student Hub Live for workshops on everything from Critical Writing to Creative Notetaking.
Planning your time
I’ve heard it said that OU Students aren’t part timers – they’re double timers. We pack so much into an already busy life and easily one of the most challenging things about distance learning is just how to fit your hours of study in!
“When people say that you must be “good at time management”, you really do need to be good at time management. It’s very easy to think that you’ll do it tomorrow, but then something else happens and the next thing you know it’s deadline day and you’ve only got half an assignment done. Start early and be consistent in putting in the hours. Your future self will thank you for it.”
“You need to be focused! It’s not an easy ride.”
The key to this always seemed to return to one thing – the online module planner that guides you through the recommended work for each week of the course.
“Follow the planner.”
“If you can, work ahead a couple of weeks, so you’ve got a cushion if things get rough.”
“Use the weekly planners, they help keep you on track BUT if you get the opportunity to read ahead, do it in case of any unforeseen issues that mean study plans need to be flexible.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t stick to your study planner.”
Also important was using the TMA guidance to help inform your study.
“Look at the TMA choices before starting to read the materials. That way you can decide which topics to focus on.”
“Know the specifics for your TMA (assignments) and keep to the guidance material.”
“The importance of keeping to the guidance notes, it says it, but I thought I knew better.”
“If your module is online, highlight key words that you can go back to later. For physical books, rather than highlight on the actual books, I make notes as I read.”
But don’t forget – rest is also very important!
“As with any other study, it’s important to time manage your study well, BUT to also factor ‘down-time’ for yourself as well. I tend to give myself a 10-minute break every 40 minutes or so.”
“Plan in your breaks and down time as if it’s another job! Rest is as important as work/study – treat self-care like it’s your second job.”
Tutor Support and Student Support
Another common theme was to remember that support is always just around the corner. You’ll be assigned a Tutor and you can also reach out to Student Support. I got really stressed with an assignment at Level 3 and a phone call with my Tutor really helped. Tutor dedication to student support knows no bounds – he was chatting to me while cooking his family spag bol!
“Contact your tutor when you need help and don’t suffer in silence.”
“That it is okay to ask for help and to say you don’t understand. I suffered my first year in silence and failed it. I re-did my first year and my second year, asking for help and guidance when I needed it, and graduated last year with an MA with Distinction.”
“Remember your tutor is there for guidance for your module. Contact Student Support if you have issues with keeping up.”
“That there would be difficult times but ‘digging deep’ and asking for help can lead to the biggest sense of accomplishment! As a student with a chronic health issue, I had a very difficult time during my second module, seriously considering giving up altogether. After a call to student services and help from my tutor I managed to submit my TMA. Although the score I received was my lowest of two modules, it is the one I am most proud off; I kept going, submitted my TMA and importantly learnt to ask for help and support. All of which has made me more confident for my future with the OU.”
“It’s not the end of the world if you defer, mess up, need an extension or take longer doing your degree than you planned. You matter more than your studies and grades, it’s ok to put health, family, housing or money first sometimes. Decide what matters to you in your module and in your degree and what you want to learn and get out of it and put your focus on that, using the module materials to spark enquiry, skill building and career possibilities.”
“Student support are amazing if you have any general questions about your courses, the university or general support.”
Fitting in a tutorial or two or catching up on tutorial recordings can really help with your understanding. I remember on return to Maths, functions slightly blew my mind – I watched three tutorials in the end and actually left the module finding that section one of the easiest.
“It’s a good idea to try tutorials with a few different tutors not just your own. Sometimes a different tutor will teach in a way that suits your learning style better.”
“Attend tutorials. Your own tutor’s ones, if possible, but any of them. If there is still something you don’t get, go to another tutorial or ask your tutor directly.”
“Attend all tutorials they reveal an extra depth to the details you know.”
“I wish hadn’t tried to do all the tutorials in the first couple of months. Look at which ones are recorded and select what interests you, particularly if they’re not going to be recorded.”
“If you’ve hit a wall, or you had a break and feel like you can’t re-engage with your module, use the tutorials to ease yourself back in.”
“Look out for library seminars on references.”
You may be studying at a distance, but distance learning doesn’t have to be a lonely experience.
“Don’t study alone join groups or study groups on Facebook there’s bound to be a group for your module. Those with any disability can join the Disabled Students Group. REMEMBER YOU ARE NOT ALONE!”
“Get involved with the Students Association. I made a lot of good friends and got to understand the University a lot better.”
“That a lot of people were feeling as nervous as me. Getting involved in volunteering in my 2nd year helped me to connect with others and a get more of a sense of what the fantastic OU is all about!”
“You are not alone, lots of support via the OU and social media. Most modules have a Facebook group, (this is where a met my husband), having the support of other students on the same modules is what got me through my first year, lifelong friends and a husband.”
Believe in yourself!
Not every day will be easy. There were days on my Open degree when I felt like I wouldn’t make the finish line but I surprised myself. On those tough days remember:
“Everyone is on their own journey! Some people will work faster, and some will work slower. Some people will score higher than you, some lower. You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone other than yourself and your tutor’s feedback will help you to develop and improve along the way.”
“One bad day, one bad mark, one assignment that made you cry does not mean the end. If you keep taking steps, you can’t help but get somewhere.”
You might even surprise yourself!
“That I would find the maths much less terrifying than someone who was bad at maths at school might imagine!”