Study Skills for Mature Students

I received an email through the university learning resources team tell me about a workshop that was coming up, aimed at mature students! I must admit that at first I wasn't really interested, I thought I was doing ok in my degree so far, then my husband convinced me to go, he said if I go along and only learn one thing, that's one thing I didn't know before. So I signed up.

It was a full day workshop with lunch included (bonus!) and it covered a number of subjects, such as:

- organisation and time management

- research

- critical reading and finding the 'good stuff'

- digital skills

- social media for research

- emotional intelligence

There was only five of us in the group, and the workshop was delivered by an experienced trainer called Lisa Jeskins, who was fantastic. We started off by introducing ourselves and giving a little bit of information on our background and the areas we find difficult in regards to studying as a mature student. It turned out that all of us had a similar story, we all had families and children to care for, some had jobs too, and we all commented on having to juggle study with home life, and how hard, and tiring, it can be keeping everything together.

The first thing discussed was 'organisation and time management' we talked about how to make study time and deadlines more manageable and less pressured by planning our time better. By making a plan you can visually break everything down into manageable chunks. Your plan is set by you to fit around your family life, even if some days you only have one hour free, that could be time where you make a reading list or re-read an essay. Another thing that was recommended was to plan in breaks. Taking a brain break every so often will keep you focused on the subject at hand, sitting at your desk for hours can have a negative effect on your concentration, and therefore your work, so doing something else for ten minutes every 30-60 minutes will keep you focused. Things like Pilates, walking and mindfulness were also suggested for relaxation and keeping stress free.

Research and critical reading were next. We discussed primary and secondary research and methodologies to begin with, then went on to the importance of critical reading and how understanding what this is, is a great tool to have, especially when researching sources for essay and dissertation writing. It basically means to look into and analyse concepts and ideas from all angles, and to question the information you are given in books, articles and online and not take everything at face value. What is good about this is that it will broaden your knowledge of the area you are studying by encouraging further research.

There are many different ways to conduct research for essays or dissertations, not just looking online, which is a brilliant place to look, but also by visiting places like museums, galleries and libraries, many of which may have archives which you could visit by appointment, this would also be a great opportunity to ask questions of the people that work there.

Digital skills and social media for research. This part was about using the internet as a starting point for your research. As mentioned above, it is a brilliant place to look and knowing how to use the search engines makes finding specific things much easier and quicker. We were shown how to use the 'advance search' in google to narrow down the amount of search results, and also how, if you put " " around words in the search bar it keeps them together in the results, which filters out the things you don't need a great deal!

We were shown how using social media is also brilliant if you are looking for a person who might be useful for your research to question. We were shown Lisa Twitter account, and as an example she typed in 'psychologist' as that is what someone on the course was studying, and some quite well known professionals in that field came up. You might not always get a reply if you were to contact them, asking questions, but you might! Also, there might be a link to their website or blog if they had one which might contain the information you were looking for. For design students Instagram is also a brilliant place to do this.

Emotional intelligence. This part, I feel, was quite important to mature students, or any student that has other responsibilities and priorities outside of higher education. There is a perfectly good reason I waited to return to university at a later stage in life, as I'm sure is the same for many mature students, but because of those reasons I quite often think about and question whether I am doing the right thing, is it fair on the family? am I good enough to be here learning alongside young adults, fresh out of A-levels? Am I too old? and it all comes down to my own self confidence (or lack of), so in this section we talked about self motivation, how to be more self aware and in control of our own emotions and confidence levels, to be more optimistic and proud of the work we do, because it will all be worth it in the end!!

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