New to the O.U? – Advice to Students

Good News or Bad News?

exam-imageAs per usual, this week’s classics related news has been as diverse as ever, but one thing that caught my eye was all the web-chatter about A-level results. As a consequence, my Twitter & Facebook feeds have been overrun by UCAS related posts from universities welcoming new students and reassuring those who didn’t quite make the grade. Although this week’s post is not about A-Levels, I just wanted to briefly touch on this topic to say to all those getting results – very well done and to remind those who perhaps didn’t get the grades they were hoping for not to worry, this is just a blip in your journey and it absolutely does not define you from this point forward. I know that failure is a hard pill to swallow but it’s what you do now that makes the difference. So, take a look at this uplifting article:

Hide, or Fight? Dealing with Disappointment

Then, when the dust has settled: relax, reset and tackle the problem head on!

Moving on… New to the OU: Advice for Students.

3064I follow a lot of different Open University groups on social media and one thing that’s become apparent is that students both new and old are gearing up for the start of the academic year in October. An awful lot of these posts are from the newer students asking very specific questions like, what supplies should I get, what are the best books to read, what is OU study like and how should I plan my time? Now I certainly can’t provide advice for every student given that the Open University offers such a diverse range of courses, but I feel I can provide good first hand experience of studying Classical Studies & History at undergraduate level. So with that in mind, here’s my advice on starting out with the OU which will hopefully address many of the questions raised and provide some general hints and tips.

What do I need for my studies?

stationery-items-500x500I’ve seen more pictures of notebooks, pens, pencils, highlighters, multi-coloured binders, post-it notes and study planners this last week to last me a life time, and if going out and spending a small fortune on stationary is your thing then who am I to criticise. I’m a sucker for a good stationary binge but in the past 10 years of OU study I’ve bought excessive amounts of stationary and hardly used any of it. My advice is to get the bare minimum, pens, pencils, notebook & perhaps a highlighter because once you get into the swing of studying you will find your own methods and techniques, some of which I’ll bet will render much of your expensive stationary superfluous. For example, I have a shelf full of robust and hence expensive binders which I’d intended to store page upon page of module notes in. Imagine my frustration when I realised that I’m not a natural note taker! So, here’s an idea I thought, why not use them to store printed copies of all the primary sources and secondary readings? Don’t be silly Tony! Do you know how much printer ink that will use? Do what works best for you, I’m not preaching, but take my advice and start with the bare minimum and build up from there if and when you need it – it’ll save you money.

What are the best books to read?

Greek-Books-Why-Athens-City-GuideThe best advice that I can give you here is to take time to read the full module description and the dedicated sections on ‘preparatory work’. The module website and description has been designed for a purpose so use it. In many cases you will find a list of books that are essential to the module and therefore have to be purchased. Take note of the ISBN numbers and ensure you get the correct editions advised, it’ll save you time when the module gets underway! Now, you’d probably think it’s best to then read these books from cover to cover and perhaps make notes?Well you can, if you want to saddle yourself with a whole load of extra work! I know getting a delivery of beautiful new books is thrilling, but my advice at this point is just to skim through them and try get an idea of the general themes and arguments, don’t overdo it at this stage, there’s time for in depth analysis later. Incidentally, you don’t have to buy books new. Why not try second hand purchases, they can save you money. You might see a list of recommended reading which is always useful, but don’t think you must go out and buy all those books and read them from cover to cover also. Try finding them at a local library or online. In my opinion it’s best to try get an overview of the books you will be using and consider the module themes. Try to get an idea of the current scholarship that surrounds these themes.

What is Open University study like?

01F33D57-8F3E-43E7-8516-A322BA56AB5CIt’s hard, simple as!!!! It’s not supposed to be a walk in the park, it’s supposed to be intellectually challenging and engaging, but at the same time it is immensely rewarding. I would argue that studying with The Open University as opposed to a so-called ‘brick university’ (I hate that term), is doubly difficult because at times distance learning can be very lonely. The best advice I can give you is to stay connected with fellow students as much as possible. Use the online forums, interact, engage and build an online presence, attend tutorials whether they be online or face-to-face and take the expert advise of your tutor, they are there to support you and get you through the module. Also remember that the university has a dedicated a Student Support Team available to offer, help advice and support too. University level study is hard, it is challenging and there will be times when you question your abilities and feel overwhelmed, what’s important is that you remember you are not alone and others are in exactly the same boat, so persevere, ask for help when you need it and when the going gets tough, don’t suffer in silence. Most of all, try to remind yourself of why you decided to undertake study? Was it to further your career, perhaps change career or solely for personal fulfilment, either way it’s all worth it in the end – trust me.

How should I plan my time?

pile-of-books-and-clock_23-2147662319Well this is a tricky one because everyone has different priorities in life, but I would argue that choosing to undertake university level study is not a decision to be taken lightly and as a result studying should become one of those priorities. Of course family life etc is bound to take precedence in many situations but I advise that you should work study into your daily routine. Your module website will recommend how many hours of study you should be putting in each week and over the years I’ve both exceeded and woefully underachieved that target. In short, you should do as much or as little as you can in line with your priorities. That being said, if you have little motivation and don’t intend to use your time as wisely as possible I would seriously reconsider your choices to study and or module choice. It’s become apparent to me that different methods of planning time suit some people more that others. If getting a massive weekly planner and sticking to it religiously works for you, then go with it. For me personally, I think you can spend too much time planning your time that you end up planning when to plan your time and it becomes a vicious circle. I’m lucky that my learning methods allow me to snatch 30 mins here and there whilst at work to consolidate my learning. I like to get a good few hours of serious study in every day and try to get more in at the weekends, but you do what suits you the best. Of course when it comes to that all important TMA time you will know if you’ve prepared yourself enough. Realistically, I can’t tell you how to plan your time but if you are after more advice then use the Open University website that has lots of information on study skills. The OU have created these resources for a reason, so whilst asking questions on social media is perfectly acceptable and in my opinion an important way of interacting with other students, -lease do take the time to use the OU’s resources too.

Paying for my studies: Student Finance

2316563-pound-sterling-money-coins-notes-730x400-1488805755I’m not going to even try and give advice on this aspect of university study. Needles to say, those of you who’ve applied for finance will know, the process can be very easy, but for others it can be overwhelmingly traumatic. My personal experience of applying for postgraduate funding was nothing but excellent, everything went smoothly. You really should speak to Student Finance directly and use the Open University team in this respect – end of.

I do hope that all of the above proves useful, particularly to the new intake of students, but it might be a refreshing eye-opener for some of the more seasoned students too. When all is said and done this is your journey so you should travel it in the way that suits you. My advice is just that, it’s advice from a long term OU learner, but it has certainly helped me over the years. If you have any feedback or indeed want to ask any questions, please feel free to do so by leaving a comment below. Feel free to treat this post on ClassicalFix as a type of social media forum.

Welcome to the OU and the very best of luck!


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