Studying always takes time. Whether someone is trying to pass a high school equivalency exam or attempting to finish a thesis, the key element is time. The trick is finding it when you have a child, or multiple children, and you are probably working while going to school. Here are a few tips from a woman who completed two degrees while rearing four children and who also has instructed high school equivalency seekers and tutored adult college students.
- Do not underestimate the time needed to work on school assignments outside the classroom. An old rule of thumb for college is two hours of work on the outside for every hour spent in class. That may be more difficult to determine when taking online classes, but the idea is to allow plenty of time for work on your own. That might mean taking less than a full load of classes, but success is what you are after.
- Look at your own study habits and learning style. If you need absolute quiet, you may have to bargain for babysitting so you can work in the library or some other appropriate space. There are other parents who need that kind of time away from home, so see if there is an opportunity in a babysitting co-op, or make arrangements on your own via bulletin board posts. Pay a teenager to take care of the children while you work somewhere else in the house. Use preschool or child care hours if you can afford it.
- Take advantage of nap times and early bedtimes when you have the house to yourself. If you, like a few gifted adults I’ve known, are able to work amid chaos, you may get away with studying at home when children are awake and occupied. Sleep is overrated until they are in their teens, and then, you will lie awake worrying about them anyway.
- Use time you already have available. You can’t read while driving, but you can listen to taped lectures or oral notes you have recorded. Keep textbooks or notes with you in case you have to wait at the doctor’s office or the DMV.
- Try study groups. Organizing studying for a test, for instance, can be broken into individual tasks and then shared in the group. There are couple of caveats, however. Everyone in the group must be serious about the work. If someone falls down on the job, deal with it immediately. Also, not everyone learns well in a group situation. It may be good backup, but you could find you need to go over the material on your own as well.
- In the cases of study groups and babysitting co-ops, see if there are matching systems already in place. Talk with your adviser, the administrative assistant or dean in your department of study, a guidance counselor if you are in high school, or an administrator in the learning center.
- Early in any class, get contact information from students with whom you feel comfortable. This is good for catching up on missed notes as well as for study groups.
- Do not be afraid to talk with teachers. They may be able to help you see the forest for the trees—a good teacher will help you understand what is important to study.
- Take advantage of chat rooms and similar opportunities to discuss classwork. Email your instructor when you get stuck. That is a good idea in many college classes even in traditional settings. Look for contact information on the syllabus.
- Use a planner. Face it, your life is complicated. Do not rely on notes left on the fridge or jottings in the margin of a notebook. Force yourself to keep all of you schedules, deadlines, assignments, and such in one place. Some people can do this in a calendar on a phone or computer. (I do better with the pen and paper method so I can hold it in my hand.) Also set regular times each day and each week when you go over what you have done and what is coming up in your life. The few minutes to do this are well worth it.
- Learn to read a text book. That sounds simple, but many people just assume they can cram a bunch of reading in before a test. Chapter divisions, headings, and subheadings are actually there for a good reason. Skim the book’s organizational divisions before reading the meat. Think about what they might mean. Then read the text. If you plan to sell the book, you may want to invest in a collection of small sticky notes so you can make notations in the margins of the book. Otherwise, highlight and write wherever you think you need to. Just be careful not to over-highlight. That won’t help you (or the resale value). Once you go to the trouble of highlighting or note taking, remember to go back over it.
- Reading a history text aloud to a baby is not cheating. Your child loves to hear your voice!
- Ask for help when you need it. College campuses have tutoring centers, as do some high schools. Remember that they are not there to do the work for you, but they instead guide you so you can effectively complete the work yourself.
Being a student is a job. Prioritize tasks like you would in an office or at a construction site. Take it seriously. Enjoy the learning.
By Cheryl Blake