Survival Essentials to Succeed in College

There is no doubt that studying can be challenging. If you are working in addition to studying this challenge can be further compounded. Busy family lives as well as all the other commitments which one acquires in life all play a part in challenging the adult learner.
So how do you stay committed and focused on your studies? How do you reach your potential in your course whilst maintaining that all important study – life balance? This week’s blog considers some key survival essentials which should help you to successfully negotiate your way through your course and be the Bear Grylls of Academia!SOS

How do I Study?

When you are studying, one widely recognised approach is that of SQ3R. The acronym stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review. This is a widely used approach by students and information on this technique is readily available on the internet.
Survey or skim the chapter. In so doing, you quickly read through or scan the page. No need for notes or memorising just yet, you want to familiarise yourself with the general message of the page.
Question what the chapter is about. Ask yourself what is the author of the work trying to tell you, what is the key message of each paragraph – what information are you getting from the work.
Read and seek the answer to the question. Look for key words in each paragraph to help you to identify the key message and aid in re-call of the information.
Recite or write what the key message of the chapter is. Your notes should be brief here; there is no need to re-write the entire paragraph/page. In taking notes, identify the key words and use these as the basis for your note taking.
Review your notes and/mind map regularly to ensure you have retained the information and also that you have retained the most important points. Regular review will also help you in retaining the information in the long term.

Look Back, Look Forward:

One of the most influential survival techniques I used when studying was the ‘look back, look forward’ technique. In this, I reminded myself where I had come from and what I had achieved to date before looking to where I was going with my studies.
So, even if you are only at the start, remember that you are in a good place!. You have taken control, made the decision and are actively pursuing a dream. That is no small feat – it can be quite difficult to decide to return to education, but you have made that decision.
Applaud yourself.
If you are working your way through the course and find that you are running out of enthusiasm, look back at what you have achieved. For each week, month or year you have studied, that is one week, month or year nearer your goal.
Applaud yourself.
The achievement of returning to education as an adult learner, successfully juggling all of life’s commitments and graduating will usually be sufficient to motivate and inspire you. Just be prepared for the odd occasion when they will not be enough and have your back up plan – do not let one or two instances of tiredness fuelled apathy hinder your dream.

Support Network:

Another major contributing factor to any success is a good support network. This is really important, particularly if you have a lot of commitments. If someone offers to take the children for an hour or so, accept the offer. If someone is willing to do the house work, let them. Remember, the dishes will still be there after the assignment is submitted – they can wait, your assignment cannot! (However, children usually can’t wait to be fed hence the importance of taking up that offer of help!). Don’t underestimate the value of even an hour of help, this might be just enough to draft a study plan or organise your notes – it all helps! help 1
Family and friends are usually the best place to start. However, consider other people also – perhaps a neighbour you like and trust might watch your children for an hour or two, or a colleague might cover a shift for you in work. Your child might be able to go play with their friend for the afternoon while you use the time to get some study done – you can always return the favour when the assignment is done!

Study groups:

A study group is essentially a group of people who are on the same course who come together at agreed times and in an agreed location or format to discuss their course work, share ideas and generally offer support and encouragement to each other. It is also a useful way to get to know the other people in your class and thus increase the support network which you currently have. As support systems go, the study group has the potential to be an excellent support as each member is in similar situation and as such may be better placed to understand any stresses and strains which members may experience from time to time.
In forming a study group, you have several options. You can opt for either physical meetings or use the internet or telephones as a method of communication. You can opt to form a study group with a number of people or you can choose to work with one or two people. However, groups of three to five are considered most effective. (Further info here)


Creating a balance between study, work and life can be challenging but is not impossible. Know your key dates for work, college and family and merge your various schedules into one. A weekly or monthly planner is beneficial, noting the key dates for the various aspects of your life. In doing this, you should see the available time you have for study and the all-important leisure activities.
Effective time management as well as good organisational skills will be important here – you do not however need to be expert at either. The key is to know what you need to do and what timeframe you have. Be prepared to make some sacrifices (bye-bye Corrie!) though remember that this will not be necessary every week. balance
Before you commence your study, you will receive a timetable from the college/school. If you find that an event outside your control is clashing with key college dates, contact your tutor to determine what alternative arrangements can be put in place as soon as you discover the issue. However, if you book holidays knowing they will clash with key dates, you may find little flexibility is available!
So before you run screaming away from anything, look at your schedule and determine what, if anything can go. For me personally, television was first to go (well, okay, drastically reduced!). Can you fit any study time in before going to work or on your lunch break? Is study after the children go to bed an option? Can you schedule block sessions and agree with your family that this is your study time and seek their co-operation i.e. no interruptions? Personally, I done a lot of my research with my children on my lap and then when they were asleep I studied the papers I had gathered – not ideal but it worked for me. Try different options and you will find a solution that will work for your individual circumstances.
You can do this!

Next week, in the final installment in this series, we will look at useful websites, contacts and links to help you on your way.