Step 3 - Plan
Please look at the steps below – these are the activities and tools you will need to study effectively at Unisa. We suggest that you work through this section in full to understand exactly what you will need to do to study and prepare for assignments and examinations.
Planning for studying
Before you start with your detailed study planning and working through the study material, do and think about the following:
- Find a quiet study area where you can concentrate and not be disturbed – it should also be a place where you feel peaceful and like to be.
- Make a “vision board” of your reasons for studying – include words and/or pictures – anything that will help you understand and visualise the outcome once you have finished studying. This can be a great motivator when times are tough.
- Think about whether you study better in the morning or evening, and how much study time is optimum before you need a break.
By doing this, you will be able to create a detailed study schedule that you can stick to.
- Read all Tutorial letters 101
When scheduling your assignments and exams you should have read through all your Tutorial letters 101.
We suggest that you look at them again to ensure that you have noted down all the important information:
- Assignment due dates
- Exam dates
- Prescribed books
- Recommended reading
- Discussion classes
- Any other planning information that your lecturer may have included
Use a highlighter to tick off all actions that have been completed to ensure that you don’t miss anything.
- Read your study guides and plan your study time
Your study guides are exactly that – a guide to working through all the prescribed material so that you are prepared for assignments and exams.
Spend about two hours working through all your study guides. After you have scanned each study guide, do the following:
- Calculate the amount of time left until the exams in weeks. Deduct two weeks from the time as you will need this time for final exam preparation.
- Divide the volume of work in the study guide into “chunks” of material.
- Now plan these “chunks” into each of the weeks – giving more time to more difficult sections of work.
- Ensure that you will have worked through the necessary sections in order to complete your assignments.
- Check each of these “chunks” of work against the required prescribed and recommended reading, and ensure that you are able to allocate time in your schedule for
- working through old exam papers where possible
- completing the assignments
At the end of each week evaluate your progress:
- Were you able to commit to the time you wrote down? If not, where will you be able to make up this time?
- Was the time spent studying as productive as it could have been? If not, why not? What changes do you need to make?
- Look at your schedule for the coming week. Are there any additional commitments that you need to factor in?
- Are you coping with the content? Or do you need more help with understanding the study material?
By doing this you will have a good idea of the exact volume of reading you will need to get through, the degree of difficulty of the work, where you will possibly need assistance and the amount of intensive memorisation you will need to do prior to the exams. Evaluating how you perform against the goals that you’ve set will help you set more realistic goals in the future and ensure that you are well prepared for your exams.
- Study and do assignments
Everyone is an individual and different things work for different people. However, there are some tried and tested methods for studying that have worked for many people. We’ve included these suggestions in the section that follows:
There are five parts to studying and preparing for exams. The suggested approach below follows the EFT study method; this is a tried and tested method that involves three stages:
- Exploration (parts 1 & 2)
- Fixation (parts 3 & 4)
- Testing (parts 2 & 5)
- Reading through the prescribed and recommended material and making notes (35% of your time)
This process of notemaking allows you to
- summarise a great volume of material
- start the process of integrating this knowledge by organising the information into logical sections for yourself
Open distance learners do not attend classes to listen to lectures; they work through their study guides at home. together with the prescribed books and recommended reading this is what you will use to master the study material. Simply reading through the material, though, is not enough. To be a successful student, you will need to make notes of what you have read. This acts as a permanent record of the time you have spent on a section of the work and begins to expand your network of memory strategies.
Effective notemaking is the link between study reading, answering assignment questions, memorisation and, ultimately, writing exams.
When you are learning new material you have to ensure that the material is processed (encoded in your memory) in such a way that you understand and recall it. New information is best processed if you re-organise it to suit your style of learning. The best way of processing information is to make notes. Visual notes and linear notes are the two major styles of notemaking. Broadly speaking, if you have an imaginative learning style, a creative, visual approach to notemaking should appeal to you. If your learning style is more factual, you might prefer the tidier, step-bystep, narrative approach to making notes. Both styles of notemaking can also be used together – sometimes visual notemaking may be better at the beginning of a course to get an overview of the material, while narrative notemaking may work better once you start working through the course material in detail.
Two approaches to notemaking
Visual notemaking methods refer to mindmaps, spidergrams, branching notes, clustergrams, tables, flow charts and organograms.
Narrative notemaking methods refer to linear notes, listing, timeline notes, key word and paragraph method, question method, and segmenting and labelling.
When should you use the different methods?
How do you decide which is the best method to apply? The most important thing to remember is to start re-organising the information to suit yourself.
Your choice depends on a number of issues:
- The time of the year. In the beginning, you may want to establish a frame of reference; during exam preparation, you will want detailed notes to consolidate the knowledge base.
- Your estimate of the nature of the study task. Is it complex, unfamiliar or does it entail many pages of learning?
- Your learning style. Do you start with an overall idea or do you prefer a step-by-step approach?
The following contains some suggestions you might to want to experiment with:
- Starting a module means that a useful point of departure is creating an overall view of what the content is about. A mindmap, clustergram or organogram could be considered, and is based on the list of contents, as well as chapter headings and subheadings to master the overview.
- When you are faced with a chapter or section, you could use one of the narrative methods such as segmenting and labelling, key word and paragraph method or question method to master a closer understanding of the textbook or study guide. If you first applied one of the visual notemaking methods, the structure of the module or the particular chapter should now be fixed in your memory. Keeping the structure in mind as you read through the chapter, and then making narrative notes, helps to change the feeling of unfamiliarity to one of knowing. You should be experiencing the “aha aha” feeling: “now I see how it fits together”.
Using both visual and narrative methods of making notes ensures that you do not get bored and drowsy while studying. Because you are using the methods interchangeably, you will be able to maintain your concentration. By actively searching for meaning (your own understanding), recalling the information becomes easier. Mixing different notemaking methods to find the most effective matches to master your course material is the characteristic of a study-wise student.
- Doing assignments (20%)
Assignments are an excellent way to
- test your understanding of the information you have worked through
- dentify areas where you are still struggling with the information
Assignments are a way of helping you to prepare for your exams by submitting work regularly so that lecturers can see if you understand the module and give you feedback. Please note that there are specific rules for how the assignments must be written or typed, how to hand them in and how to complete the cover sheets. Tutorial letter 101 will contain much of the information you need to complete these assignments.
Unisa provides you with writing pads for your assignments or you can type them. When you type your assignments you must leave enough space in the margin to allow your tutor or lecturer to write comments. Assignments can be submitted via myUnisa, placed in a Unisa assignment box or posted to Unisa.
A few simple tips to complete your assignments successfully:
- Understand the assignment: take your time to read the task and make sure that you understand what is being asked.
- Start to collect the facts and information to complete the response. Use your study guide, prescribed books and other readers to help you organise and compile your response.
- Now you must organise all this information. Arrange and group these facts to allow you to form a structured and coherent response.
- Use headings and subheadings to help you with the structure. Start with an introduction, then the main section with all the subheadings and end with a summary of the key facts.
- The summary should be a review of the main facts and arguments in your answer. Also offer your own opinion and show how you have understood the work in relation to your own work and personal environment.
A few weeks after the final submission date for your assignment, you will receive a tutorial letter which will contain the correct responses to the questions posed in the assignment. This tutorial letter will give you guidelines and explanations that will be a valuable resource in preparing for your examination.
For more information on the guidelines for writing and submitting assignments, click here. You must read this important information before you begin with your first assignment.
Twentieth-century dictionaries define plagiarism as “wrongful appropriation”, “close imitation”, or “purloining and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions”, and the representation of them as one’s own original work.
Plagiarism is a very serious academic offence and can result in the student being expelled from the university – this has an impact, not only on your studies with Unisa, but also with other tertiary academic institutions.
There may be instances when you may want to reference other authors’ perspectives in support of your argument (eg Zondi 2000:19) – and this can be done, provided it adds value to your argument and the author’s work is credited. You should, however, always make an effort to present original thoughts and concepts in your argument.
There are many tools available online to check your work for plagiarism and it is in your best interest to submit this check along with your assignment.
- Revision (20%)
Through revision you
- help this new information “stick” in your brain
By the time you start to revise you should be fairly familiar with the content of the module. This is where you begin to fix the content in your memory by bringing together all the knowledge you have gained. This is the phase in which you study your summaries, your additional notes and the study guide intensively.
Follow these systematic steps:
- Start by getting an overview of the study material again.
- Page through the chapters/study units again and read the subheadings. You could even go further and again look at the beginning and the end of paragraphs, because this is where the main ideas are often introduced or summarised. You could also read the key words in bold letters. You now have a fresh idea of what the chapter is all about. Ask yourself: “What is this chapter all about?” See if you can answer this question.
- Next, start going over the content by checking your summaries. Ask yourself simple questions beginning with “how”, “where”, “when”, “who” and “why”. Ask yourself what the main idea is in what you have read and make sure that you understand all the words and concepts. Note the relationship and logical connection between main ideas and subheadings. Studying like this will deepen your insight into the study material and insight is what is required at university level.
- After you have read the learning content with understanding, refine your summaries into core summaries which contain only the most important key words. This will give you a schematic summary and a core summary for each chapter. While you are making your summaries, use the different memory techniques, such as acronyms, classification and visualisation to fix the content in your memory.
After studying each unit of work, you should test yourself to ensure that you know it. Close your book and answer all the possible questions you have formulated as you worked through the material.
Revise your work within 24 hours of studying it. You will have forgotten up to 25% of the facts and this is normal. At the beginning of each study period it is important that you revise your previous material to see how the old and the new link with each other.
Revision is one of the most powerful memory techniques you can use.
- Memorising key facts and information (15%)
- although you may now have an understanding of the information, there will still be information that you need to memorise – this is the last stage of study and preparing for exams, and can only be done once you have an integrated understanding of the study material
Memorising information is the second part of “fixation” – fixing the information in your head.
While doing your assignments or writing examinations at Unisa, you have probably found that you are expected to do quite a number of things with your academic texts. Often you will need to argue a point of view, form an opinion or critically analyse academic texts. You will also need to memorise basic facts, ideas and key words. Thereafter, you will be able to develop and implement reasoning skills based on your sound foundation of facts.
In this section we will concentrate on a few learning skills you can try in your studies. Choose the way you would like to learn, and adopt and use learning methods that you find useful to achieve your particular study goals.
Why do we sometimes find it difficult to change our patterns of learning? Here are just a few reasons:
- It is painful to unlearn learnt learning techniques.
- It sometimes threatens the ways we are used to doing things.
- It takes time and effort to change habits, and the new advice sometimes sounds unappealing and impractical.
So, is there something I can do to help my memory?
The answer is a definite “yes” to this question. Often, you will first be expected to memorise basic facts, ideas and key words before being able to reason a point of view or to think critically about certain points. And this all starts with reading for meaning.
Reading for meaning
The purpose of reading something is not to be able to store the whole text in your mind. What is important is that you are able to “think” through the ideas the author has presented. Write down the main ideas and keywords you would like to retain. Remember that it’s what you understand that counts.
How do I go about remembering the facts which I understand?
Memory strategies (mnemonics) can often be used to help us remember basic information from our academic texts. We will briefly describe a few memory strategies that you might consider using in your studies. Classifying information is where one usually begins to get some order in one’s studies.
Printed material often needs to be restructured and reorganised for us to understand it better. Classification means that information on the same topic is grouped together. An appropriate word that best defines or explains the information is used as a heading to summarise the information. Once an overall heading has been given, the items can be further subdivided on the basis of shared characteristics.
Acronyms are widely used to represent organisations and corporations. “Unisa” stands for the University of South Africa, “WHO” stands for the World Health Organisation and you can probably think of a few of your own. The reason why an acronym is used is that it helps people remember an organisation or idea.
You can use the same principle in your studies. Identify the key words in your passage, take the first letter of each key word and form a new word. This is a very widely-used memory strategy and it works well to help you remember basic facts.
Instead of rehearsing the basic information in your academic text over and over again, you could consider implementing visual images. Imagery involves consciously creating visual images in your mind concerning the information you would like to remember.
To make visual associations effective, try to make your images bizarre, visual and vivid. Also try to include some kind of interaction between your images.
All of these techniques will help you in memorising key facts and figures in your course material.
- Testing yourself (10%)
- answering old exam papers (available on myUnisa)
- discussions with lecturers and fellow students
By now you will have read all material, made notes, revised, tested yourself in doing assignments and memorised key facts, words, phrases and information. Now you should spend time working through old exam papers, in discussion with lecturers and fellow students. Make sure that when you do you are
- consciously trying to use words and phrases appropriate to your subject matter.
- referencing facts that you have memorised.
- noting down areas of study that still need work or memorising.
- Writing examinations
This is the final stage – all your preparation and studying will now be put to the test.
Examinations are one of the more stressful times you will face as a student, but there are ways of making it easier. If you have planned well you will have enough time to study and prepare for each examination. Also take care of yourself, eat well, sleep enough and exercise. This will help you to deal with the stress.
Know how to get to your examination centre before the time so that you can be seated 15 minutes before the start of the examination. If you are late, you will not be allowed in. Also make sure that you know whether it is an open book exam and what stationery you need, such as a calculator, pens and pencils. Take note of the examination rules and regulations which appear on the reverse side of your final timetable.
Here are a few tips:
Preparing for the examinations
- Take care of yourself physically to cope with the mental challenges ahead
- Get six to eight hours sleep per night
- Eat healthily (eg fresh fruit and vegetables)
- Drink plenty of water
Keep study sessions short and focused; don’t sit for hours without a break
- Set a goal for each session (40-45 mins)
- Take a five to ten minute break
- Energise, do exercise
- Do five minutes of revision
- Write down what is worrying you
- Create a possible plan
- Switch off the TV/cellphone
- Explain to others that you are preparing for your future
- Prepare well in advance; budget your time by calculating how much time is needed for each module
- Test yourself – develop your own exams and complete them
- Set actual time limits
- Practise in the way you are going to be tested
The day before
- Study regularly up to the day before the examination
- Then get a good night’s sleep (even if you haven’t finished your work!)
- Last minute cramming doesn’t work – you will just be too tired to think in the examination
The day of the examination
- Double-check your timetable
- Take your ID and student card with you, as well as an HB pencil, pen, eraser and calculator if needed
- Leave well in time for the examination
- Have time to get settled and mentally prepared
- Keep to yourself before and after the examination; discussions may confuse or upset you
During the examination
- Ask the invigilator if you aren’t sure; ask for help right away
- Read over the entire examination paper before you begin – this allows your mind to explore all options while you are doing other questions
- Make sure you know the mark value of each question – divide your time appropriately and don’t spend more timeon a problem than it’s worth
- Write down memory aids in the margins or on a blank page – these may include formulae, facts, key phrases or dates (mindmaps are very useful)
What to do first
- Depending on the types of questions included in the examination paper, start with those questions that you find easier. This might be the multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank and true/false questions
- Do the easy ones first. Mark the tricky ones. Look for clues, but move on if you are struggling with a question
- Come back to the difficult questions later
- Be clear and be brief
- Make a quick outline, such as a mindmap; then start writing according to the outline
- Attempt to do every question
- Check your answers
When you leave the examination room, the examination is over! Put this exam behind you and focus on the next examination.
For important information on the exams, click here. You must read this important information before your first exams.
Manage your stress
Modern life offers many opportunities which can be exciting and stimulating, but also demanding and stressful. All of us have a number of life roles to fulfil, namely wife/husband, life partner, parent, child, family member, employee or community worker. By registering at Unisa you have added an additional life role to your list, namely that of a full-time or part-time student. This new life role will hopefully contribute positively to your life, but will also add additional demands such as assignment deadlines, study frustrations and time off to write exams.
What is stress?
Stress is a feeling that you experience when you believe that a specific demand exceeds the personal and social resources that you have available at a specific time. In simple terms, this means that when you feel stressed you feel that you have lost control over a situation or an event.
How does my body respond to it?
When you interpret a specific demand as being more than you can handle, your body’s instinct is to defend itself. It releases a number of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare the body for emergency action. Your heart starts beating faster, your muscles tighten, your blood pressure rises and you start breathing quicker. These physical changes prepare you to fight, flee from the danger at hand or freeze, the typical stress response.Stress isn’t always bad. In manageable doses, it can motivate you to do your best and help you to learn how to perform under pressure. If the stress escalates, and your physical symptoms continue for too long, you could damage your health and wellbeing. It is therefore important to learn to be aware of your symptoms and to manage your stress effectively.
Signs and symptoms of stress
It’s important to learn to recognise when you are feeling stressed. The following table lists some of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress:
|Mental, emotional, physical and behavioural stress symptoms|
|Inability to concentrate
||Feeling detached from yourself|
||Fear of losing control|
||Fear of dying|
|Seeing only the negative
||Moodiness and short temper|
|Anxious or racing thoughts
||Agitation, inability to relax|
||Sense of loneliness and isolation|
||Feeling depressed and downhearted|
|Getting tired easily
||Restlessness and feeling on edge|
||Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
||Trembling or shaking|
|Shortness of breath
||Stiff neck or jaw
||Eating disturbances – not hungry or eating excessively|
|Aches and pains
||Loss of sex drive
||Sleeping too much or too little|
|Headaches, high blood pressure
||Isolating yourself from others|
|Diarrhoea or constipation
||Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities|
||Using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax|
||Nervous habits (eg nail biting, pacing)|
||Problems with relationships|
The more signs and symptoms you can identify in yourself, the greater your risk for stress overload. Talk to your medical doctor for a full evaluation as many of these signs and symptoms may also be caused by other psychological and medical problems.
Unhealthy ways of managing stress
Many people are hesitant to contact a counsellor for help as they feel embarrassed to discuss their troubles with a stranger. They then opt for coping strategies that reduce stress in the short term. Although these activities may help temporarily, they can be very destructive in the long run.
|Unhealthy ways of managing stress|
||Using pills or drugs to relax or sleep|
|Drinking too much
||Sleeping too much|
|Using recreational drugs
|Overeating or not eating enough
||Filling up every minute of the day with activities to avoid facing problems|
|Risky social or sexual behavior
||Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, physical|
|Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or with
|Withdrawing from friends, family and activities
||Sense of loneliness and isolation|
|Feeling depressed and downhearted
To avoid this happening, it is important to learn effective stress management techniques.
Effective stress management techniques
Stress that is not managed and is allowed to become excessive can damage your health. It is therefore important to focus on how to reduce its impact and learn to cope with the stress symptoms. Empower yourself through the internet or other sources to learn the following stress management techniques:
- Detect early warning signs. Learn to become aware of when you are stressed, such as when you feel tense in your neck and shoulders, clench your teeth or when you experience shallow breathing. Once you become aware of the early signs, decide what the best way is for you to de-stress, such as exercising, going to bed early or making an appointment with a counsellor and finding a solution.
- Relaxation techniques. Practise those techniques described in the publication Effective study by Van Schoor, Mill and Potgieter which can be purchased from Unisa Press.
- Develop your social network. Visit with friends and family to create a support network.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise is a healthy way to get rid of pent-up feelings, energy and tension, and release the brain endorphins which make you feel better.
- Extreme self-care. Ensure that you are looking after your body by eating well-balanced meals, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep each night.
- Develop your passion. Participate in hobbies that you love and that make you feel relaxed.
Health is a status of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
The determinants of health include
||social and economic environment|
||a person’s individual characteristics and behaviours|
Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices towards a more successful existence.Wellness is a multi-dimensional state of being, describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of wellbeing
Dimensions of wellness
Advancing academic success through health and wellness
We offer a range of health services to create a nurturing environment that promotes student wellbeing and fosters a sense of belonging to Unisa.
For more information, please contact a Unisa Student Health and Wellness Practitioner:
Tel: 011 471 2849 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.unisa.ac.za
We offer the following services:
||Training and development for health and wellness: Accredited health and wellness training programmes|
for peer educators and students.
||Peer health education: Peer educators provide other students with information on a range|
of topics and activities relating to healthy lifestyles.
||HIV/Aids awareness campaigns: To raise awareness about signs and symptoms of the pandemic,|
voluntary counselling and testing (VCT), how to live a positive life, and also to provide information
on care and support groups.
||Substance abuse awareness campaign: Focus on and provide information on substance abuse,|
the effects of abuse and the treatment options available. These campaigns dispel myths surrounding
university students’ substance abuse.
||Mental health education: Provides information about mental health services, patient assessment,|
psychiatric diagnosis and medication management.
||Nutrition education: Focuses on strategies for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and healthy body,|
and for managing eating disorders.
||On-site health services: Entails providing mobile health services to ensure that students are provided|
with top quality nursing, dental and ancillary health care, including opticians, physiotherapists,
neurologists and gynaecologists.
||Welfare support: Focuses on providing referral services concerning welfare support services and social grants.|
||Community outreach programmes: Entails voluntary outreach to communities by peer educators in response to|
health and wellness needs of communities.
- Stay focused on your future
The journey you have begun with Unisa is a long one – one which will probably take years, perhaps even longer than you anticipated. There may be days when you feel discouraged and that the changes that you have to make in your life are not worth it. So how do you keep going?
Start each day with a positive thought about how you are moving closer to your goals. Stop and enjoy the changes happening to you as a person – you will feel a sense of excitement as you start to enjoy the experience of learning. Focus on what you have already learnt and not on what still has to be done.
Journeys can only be completed if you keep moving. So when other demands seem overwhelming, just make sure that you do a little of your Unisa work on a daily basis. You are making progress towards your goal!
Get connected to the community of Unisa: to share information, to get guidance or just to de-stress. Surround yourself with positive energy. This connectedness is especially important when life is tough!
Finally, keep your vision and purpose in mind. The small steps you take every day will get you there.