Aiight. Here it is, finally. I’ve been asked oodles of times from other nursing students about tips to study externally and without forking out thousands on unnecessary stuff just because ‘you might need it’. I also swear. I like swearing and swearing likes me so if you take offence easily, pretend the cusses are just latin. Moving on.
First and foremost, I am not an expert in studying, nursing, student psychology, budgeting or even how to study externally! These are my personal techniques which have done me well however this advice should not be taken as gospel. You are unique and will have unique ways of learning so see how you go and always make sure you use resources the way you need to.
Okay, got that crap out of the way. Let’s get cracking. Rewind back to when I started studying externally through Charles Darwin University. After the initial excitement of “OMG I got into uni! I’m a uni student!’ came the ‘OMG where the f*** do I start!?’
Start with Blackboard, the online learning base which will have all your learning resources, assignment details, uploading and ‘safe assign’ bits and a CALENDAR.
Assignments: I didn’t know there was a calendar but there is and I would HIGHLY recommend using it. Go through all your units and write down when each assignment/essay is due with the unit number eg. ‘NUR244 Essay due by midnight’. Go and whack them all into the calendar so you have a visual reminder of what assignments to be working on now and what assignments can wait. You can even colour code them which is cool.
It will give you peace of mind that you are working on the essay/assignment that is due the soonest. Sounds simple yeah? But it is so easy to get worried about the ‘biiiiig assignment’ which is due in like, 6 weeks, and overlook the 500 word post that is due next Friday but contributes to 30% of your overall mark.
In the Learning Resources section there will be all the learning materials for the topics each unit is teaching. Read through these, they are easy to read and contains a lot of the information they require you to know for both assignments and exams.
Text Books: Now here’s the controversial part that some may completely disagree with: Don’t buy text books. You don’t need them. They are insanely expensive, even if you do get them second hand; and getting them second hand often means you aren’t getting the most up-to-date version which the university wants. Pffttt; I think it’s a crock of shit that you have to have the most updated version because they are 99% the same as the previous version and 99% over-priced.
The only textbook I used a lot is the Clinical Psychomotor Skills by Joanne Tollefson. And even then I had the version of about 3 years ago. I only used it to find clinical skills I could use for my Objectives and Reflections.
When you are researching for essays, use the university’s online library. They have thousands of peer-reviewed research articles which are up-to-date and *cue angels singing* FUH-REEEEEEE!!! Make sure the articles are less than 5 years old and are Australian or address issues pertinent to Australian culture. There is a filter down the left side which you can choose ‘peer-reviewed articles’ ‘Australian’ ‘published between 19xx and 20xx’.
And you know what? Use Wikipedia! Use that amazing resource but NEVER and I mean, hand on my heart, NEVAHHH reference Wikipedia or any website that cannot be verified, I’m talking about anything ending in dot com. Because you’re right, you can’t verify things even on Wikipedia. I used it simply to understand the topic and content. The good thing about Wikipedia is that it is written in layman’s terms, meaning you can understand it. But back that info up my friend. When you have a grasp of what the heck you are trying to write an essay about, go to the online peer-reviewed research articles and learn more from them. THEY will have verified information and you can reference them. The main main main thing about studying is you need to understand what you are studying. Of course you could read and memorise then spurt it out like a parrot but in many industries, if you don’t understand why, what, where, when and how then you’re not going to be very good at whatever profession you are aiming to work in, unless it’s politics. But let’s not go there.
Referencing: Okay baby, this is my gift to you. www.citethisforme.com Please and You’re Welcome. Getting referencing wrong can get you butt-whipped in terms of grading. I once lost about 10% of my overall mark for an essay because I added the first initial in in-text referencing. BECAUSE TAFE TAUGHT ME THAT WAY – Thanks TAFE. Ensure you change the referencing to the style your university requires. I had to use APA but many use Harvard and others.
And here’s another awesome tip. Many online peer-reviewed research articles have a DOI (Digital object identifier) number. Copy and paste that into ‘Journal’ when you are adding a reference and it finds the exact article for you. Sweet as.
Exams: Freak out! ARGH! Nah, calm your farm. You’ll be fine. You know why? Because everything you need to know in your exam is on Blackboard under the Learning Materials. Go into the Unit of the exam, go to the Left side and see Learning Materials and read each and every one of the power points and do each and every one of the short quizzes at the end. Those quizzes are awesome and you’ll find those questions will be in your exam. The uni isn’t going to test you on shit they haven’t taught you cos that would be like, SO UNFAIR!
There is also www.quizlet.com which is really helpful to swot up on bit and bobs. Type in the Unit code and it will show quizzes and games you can play to learn. Keep in mind that these quizzes are created by other students so some might be a bit higgledy piggledy.
I also made a page of notes to look at while waiting outside the exam room before entering. It just kept my brain refreshed.
During the exam: Do all the questions you know the answer to. Bang those ones out then go back through the questions that you kind of know the answer to but need to think a bit more. Then finally, go back over the questions you have absolutely no freaking idea even if you were paid a million bucks. Those questions are moot and you might as well close your eyes and point to an answer. It is futile to sit and stress over a question you simply don’t know the answer all the while confusing yourself when you could be using the precious time answering the questions you do know and know 100% is right (or maybe 95% hehe). Often your memory will get jolted by some questions which will help with previous questions that stumped you. So keep forging ahead. And when you have finished the exam, don’t think any more about it because why? There is nothing else you can do. You can’t ring them up and say “I just remembered the answer to question 63! Can you change it for me!” so go for a walk along the beach or meet a friend for coffee and talk about anything but the exam. Promise me? Good.
Safe Assign: It’s a program to compare essays/assignments against ones they have on file to ensure students aren’t plagiarising their submissions. It will give you a percentage of how much is similar it is to other essays it has on its data base. Unless you have copied paragraphs and know full well you’ve cheated, the similarities will mostly be the referencing and the questions or lay-out from the uni; don’t stress if it says it’s 25% comparable to others on it’s data base, it will just be that.
How many units should I study each semester?: This is completely up to you. If you have a family or full-time work or prefer to not over-burden yourself with a full-time study load (4 units a semester) then knock it back to 2-3 units. If you are really strapped for time or the quintuplets you just gave birth to are a bit high maintenance, then whack it right back to 1 unit a semester. Keep in mind that the fewer units you do each semester will prolong the course duration so see if you can do at least 2 a semester.
I also left all my clinical placement units to the end (where possible) so I saved up my annual leave to be able to attend. This also meant I didn’t have any exams or assignments due when I was on placement because I had done all the theory units.
Online lectures/classrooms: I’m not saying this to sound like a rebel but I didn’t listen to one single recorded lecture nor did I attend one online classroom because I found they were as boring as batshit and I could do the study myself. HOWEVER, you may find them beneficial and if you prefer being in a classroom to study, then attending the online classes and listening to the lectures may help you get into the swing of learning. I know people who really liked them so give it a go. As I said, your study is all about how you learn best.
Extra activities: My friend. Listen to me now. Don’t waste your precious time on doing any extra activities that are not graded. They are a waste of time and you get no thanks for them. Unless you live in utopia where all your meals are cooked, house is cleaned, a Greek god is hand-feeding you peeled grapes and your feet are getting massaged by Ryan Reynolds (or female equivalent…Blake Lively?) and you have ALL the time in the world, don’t bother with them. Just do the quizzes in the learning materials which will help you remember the crap you gotta remember to pass exams. And essays. And any other GRADED stuff.
Family, Friends and Social Life: You are at uni. You are studying to get a qualification so you can earn decent money, have job satisfaction and pave a future for you and your family. You will have to step back occasionally to study or go to prac or just sit in your car with the radio turned to max and just scream. So when you start studying, explain to everyone that you will need help and support. Don’t feel guilty. It’s not forever and you are doing it for you and your loved ones. Hubby can cook a few meals each week. The girls nights can be missed for a few months. Real friends will support your studying and not make you feel guilty for not drinking chardonnay at Emma’s place when her 6th boyfriend this year dumped her. There will be sacrifices but they are worth it (and Emma needs to find a decent bloke).
Clinical Placements: Now I’ve only studied Nursing, I’m not sure about other degree’s but it may be similar. You will need to attend onsite clinical placements as part of your degree. Some units it may be 4 weeks, some 6 weeks. But overall you’ll probably do about 5-6 months full time placement. FULL TIME. Not half a day here and half a day there. Not ‘I have to drop off and pick my kids up so I can only do 9-3’ kind of placements. You are required to be at the hospital / nursing clinic / GP clinic at the times they set. Many hospitals have shifts like 7am-3.30pm or 1pm-9.30pm or night shifts of 9pm-7.30am. You need to be sitting in that nurses office at least 5 minutes before the start of each shift and you need to stay until you finish. This is because AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) require a minimum number of placement hours in order to register you as a nurse. If you are sick, make up the day. This is where having kids can be hard but ask for help.
I used to freak out before every. single. placement. My nerves went wild and I would dread going. But once I got there, was introduced to my preceptor and started the shift, I was as happy as a pig in shit. You aren’t expected to know everything when you go to placement, you are there to learn. Be positive, engaged, ask questions and be enthusiastic. Yeah you might know how to take a full set of obs but you aren’t going to say ‘I already know how to do that, what else can I do?’. Do whatever is required to ensure you are providing comprehensive and safe patient care. Always be supervised when you are required to be. If you forget something, tell your preceptor straight away. Always report findings to your preceptor, even if they are within normal range. Communication is extremely important. Know your student scope of practice and be prepared to say ‘I can’t do that but I am keen to watch’. Don’t ever ever ever risk your degree or the patients safety by performing a task outside your scope just because ‘It was busy’ or ‘I didn’t want to say no’. You know what I’m saying.
Conclusion: This is all I can think of to write right now. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me. As I said before, these are all from my personal experiences and you may find you study completely differently. I am not an experienced nurse but I am an experienced student.