Managing post-graduate coursework

These tips and study strategies will help you manage your time efficiently and make your postgraduate coursework a positive and enjoyable experience.

Successfully managing the complexities of coursework studies and maintaining your other life roles can at times be quite overwhelming. However, by managing your time efficiently, using proven study strategies and taking advantage of available resources, a postgraduate coursework program can be a positive and enjoyable experience.

Postgraduate coursework degrees provide students with advanced knowledge in an area of study.  However, they also have many unique challenges. For example, you may:

  • have competing demands on your time, such as paid work, family commitments and study.
  • be returning to formal study after some years, so may be unsure of academic expectations, and unfamiliar with changes in scholarship or advances in information technology.
  • be studying in a new academic area, undertaking subjects from different disciplines simultaneously, and consequently, working on multiple assessment tasks requiring a range of text types.
  • not (yet) feel confident in role as a student or like you don’t have effective peer support.
  • feel pressured by having to master new material within the twelve-week semester and be familiar with a range of academic expectations.

How should I approach my studies?

If you are experiencing some or all of these challenges, you are not alone! By applying study strategies and tips you can build a strong foundation to help you thrive at university.

  • Use your time efficiently

    Effective time management is the key to getting everything done

    Aim for control of your time by planning a balanced working week that includes leisure, work, and family life, as well as study. Use a wall planner to schedule your tasks across the week and the semester. Continually reassess and change your schedule, but keep control.

    Know how, when and where you work best

    • Do you like to focus on and complete one task before going on to the next, or do you like the variety of undertaking several tasks at once?
    • Do you find that you get more done in a particular place?
    • When do you find you are best able to concentrate on complex texts or complete demanding academic work?

    Use this personal reflection to plan your study schedule.

    Plan each day to complete specific tasks and use all the time available to you as efficiently as possible

    • Mentally review your work at the start of each day
    • Email questions before meetings with lecturers; or create an agenda for your meetings.
    • Create shortcuts such as: work collaboratively with other students, use technology to your advantage, cook a few meals at one time or spread housework through the week so there is some free time on weekends for study.
    • Make sure your workstation is suited to your individual needs and that your desk is well organised and easy for you to use.

    Get help and support from others

    • Share household tasks
    • Find out if your work provides time off for study or the option of a more flexible work schedule
    • Let your lecturers know if you are working and studying: many of them may be doing the same and may be able to share some tips and ideas.

    Link work and study

    • If your studies are related to your work in a specific field or organisation, choose familiar topics or projects that help you to extend your knowledge. This will save background research time, will provide a context and rationale for your investigation and may allow you to make a valuable contribution to your workplace.
  • Get involved with university life
    • It’s important to make time to connect with other students and to get involved with your faculty activities.
    • Use your Faculty’s support networks and libraries to form connections with other students in a similar situation to you. This can develop into beneficial collaborative working groups, where you can share both personal and academic support.
  • Manage your content

    Developing strategies for faster reading and writing may help you manage your content more
    effectively.

    • Use reading strategies such as skimming, scanning, and reading critically and
      note-taking techniques
      such as annotating, and strategically highlighting. Practice these skills to improve reading comprehension and efficiency.
    • Start your assessments as soon as possible. Select the issue or question you want to focus on in your assessment tasks and start planning how you will address the question. It’s very helpful to follow a writing process to get your writing completed on time and to a high standard.
    • Become familiar with technical language. Academic writing is for a specific audience and contains words, concepts and principles that are often new, specialised and sometimes technical. Have a place (either a book or a computer file) to list unfamiliar concepts or technical vocabulary to help you become familiar with new information in your area of study.
    • Develop systems to manage your information. For example: use EndNote or another application to keep track of references. Use a diary to record thoughts and ideas, or to keep notes on supervisory meetings.
    • Form reading or discussion groups where you can discuss topical issues, assessment tasks and research articles. This will help you understand new ideas, listen to alternate views or experiences, and share experiences of postgraduate study.
  • Know the academic style required
    • A coursework program often requires you to present work in a range of academic styles, for example: essays, reports, literature reviews, case studies, reflective writing, proposals, articles, research reports and theses. You must become familiar with the academic requirements of these styles.
    • Make sure you understand the expectations of each task, as these may differ between units or lecturers.
    • Check if examples of past work are available.
    • Be aware of what journal articles are saying and how they are written, noting the format, style and terminology used.
    • Know the referencing style required for each piece of work submitted.
  • Use the resources available to you

Final tip

Postgraduate study is a rewarding but sometimes challenging journey, so make sure to ask for help along the way. Remember that it takes time to learn these new strategies and adjust to postgraduate studies. It’s helpful to keep track of just how much you’ve learned over a semester and compare this to the start of the semester. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at just how much you’ve progressed!

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