ME, Myself and I: Studying

As I’m finishing my degree in a couple of weeks I thought now seems a good time to make a post about it. I’ve been meaning to post it a few times before but I ended up with other ideas or things happened and as I’m not going to be studying for much longer now seems as good a time as any. I’m just writing things about my experiences and some kind of tips.

Apparently a lot of people with ME are young people and that means a lot or probably studying, in the UK at least so I’m guessing it’s a worldwide thing too. I think over the past ten years how I study has changed a lot. It probably would have anyway going from school to university but I think that ME has been a big factor too.

When I was first ill it was during my mock exams for my GCSEs, I got glandular fever and ended up being off school so much throughout year 11. I went back almost full time in sixth form then had a relapse and I think in the last two years (so six terms) I was only in school for roughly two and a half term’s worth of time. That meant that I ended up having to do a lot of my learning from home even when I normally would have been doing it in school.

To start with I tried to get in as much as possible, almost managed full time for two terms in sixth form but pushing so much probably didn’t help my health. I guess that’s something I’d say to anyone who’s studying with ME. I know it’s tempting to try and push yourself to go in every day, to try and stay as full time as possible when it comes to school or college but rest when you need to. I know this can be really hard, especially if you don’t have an understanding school. I was lucky in that a youth occupational therapist (or whatever they’re called for people still at school) went and explained to my teachers about not being able to be in full time.

In the UK there’s the Open University, though you can do it abroad as well I’m not sure which countries they cover and there’s probably other similar university type things online for whatever country you’re in. I’d always known about them but planned on going to a brick and mortar one so never really paid that much attention besides watching some of the TV shows they do. After my failed attempt at starting a qualification in a local college I decided to give the OU a go. Some of the courses are quick, ten week ones to get a taste of what it’s like. They range from those to the higher qualifications like certificates, degrees and masters. I have to say that I do kind of love the way they do the courses, you can do a degree and I think take as long as you need, I’ll have taken six years though that does include having to change degrees because my first one was taken off the site and I couldn’t finish it in time. It’s possible to do the courses without going to the tutorials though it’s great if you can get to them, I found most of the time I didn’t have the energy and it would have taken away from the time I actually had for working on the coursework itself because of recovery afterwards. I’ve had varying amounts of discussion in the forums from multiple posts a day in the tutor group to literally four in the tutor group forum throughout the course. I guess I’m posting about this because online courses seem like a good way to get a qualification or just learn a bit more about a subject. Unfortunately they have upped the prices for courses recently to be more in line with other universities, though I think if you’re on benefits you still get at least a discount if not the whole course paid for.

Before being ill I wouldn’t have thought of studying at home for a degree, though I know that most of the people I have talked to in the various courses have either been working a full time job or were the age of going to university and had chosen the OU. There weren’t many that I encountered who were doing it because of a disability but there were some of us and everyone was really understanding. I think the forums on there were probably the friendliest forums I’ve been on, maybe they were just very well moderated. If you’re thinking of studying online with anyone, whether it’s the OU, learn direct or one of the other companies that does online courses, then it’s worth looking at the website, having a bit of an explore of the options and maybe give them a call if it’s not one of those numbers that costs a lot.

Throughout studying, both in school and at home, I have found that some things helped a lot with managing my ME along with the studying. I will say that I know everyone learns differently, for example I find colours useful but repeating things out loud does very little for my memory. I have also never been any good with cramming before a test, if I try I seem to forget everything I’m trying to learn so my short term memory has always been rubbish when it comes to facts.

As with almost everything in ME planning can help a lot, knowing when you’ll timetable rests in. Have a week set aside to be able to take a break, especially after a project or bigger piece of work. I think I sort of learned timetabling mainly from doing graphics in GCSE where we had to do a big table with the weeks down one side, the tasks down the other and use one colour for when we expected to do something and then use another colour for when we actually managed it. I didn’t really expect to use that in my everyday life but it turns out I have and it helped me a lot to be able to work out whether I was way behind and be able to talk to my tutor about it. There have been times where I suddenly got ill and had to spend an unscheduled week off so I’d just change the week without work to that week and move the other weeks around it.

For exams and things where you have to learn things and remember them for a big final project then I have picked up some tips. I have found my short term memory has got even worse with ME, so making notes as I go long helps a lot, just sentences and facts that will be important and jog my memory. I also found that copying the diagrams in books helps, I find pictures easier to remember so this might not work for everyone but if you have the diagram amongst your notes then you’ll be able to find it easier than relying on looking back through the book. Either that or make a note of page numbers for diagrams, especially any harder ones that you don’t want to copy out.

With notes I have found that for some courses then doing mind maps helped, having the ideas leading on from each other meant I could follow the flow of them and remember which were related to the other topics around. They’re also easy to stick up around the place if you want to look at them, there’s no huge blocks of text and you can stick it somewhere you sit or stand while you’re waiting, like next to a kettle or where you put on your shoes. Sticking up formulas written in big bright letters worked for me too.

If those aren’t your style then maybe have someone read out the notes, or the text book, and you can lie down and listen and answer questions if you want. I know some people found that speaking into a recorder then playing it back is a good way to learn and remember things.

One of the things I’ve found takes a lot of energy are the assignments. I’m the kind of works best last minute with those things, I tried doing it earlier as I went along, which is the sensible way and the way I will definitely recommend if it works for you. However I ended up with lower scores and I just didn’t have the motivation for it. When I do it last minute I get so much more work done in a day, though it does mean I spend more energy on it this way. I always do so many drafts this way, just get ideas down the print it off, edit it, print that one off, edit it again until I get to one I’m happy with. That way if I’m part way through the process I’ve got a version that I’m not that happy with but has answers in everything so I could get marked.

I’m sure I probably had better tips when I started this and some of these are probably just general studying tips that people know but I thought I’d post it anyway. It’s kind of helping remind me how much I have to do and get me into gear. At least I’m hoping that’s what it’ll do!


2 thoughts on “ME, Myself and I: Studying

  1. I had a really not understanding school when I first got sick with ME in year 7. They tried to expel me for having too much time off until we pointed out that they couldn’t legally do that. Part way through year 8, I moved to the most understanding school you could imagine and did really well in my GCSEs. During A levels I couldn’t work anything like full time but I did one A level and one AS, mostly from home but going into college a bit. I’m now doing another A level. I started at the OU when the courses were cheaper but you had to continue to do a course every year to keep the cheaper rates and I needed a year off (which has become a couple of years). The prices are now just over £2500 for a 60 credit course, so about £15000 for an entire degree. You can’t get them free by being on benefits (I’ve checked since I want to start at the OU again in September 2016) but you can get a student loan to cover the costs and if you’re unable to work, then it’s going to be a long time until you’re earning the £21000 a year which is the point when you start paying it off. Timetabling in rests is the most important thing for me when studying. I need to know I can rest without getting behind.


  2. The Open University has been an absolute godsend for quite a few people I know with chronic illnesses. You give some really useful tips. Congratulations on making it so close to the end of your degree and food luck on the final stretch.


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