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Well, having said in my last post that I don’t study in the evenings, in the last week I’ve pulled several nights study out of the hat, most ending at 12:30am. I’ve managed to keep myself awake with chocolate ice cream, nutella, milo….you get the drift. I don’t drink coffee out of choice so when a caffeine hit is needed a chocolate lover’s obviously going to turn to something containing cocoa!

As you may know I have a nanny who comes for 14hrs a week so that I can get my study done.  Once you take out travelling time to the State Library or cafes in Ashgrove or Paddington plus the time spent doing the handover of the kids to the nanny I’m probably left with no more than 12 hours a week for study. Now this should be more than enough time to get all my study done for a 3rd year unit at university. A 3 credit point unit apparently needs 9 hours of study. However I find when deadlines are approaching for assignments that that isn’t anywhere near enough time to pull off an essay that I’m happy enough with. Disclosure: I’m never entirely happy with my essays as I tend to do too much research and not quite enough time for writing it. So even though I get wonderful feedback I know I can pull off something even better. But I do what I can in the time I have and any extra time I’m willing to put in.

When I wrote to my lecturer back in March about my concern with being able to get the work done for this unit, my teacher sent me back a guideline of how to utilise the 9 hours allocated for this unit (as well as some very encouraging words which were much appreciated). Here is what she sent me:

Lectures: 2 hrs
Readings: 2-3 hrs
Online tutorial participation: 1-2hrs
Total for weekly work: 5-6hrs

I definitely spend 6 hours a week on the weekly work (well, not last week, shhh!) which leaves 3 hrs/week to research and write up my assignments. Usually you have 4 weeks to undertake the assignment so that leaves a total of 12 hours to spend on, say, a 3000 word essay (16hrs if you only spend 5hrs on weekly work) . I probably spend 10 hours just writing the essay! I’ve been told by another teacher that you should aim to spend 50% of the time researching and 50% of the time writing. So even if we take the 16 hours to spend on the assignment that leaves 8 hours for writing. That means you need type up 375 words/hour including time for editing. That to me seems pretty fast. I can type up 500 words in an hour quite easily but I then need to spend a lot of time finding the citation information. I’ve come to the conclusion that I must be doing my essays the wrong way.

For the research, let’s take those 8 hours and spread them between all the primary sources you need to use plus the 10 secondary sources you need for understanding the primary sources. So for simplicity let’s say we have 10 secondary sources and the equivalent of 2 for primary sources as they can be much smaller in size. Therefore we have a total of 12 sources to research with a total of 480 minutes (8hrs) in which to do it. That equals 40mins for each source! Let me repeat that – THAT EQUALS 40 MINUTES FOR EACH SOURCE!! How on earth are you meant to get a good understanding of what the author has written let alone find the best quotes for citation to back up your argument? Perhaps if you’re happy to just pass the unit then that would be enough time but some of us like to be proud of the work we produce (or close to being proud of it) and hope to get over 75% for it.

Granted there are some lecturers who allocate a ‘reading week’ to help with the work load – and they are always welcome but not always available, it depends on your lecturer. But ‘reading weeks’ only give you some extra hours, not days really. All students will still have their other units to work on or if they are like me they have a family & household to manage & take care of.

I spend countless hours researching and I know I do far too much but I’ve come to the conclusion that part of the reason I write well is because I generally get a really good understanding of the topic because of all the research I’ve done. And it means that when it comes to writing the essay the words just flow and flow. I tend to edit as I go with just a basic trim once I’m finished because I always go over the 10% extra you’re allowed to go over in word limit, eg for the essay I just finished on Monday I wrote 3500 words for a 3000 word essay and so had to trim it down to 3300. I know I need to streamline the process of writing essays – for me it lies somewhere in the time I spend trying to relocate where I found a quote to cite. But I’m wondering should I be trying to read a bit then write a bit, read a bit then write a bit, etc and do my essays that way or in doing that will I lose sight of the big picture of the topic and come up with an argument that is not as good?

Or perhaps I’ve just got to learn to cut back on the research time. I find I usually end up with 2-3 secondary sources that give a really good understanding of the topic and the other 7-8 are used for more specific reasons. How do I know when I’ve read enough? How can you draw a line and say ‘that’s all I need to know for this essay’?  Obviously you can never stop learning something on a topic, there is always more!

So if you’re a tutor or lecturer what advice would you give to students about allocating time for assignments?

If you’re a student what tips or advice do you have that helps this process?