So you’re doing an MA, No. 2: Organising your study time

The first course of your Masters programme technically is the most straightforward as it is likely to be general in nature, focusing on teaching methodology, practice and/or how languages are learned. However, it is also the most daunting, especially if you haven’t studied formally for a long time. This was the case for me as I graduated from university in 1999 and since then the closest I had come to studying was my 4-week CELTA course. The amount of reading, the forum discussions and the tasks all seemed overwhelming at first and those first couple of weeks were spend wondering what I had got myself into, especially when I saw the learning hours overview:
  • Direct teaching input: 24 hours
  • Private study: 60 hours
  • Directed reading: 24 hours
  • Online forum exchange: 15 hours
  • Tutorials: 2 hours
  • Assessment preparation: 25 hours
A total of 150 hours* and that’s only one course! So, how can you fit that around a full-time teaching job, family commitments, bi-weekly trips to the gym and the need to sleep?
The most important thing of course is managing your time well. Set aside specified times for study and reading every week and make sure you stick to them! I soon started to make sure I had my laptop or printouts of reading material with me at work on days when I had free lessons. Those split hours that used to pass with endless cups of tea and chats about the weekend’s football were now replaced with word files, pdfs and book chapters. It also important to let people know what you are doing. Tell your family/housemates/close friends what times you plan to study each week – this is helpful both for reducing the likelihood of being disturbed and for having people to say ‘Shouldn’t you be studying now?’ when you are delaying things. I would also recommend chatting to your boss. I kept my head of department informed throughout the application process and when the course started and I was pleasantly surprised when they offered me the chance to organise my teaching timetable around the hours I wished to study.

The amount of reading can seem unending at first but note that in the above list, there is time allotted to ‘directed reading’. You’ll soon discover that your course tutor will highlight the most important readings in each unit and you can use these as a starting point to pursue your own interests (‘private study’). You don’t have to read everything! Be selective and read what’s relevant or interesting to you. (I will discuss reading in some more detail in a future post).

As for the ‘online forum exchanges’, I quickly made them part of my daily internet routine. You know how you check your emails, browse the latest updates on Twitter and read new posts on your favourite blogs each day? (Perhaps even multiple times!) Well, make checking the forums part of that routine as well. You may find that nothing new is there or your may find a discussion has raged between teachers in a completely different time zone while you’ve been asleep. The important thing is to check regularly, comment when you have something to ask or add and be active (being active in discussions also helps you get to know your fellow students and your tutor and may make them more willing to respond if you ask for assistance later on. ;)). Logging on once a week and finding 50+ unread messages can be quite de-motivating. Daily checks can help you stay on top of things.

That is important for your studies in general: Try not to fall behind. If you get through a unit quicker than expected, start on the next one! Getting ahead isn’t a problem but falling behind is and you can soon find yourself with assignments looming and a lot of catching up to do!

I actually found that once I’d started the course, I became a lot more organised and made time to do things. Previously, I would skip trips to the gym, put off errands or delay marking homework thinking ‘I can do that later’ but, once I was studying, I started to think ‘I have to do this now or I won’t get another chance!’ I also began to realise how much time I used to waste doing nothing!

You should also face up to the fact that you may have to give something up. Whether it be your favourite TV show, a regular night out, a hobby or private lessons, something has to go in order to allow enough time to study. Such are the sacrifices we make in order to develop professionally!

Having said that, don’t neglect those around you. Make time to unwind and be with the ones you love. After all, you’ll be needing their moral support during the whole course and lots of it!

What about you? How do you make/have you made time for study? I’d love to hear any further tips you have!

*Note that this is taken from one of the MA modules at the University of Manchester and may be different at other institutions.

Previous Posts in this Series:
So, you're thinking of doing an MA, No. 1: Are you ready? 
So, you're thinking of doing an MA, No. 2: Choosing a course
So, you're doing an MA, No. 1: Surviving the first few weeks


  1. This is invaluable advice. I'll heed it seriously!


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