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How to ask for an extension

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Open University students usually have lives with many responsibilities, and we recognise that in creating a more flexible assessment system. Our assignments are graduated rather than coming in one lump at the end of a term/year. You can also usually negotiate an extension on assignment deadlines if you experience difficulties which impact on your studies. 

NB - there is NOT usually any extension offered on the final piece of work on a module, often called the End of Module Assessment. Plan your studies to make sure you can work on this in a timely fashion. If you are experiencing difficulties as you come to the end of a module, make sure that you contact your Student Support Team for advice, and put in a claim for Mitigating Circumstances. 

Your tutor will be able to talk to you about extensions on your Tutor Marked Assignments (TMAs). We are of course keen to make sure you don't fall behind in your studies, so you should not assume you can just have one for the asking. 

You can contact your tutor via a link on StudentHome, or just drop them an email. Explain why you want the extension and how long you think you may need. Be realistic and reasonable about this. A day or two is very acceptable, a week is fine. If you are going to need more than a week, you will need to have a serious and good reason. (Anxiety about deadlines is a serious and good reason, however you should also make sure you have got good support so this doesn't become an ongoing problem if you suffer anxiety - your Student Support Team can help with this.) 

You won't need supporting documentation for an extension on a TMA, but you will if you apply for Mitigating Circumstances for an EMA. 

Try to let us tutors know in good time. You can ask for an extension just in case, you don't have to use it. 

These are the suggested reasons given when we enter your extension in the system. 

Screenshot of list of reasons for extension on automated system

Here are some examples of how I would input information provided to me with a request for an extension. Depending on your tutor, you may like to translate for them into appropriate terminology. For example, 'Can I have a week's extension as I have to travel to France during the week of the TMA deadline', rather than 'Yippee! my whole extended family and I are going on a WiFi-free trip through the Loire Valley, so my TMA is going to be late.' (Actually if you are going on holiday, your tutor may suggest you try and plan to get the TMA in early thoughtful)

DISABILITY - your additional learning need means that you require a little longer to prepare your assignment (anxiety would fit here). 

FAMILY RELATED - your children had chicken pox, there was a major family event which disrupted your studies, the family guinea pig had to be rushed to the vet and nursed through the night. 

MEDICAL - you had chicken pox, or flu. 

TRAVEL RELATED - your family holiday coincided with the TMA submission date. (And you are going to have to shop, pack and make your partner sort out their passport so you can't plan to do the TMA early.) 

VARIOUS - your favourite aunt had to go into hospital, the children all had chicken pox, you had a job interview, your laptop died on you and it is coming up to Christmas, you have to do the shopping - all at once. And the family guinea pig needs to be taken to the vet. 

WORK RELATED - there is a big project just coming to fruition and your manager has asked everyone to stay on late to help out (offering you double pay to do so of course thoughtful

The main message is - if you are struggling, don't suffer alone. Go on your module Forums and get some emotional support from fellow students, contact your Student Support Team, check the Student Union website - you never know what help may be available to you. Let your tutor know, so we can bear your circumstances in mind and tell you about any tips or support we know of smile

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Christmas Catchup

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Wednesday, 20 Dec 2017, 17:47

Christmas garland

As the holiday season approaches, students come to one of two realisations - usually one after the other:

  1. Hey, it's the holidays! I can catch up on my studies while relaxing over a plate of mince pies;
  2. OMG! I've only done half my shopping, how will I get my work sorted in time for the holiday - never mind all this reading I'm meant to do for my studies!!!

I know this, because those are the thoughts which went through my mind.

('Tis the season for coughs, colds and flu too - so many students are also having to take time out to recuperate.)

Dreadfully behind on my own studies - as revealed in my previous blogpost - I panicked and began to think I should defer til next year sad However I did the following things and now I am happy to announce that I'm back on track (and have done all my shopping approve)

1 - Get back on the website.

It doesn't matter what you do to get back on. You can post in the Forum to say 'I'm so behind! Anyone-else feeling worried?' You can just watch one of the videos or read one webpage. Don't look at the dates and start worrying about how far behind you are. Get yourself back on your Study Calendar so that you feel like you are back in the saddle again.

2 - Look at the dates

Strong cup of tea in hand, have a cautious look at where you actually are. You may not be as far behind as you fear. (Being one or two weeks behind is very common, BTW.)

Tea in cup with blue chicken and snowy border

3 - Talk

Don't keep your worries to yourself. Have a chat with Student Support Team or your Tutor. Talk to your study buddies on the module Forums, Whatsapp or (if you must!) Facebook groups. Get support and advice. In particular, ask the Tutor if they have an overview of that part of the module - can they give you a steer about the upcoming work. Is there a week where not so much is expected of you? Are there parts you could skim over? Which exercises are essential?

4 - Ask for a one to one support session

If you need help, the university can sometimes pay your tutor (or another tutor, if your tutor can't provide this) to give you an extra support session. If you are feeling worried, ask about this. If you don't ask, you won't get! And it would be far better for you to have a little extra support, than drop out of the module - and perhaps your whole degree dead

5 - Read to write

There is far too much knowledge in the world for anyone to cover all of. Therefore, grownup academics do what we call "read to write". We only read what we need to, in order to write our article or book chapter.

Look at the upcoming assignment question. See if the Student Notes have guidance on essential material you should cover. Focus on reading that, and skim the rest.

You're probably enjoying your studies, and reluctant to skip over parts of it. However remember that you can access your module website for a couple of years after you finish, so you can go back to bits you missed when you have caught up and passed the module.

(If you have to do this, make sure you keep up on any study skills exercises supporting your developing academic skills.)

6 - Remember: If a job's worth doing ...

it's worth doing badly.

Sometimes we just have to take five on part of a task in order to get the whole thing done.

Get something written, submit what you can, ask for an extension or find out if any of the assignments on your module are 'substitutable' (means you can still get a few marks for them). You may not get the Distinction grade of your dreams, but you will have practised writing the assignment as you were meant to, and you will get good feedback to build on for the next piece of work. You may surprise yourself. Don't throw away 'good enough' just because you wanted 'practically perfect in every way'.

7 - have rest, and eat nice things.

When we are tired and stressed we work more slowly and get more anxious, so keep well rested. You don't have to eat chocolate - but I often find it helps tongueout

Picture of text books and different kinds of chocolate. Handwritten text saying 'Things are getting worse. Send chocolate.'

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No A 4 U - lecturing off-line

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Sunday, 17 Dec 2017, 13:29

My own teaching is 'blended learning'. Students have a mix of online material, text books, face to face and online tutorials and opportunities to chat in forum posting. About 80% of the material is online and I work hard to get my students to go online.

Recently a friend came to me with the opposite problem.

I used to teach in traditional universities too, so I felt considerable sympathy with my pal. He teaches Physics in the States, and his students sit in the back row, checking out Facebook and even chatting on their mobile phones. A colleague of his had passed some handy research papers his way which showed that 'multi-tasking' leads to poor grades, as the researchers politely call it - or rudely 'phubbing' your lecturer in spite of their efforts to raise your grade and improve your academic knowledge, as my friend might call it. (I used other language on the one occasion this happened to me.)

Useful though it was to definitively know this, and it was great fun to cite a paper called No A 4 U, my friend was in need of a practical means of getting his students to stop checking their phones and pay attention to him.

Should he make an impassioned 10 minute plea to the students - referencing this and other studies which evidence the grave consequences of their careless phone habits?

Should he institute a confiscation policy and take phones away at the door?

In one lecture series I taught, I used to put a slide up at the start of the lecture with some relevant information on it. Keen early bird students could read this/watch the video clip/listen while the others shuffled in and found a seat.

I started the lecture series with Lily Allen's F**k You. I explained that Ms Allen is in a tradition of song-writing including 2 Tone, in which efforts were made by song-writers to transcend skinhead racism of the time. I hoped that would gain the students' attention, and help them understand that 'Race and Ethnicity' is not just some dry dusty academic subject.

I suggested my friend imitate this tactic. He could just put up a slide with the relevant advice on it for his students. He could leave it up for 5 minutes while they settled in their seats, then put up his lecture slides and teach as normal.

My friend loved the idea and gave me permission to share the slide I threw together for him:

Powerpoint slide with smiley using mobile, and 'no use' sticker over it.

PS In response to a helpful suggestion from Simon Reed in the comments, I've attached a new version of the powerpoint slide. It has a video from YouTube embedded in it showing what may happen to you if you use your mobile phone in some lecturers' classes ... big grinevil

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The best laid plans of mice and mums ...

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Sunday, 10 Dec 2017, 22:03

In my previous blogpost, I proudly set out what I called my 'project life balance plan'. Naturally, this attracted the attentions of the Gods and Goddesses, who promptly threw the divine equivalent of poo at it mixed

Poo emoji

  • I had planned for two loads of marking, I managed to acquire a third load.
  • I noted the workshop I had to attend, but forgot about the five loads of laundry I would have to rush through in order to ensure that my child had enough shirts and PE kit for school the following week, as I would not be there over the weekend to do this.
  • One of our cats went AWOL sad, and turned up at 5.30 am the day before I left for Glasgow approve (After I had spent hours sticking up posters round the neighbourhood - of course.)
  • The workshop didn't quite go as I had thought it would mixed, in fact it took me about a week to recover from it and figure out how to write up the notes dead
  • And there was a family emergency which led to me having to spend the afternoon driving to a nearby city, then back in the middle of rush hour - narrowly missing a three car pile-up off the motorway and screeching into my personal parking space with just 10 minutes to go before the first of the two tutorials I had to teach that night was due to start dead dead

In fact, this part of my plan originally looked like this:

Gannt plan showing tasks

And now it looks more like this:

Gannt plan as above but with extra tasks and large brown splotches on it

mixed Yes - time for working through the second block of materials and preparing TMA02 (which we are supposed to share in draft form with our fellow students) has been severely truncated.

At this time of year, I keep a sharp eye out and circulate my students gently enquiring if they might be a little more behind in their studies than they would ideally like to be? They usually say: "Yes, but there is the Christmas break coming ..."

I know that in spite of their good intentions, they are very unlikely to switch off Mariah Carey or It's a Wonderful Life, and log in to their study calendar. I suggest we do a session identifying what they could skim and what they really need to concentrate on, then they can have a break - and start the New Year all set up and ready to go.

I'm not sure I can skim any of my own study materials mixed I get the impression most of it involves going online and sharing my ideas with my fellow students. Plus, in my own TMA01, I didn't properly define one of the key terms tongueout (stop laughing DD103 students! big grin), and now I'm going to have to scrap my intended project and write a whole new one.

Poo emoji 

So-o-o, I am at that crunch point which many of my own students are at: Withdraw, Defer, Stagger on? thoughtful

I'm not going to give up on this thing. I enjoy it too much! I might have to defer, if any more divine poo hits my plans. I will give it a good go first, though wink

Poo emoji at the end of a rainbow

First thing to do, is sign onto the Study Calendar and check out how far behind I actually am mixed I put this off for a while, but eventually I get my courage up with one of the mince pies a student brought to yesterday's tutorial. (Yes, that is how messy it is round here - sometimes it's a choice between studying and tidying.)

Computer open at StudentHome with cup of coffee and mince pie

Phew! that's not so bad. I do have to tidy round now, so the kiddo and I can put up our Christmas decorations some time before Easter. But if I can get a couple of hours in tomorrow morning and some time on my 'day off', I might get back on board in time smile

(If I struggle, I'll have a good chat with Student Support before making any final decisions.)

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Plan to Succeed

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Thursday, 26 Oct 2017, 06:09

As an experienced researcher with decades of project management under my belt, I plan my work without even thinking about it. I often get by without even writing my plan down, but for a course of study, you are far better off making a proper written plan.

Open University modules are already carefully planned, with assignments designed to gear you up in gradually accumulating skills areas so that by the end, you have been gently taken on a journey to higher academic abilities. To some extent, you can rely on the plan laid out in the module. However - 'real' life has a bad habit of poking its nose in and making a fine mess out of the module's carefully laid out plan.

The module I'm currently studying has a brilliant way to help me: writing a plan is part of the first assignment. There is a link to this short, free course from OU Business Studies about project planning, in which we are shown Gannt plans. If you have got time to spare, this course is well worth working through. If you are short of time already, you could just sketch out a plan for yourself on a piece of paper or in a spreadsheet as I've done here.

This is my Gannt plan for my studies.

Excel spreadsheet laid out as a Gannt plan

(The free course provides a Gannt plan in a pdf, but my pdf reader will require an expensive upgrade before it will allow me to edit pdfs, so I decided to draw up my Gannt plan as an Excel spreadsheet.)

Well, that all looks great! Ah, but, what about 'real' life? I have gone back over my plan to put in points showing where I might have peaks of work or want to take extra time off to cover a school holiday.

Another Excel spreadsheet laid out as a Gannt plan

I can see that just before TMA01, I have got two loads of marking due in. I am down to give a workshop right afterwards too, for which I will have to do some preparatory work. Looking at this Gannt plan, I can consider doing my workshop preparations now so they are out of the way, and putting in some early work on my own TMA01 (such as writing the plan bit of it!), then I will have time to do my marking and check my TMA before putting it in. If I am coming up to the dates for marking and still have a lot of work to do on my TMA, I can ask for an extension in good time.

I am actually going to work on a more sophisticated plan in the OU's software application Compendium. I was hoping to just run that off and show it here in this blogpost. When I started, however, I discovered that it will take me a little while to re-learn how Compendium works. (I used it previously on the e(LATE)D course I studied, but have mis-remembered it as being very easy!) I have therefore had to adjust my Gannt plan to show that project planning will take longer than I had first supposed. (I want to use Compendium because it's designed for planning teaching projects. I think it will be useful to me later on, so it'll be worth putting in the time to learn how to use it properly.)

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A 'real' student!

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Monday, 9 Oct 2017, 14:08

Golly, I feel like a real student today! smile

Not because I sneaked up early to read an article for my studies, and have managed to cram in an hour or so's studying with one eye on the bedroom door of my torpidly slumbering teenager, the other on the clock so I get onto cooking Sunday lunch in good time and a third eye on the Student Forums in case any new students are posting and I can chat with them approve (All new parents develop this useful body part shortly after maternity/paternity leave expires sleepy)

Today's exercise in the Study Calendar involved posting on OpenStudio. My own students can have a go at this if they want, but I have eschewed it til now because

  1. There is no time/payment allocated for it in my contract, and I am working overtime as it is;
  2. It looks like a clunky Instagram, I couldn't see why the students couldn't use Instagram instead.

However it is a compulsory part of my own module so I must get on with it. (I can see really that it's helpful to have a dedicated and protected web space in which we can explore doing this stuff, rather than being let loose in the wonderful world of Instagram. Anyway, my daughter has forbiden me to join Instagram and said she won't Friend me on it if I do mixed - makes me wonder ...)

Another reason I don't like OpenStudio, is that as soon as you open it you see a sad face and it says you have 0% participation. Well, like - I just got here! Give me a chance! I can't participate, anyway, because in a bid to get ahead before my own students start handing in assignments I need to mark for them, I have raced ahead on my own module and nobody else has posted anything on OpenStudio I can participate in. So! Yah boo angry

Screenshot of OpenStudio participation bar

Honestly, I just felt like shutting it down and going away again as I wasn't sure where to post my material or what to call it, whether I was allowed to create a new 'set' or what.

However, I suddenly remembered - I am a student approve I am not the all-knowing Tutor who is supposed to know everything about life, the university and everything (42, in case you were wondering - Adams, 1979). I can get it all wrong, post material by mistake in the completely wrong box, and my all-knowing Tutor will go in and put it right. She will probably even send me a soothing message saying "Great work, good to see you getting on with things in good time, by the way - you shouldn't put your work in that box, you should put it in this one."

And I will have learnt how to do it properly. After all, that's what being a student is - learning stuff. As I often say to my own students, the post-postgraduate module ZZ999 I am Already Perfect has not been written yet.


PS, I let my daughter go on Instagram without my supervision because adult friends of mine are Friends or Followers or whatever of hers on there, and I will hear about it almost before it happens if she is getting into any trouble on there.


Adams, D. (1979). The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Pan Books.

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Top Tips for Studying

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Monday, 9 Oct 2017, 14:09

I am a social anthropologist by training, and so whatever I'm doing, I am always observing it too, and making little mental field notes.

As I gear up for my own studies (see my Student Blog - which is an example of a blog being used as a Learning Journal), I'm seeing how I go about that and what tips I could pass on to my own students about studying.

My top tip for years has been If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly. As a busy mum myself, I have often had to just put something in that I knew wasn't anything like my best piece of work. But if you put in nothing, you get nothing. I have managed to get countless students through their first set of studies by telling them to just put in an unfinished draft, or scrappy bit of writing which they think is not good enough. It's not usually good enough for a Distinction (although that has happened once or twice!) but we get through the module, get a Pass mark and are able to go on with the next set of studies - and a better understanding of how to manage study time. That's a far better outcome for everyone than failing altogether because you didn't want to show your tutor something that wasn't 100% perfect.

Course certificate

Certificate of Completion for course where I only got through by sometimes submitting draft assignments, late - but I did it!

Time management is one skill that students often say they want to improve. To manage your time, you do have to have time to manage - which is not always the case if you are studying and working while bringing up three children, a small dog and some guinea pigs, plus popping in to make sure your elderly parents are OK.

Remember that 'time management' doesn't mean getting everything in on time - the university will sometimes allow extensions to your assignments. Make sure you talk to your tutor about these (negotiating proper support is part of proper time management). Think too about a good time of day when you will be able to put your head down to your studies for a couple of hours. (More in this blogpost, although if you read my whole blog you'll see there were plenty of occasions when I had no time at all and had to put aside my own studies. I am therefore very sympathetic to my own students about time management wide eyes)

Read to write - the world is full of knowledge. There is so much already written about everything that nobody can read it all. Grownup Academics therefore do something called 'read to write'. We focus on the things which are directly relevant to what we are going to write about. When you start reading a block of material, read the assignment question first. That way, you can make focussed notes as you go along, rather than reading everything, then reading the question, then going back over all the materials to see what was most relevant.

Photo of online assignment page - with mug resting on laptop keyboard

I didn't wait til Weeks 5-6 to read this, I read it right at the start. I will go back through it again, carefully, in Weeks 5-6.

Skim read, read and read ahead - I quickly skim over the whole of a week's work, then I go back and work through it slowly - doing the exercises. When I have finished working on an exercise, I quickly re-read the next bit of material without doing the exercise for that part. I'm thinking about the exercise as I get on with my day, and when I go back to do it, I am well geared up for it.

Screenshot of study activity with advice note

Have you got any top tips for managing your studies? Share them in a comment here, or in a thread in your Student Forum. 


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Nodyn o'r droed Cymraeg

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Tuesday, 26 Sept 2017, 18:02

As I progress my Masters' studies (see my student blog), I have not forgotten my Welsh smile I mean ... I have forgotten quite a lot of what I learned, but I have not forgotten to keep learning. Little by little, it starts to stick in my mind - as long as I practise.

I started on the OU's free course Discovering Wales and Welsh. I keep my Welsh up by listening to Learn Welsh with Will videos while I make the packed lunch and breakfast in the morning. The side benefit of this is, my daughter can see me learning.

The main reason most children in Wales resist learning Welsh (which they are obliged to do by law), is that their parents, and also peers, are openly scornful of them having to do so.

I want my daughter to be positive about learning Welsh because:

  1. She will have to do a GCSE in it anyway, so she might as well do her best at it.
  2. It's good practice for her other GCSEs, to do the one in Welsh.
  3. Welsh is a fascinating and beautiful language.
  4. It's spoken all round us, and so it's easy to practise it - one of the most important things in learning well, and especially in learning a language.
  5. It's good to learn any language, as this encourages your brain in maths and logic processes. One that is markedly different from English, like Welsh or Latin or Mandarin, is particularly good for stretching your brain rather than something only a bit different like French.

Welsh flag

(By UnknownVector graphics by Tobias Jakobs - Open Clipart Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=355609)

When I was a kid, my mum stood up in school and asked why we were not able to learn Latin, and as a consequence I got to study Latin at O level. I have really enjoyed knowing a smattering of Latin. I have a better chance of eventually speaking Welsh properly, as it's hard to find someone to converse with in Latin.

I practise with the waitresses in my local cafe, and also with a friend on Facebook. (I know that if you chat about your studies outside class, you are likely to do better.) I am proud to announce I have been able to sustain a conversation in Welsh on Facebook (partly with the use of Google translate).

  • My friend posted: "How are you today?" in Welsh
  • Me: Gwych! Mae'n braf heddiw in Cymru. (Great! It's fine today in Wales. Luckily I had just done the video on 'weather'.) 
  • My friend's friend posted: "Where are you?!!!"
  • Me: Caerdydd big grin (This is the Welsh spelling of Cardiff.)
  • My friend posted a GIF:

Singing in the Rain gif (three people in yellow coats in pouring rain)

  • I wrote: Ffasiwn Cymreig! (Welsh fashion - Welsh is phonetic so if you just say the first word without thinking about it, you won't need my wonky translation big grin)

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The Associate Lecturer as Student

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Monday, 11 Sept 2017, 11:02

This autumn I am starting a module on the Masters in Online and Distance Education. I do, of course, have substantial practical experience in online and distance education - as I have been teaching for the Open University for over ten years. While doing professional development (on the e-LATE(D) and Tutor Moderator courses), I enjoyed reading up on the pedagogic theory behind my teaching and even writing up some of my work.

If I am not careful, the ironing, washing the floor, playing with the cats, watching cat videos on Facebook and ferrying my daughter to her after school clubs can take over my life. Like all of us, I need a community within which to find support and challenges so that I can continue with this scholarly activity. I hope that the Masters degree will provide a learning community within which I can further develop my thinking and practice in online and distance education.

To begin with, I have been getting into the swing of learning by doing a less important subject over the summer. I started doing some Welsh courses, with the OU's free short Open Learn module: Discovering Wales and Welsh. I used some YouTube videos on Welsh too, and have learned to say: "Great!" and "Interesting", and some other handy phrases. I wasn't very good at signing in to do my Welsh studies every day but I started to get myself into the habit.

Now I'm setting aside time each morning to study. Once I have made sandwiches for my daughter, and breakfast, fed the cats, done any necessary floor washing, I have decided to put in an hour or two on my studies every working day. There isn't very much to do yet, so I just sign into my StudentHome page and explore for ten or twenty minutes, check out the Forums and then do some other learning activities before getting on with my day.

Many of my own students are New to the Open University. I sometimes think that the main lesson they learn on the Level 1 modules I teach is how to learn. They come to a better understanding of the amount of time they need to put aside for their work, and when is the best time in the day for them to do this. Many of them start by putting aside a whole day for studies, but find that this lovely large block of time can quickly get colonised by other activities. I recommend them to do their studies in a 'little and often' way: short bursts of time every day, rather than one whole day in the week.

At a recent Day School, one of the students was someone who herself advises people on time management. She gave us a good tip: the best amount of time for most people to do work is 90 minutes: that is the optimum time for humans to concentrate. I mean to do good bursts of focussed study, but not to let these drag on. It can lead to shoulder and back problems as you crouch over your computer for long periods of time, and if I do 120 minutes today, and get tired, I might be put off from doing any studying tomorrow. If I do 90 minutes today, and 90 minutes tomorrow, I will do 180 in total.

Screenshot of powerpoint slide on Time Management

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