When pursuing a career in allied health, you have a number of options at your fingertips. Maybe you want to become a nurse, but you wonder how you can balance your day job with college classes. Or maybe you’re already enrolled in a program, but have no time left over after working and studying all day. For you, time has become a commodity, and the less of it you have, the harder it is to meet project deadlines, study for exams, or prepare for clinicals. If this sounds like you, keep reading. The following guide helps allied health students recognize common challenges of time management and provides actionable study skills shared by industry experts. Learn how to create the perfect study space, schedule your time like a boss, and embrace a routine.
4 Strategies to Up Your Study Game
No matter whether you plan to complete your online degree in nursing or decide to pursue a medical assisting program at a local college, embracing good study habits early on can make the process go much more smoothly. Every person is different, so finding strategies that work for your study style is key to a productive experience. Some learners innately possess the concentration needed to stay focused, while others must learn these skills along the way. Check out a few of our helpful study tips that can make your life as a student easier.
1 Find the Right Study Buddy
Taking a course with a friend offers several benefits. For starters, knowing someone else in the class can help ease nerves and make it easier to focus on course content. If a subject seems particularly difficult, being able to talk out concepts and compare notes is also much more productive than going it alone. Just like trying to stick to a new exercise routine is easier when someone else is there to hold you accountable, taking a course with a friend will make you less likely to skip class or choose not to study. On the flip side, taking a course with a friend who does not possess good study habits can make studying even more difficult. If you’re considering taking a class with a friend, pick one who is good at keeping to a schedule, enjoys learning, and is reliable.
2 Establish a “Business Only” Study Space
All students know the struggle of staying focused when reading a dense textbook or trying to finish a paper, but half the battle is often ensuring you’re in the right setting for doing the work. It’s much easier for your mind to wander off if your workspace happens to be the couch rather than a designated area free of distractions. If space for a small desk or office doesn’t exist in your home, find a local coffee shop with a good study vibe and music that gets you in the zone. These steps can be especially important for online students given that all the work they do takes place outside a physical classroom. A few more tips for creating a good study space include:
- Consider your personality and preferences
Some degree seekers may feel uncomfortable with too many people around them, while others may struggle to stay away from social media. Identify your biggest distractors and then make plans on how to avoid them. Ideas may include facing the wall, playing white noise, or setting timers when going on social media.
- Claim your space
Regardless of whether you set up a desk in your room, take over a forgotten corner of the attic, or park your car in the street to free up space in the garage, lay claim to these spaces and make sure they are perfectly conducive to your study habits and needs.
- Make your space comfortable
While working on a couch probably isn’t ideal, finding the most uncomfortable desk chair possible isn’t likely to yield good results, either. Try to find a balance by creating a comfortable space where you want to spend time while also clearly delineating its singular purpose.
- Declutter and decorate
Some students may find they work best in minimalist settings, while others may want a cozier space. Think about your aesthetic and decorate accordingly. At minimum, ensure you have all the school essentials, including textbooks, notebooks, pens and pencils, computer, charger, whiteboard, water, and snacks.
- Establish some rules
To ensure maximum focus, you’ll likely need to set a few rules to keep you on task. These can also help if you invite classmates over to work on projects or write papers together. Common rules may include leaving cell phones in a different room, taking a break once an hour, and not checking email.
3 Take Advantage of Online Resources
Many teachers provide resources within classroom settings to help students absorb material, complete assignments, and prepare for examinations. Without the support provided by an on-campus program, online allied health students may feel like they are on their own. Fortunately, thousands of resources exist online to assist these degree seekers in getting the support they need. Whether looking for virtual study buddies, trying to find innovative ways of memorizing information, or seeking effective methods for taking and organizing notes, chances are that an app exists to help. The following sections outline some of the best apps and websites for 2019.
This innovative, free app provides approximately nine million study resources created by its more than four million members. Users can take advantage of shared study tools, mind maps, courses, quizzes, slides, flowcharts, and a series of award-winning tools.
2. Office Lens
Offered via Windows, this app allows students to take photos of notes, whiteboards, textbooks, and other school documents before turning them into interactive documents with text that can be edited, added to, and shared. Basic functionalities are free in the app.
SimpleMind exists as another mind mapping tool for students who study better when they can see how different concepts connect. More than eight million individuals currently use the app for brainstorming, mapping out papers, adding media, and visualizing everything on one page. This app costs $6.99.
4 Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
Despite best-laid revision and study plans, sometimes you may find yourself struggling with a particular course topic or concept. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when this happens. Friends, fellow classmates, instructors, teaching assistants, and individuals already working in the allied health field are often more than happy to share their knowledge. The key is to make sure you ask for help as soon as possible rather than getting more lost in the class and letting your grades suffer. If you find you need help, try visiting your instructor during his/her office hours, ask about any student-led workshops or study groups, and consider getting a tutor.
Managing Your Time (and Your Energy)
Given the full schedules of allied health care students, finding an effective means of managing time is incredibly important. While online students may find themselves balancing multiple online courses, other students need to allocate time for driving to their campus-based classes. Regardless of which category you fit into, learning how to structure your time and conserve your energy can mean the difference between ending the semester feeling calm and accomplished, or failing a class. Here are some tips for students to keep in mind when trying to best manage their time:
Create a Study Schedule
More so than just adding assignments to your paper or online calendar, creating specific study schedules can help the workload feel more bearable. With today’s technology, you can also set reminders for specific projects or meetings and create plans of study with groups of students in your class. A few other good ways students can start scheduling their study time include:
- Make a chart of your current project
- Set a time for group study with your cohort
- Create a list of daily school tasks
- Put your calendar in a visible location
- Set study goals
- Stick to your schedule
- Don’t forget to build in breaks
Harness the Power of a Routine
Following a routine may seem like a no-brainer, but far too many students skip this all-important step when trying to maximize productivity. By creating routines, you spend less time thinking about what you need to do next and more time accomplishing tasks. Routines look different for everyone; some people may work best by blocking off the same stretch of time every day for studying. Others may need a few blocks of time each day where they can decide when to study, exercise, or research/write. Here are some simple ways you can begin to create a daily routine. :
Wake up at the same time every day
A survey of 1,000 individuals found that 69% felt more personal satisfaction when they rose at the same time each day while 60% felt more satisfaction around their work-life balance. Getting up at the same time can help students feel more in control of their schedule and give them one less thing to think about.
Set a bedtime
In the same study mentioned above, 67% of respondents expressed more personal satisfaction and 52% signaled better work-life balance when they followed a bedtime routine. Staying up late to study may seem reasonable, but students are much more likely to retain information when studying during normal hours rather than at the end of a long day.
In a study on medical students and breakfast, researchers found that those who ate breakfast enjoyed better performance on tests, increased concentration, and improved problem-solving skills. It can also help regulate blood sugar, allowing students to feel more focused during the day.
Take designed breaks
Stepping away from studying may seem counterintuitive when prepping for a big exam, but giving our brains time away from textbooks – even just 15 minutes – can help tremendously with retention and avoiding overlearning. For best results, stay away from social media, as reports show that logging on to these platforms can increase stress.
Organize and Prioritize Your Coursework
Amid a heavy course load and responsibilities outside school, finding ways to stay organized can help neutralize feeling overwhelmed. One of the best ways of doing this is to prioritize your work. If you have three assignments due in the next couple of weeks, think about both individual due dates and the amount of work required for each before getting started.
Take Small Bites
Rather than despairing over that 20-page research paper or agonizing over a midterm, find ways of breaking down projects and tests into smaller tasks. Studying for a test by reading each chapter and reviewing your notes will feel less stressful than thinking about the test as a whole and can also aid in your ability to learn the material.
Start with a Healthy You
Allied health students often put so much energy into tests, projects, and clinicals that they forget to replenish that energy within themselves. Doing well in the classroom starts by doing well by yourself, making it imperative to treat your body and mind well. Getting sick or becoming overly stressed can undermine plans for good study habits and time management. Blocking off a couple 30-60 minute sessions each week can do wonders for keeping your body healthy and your mind ready for coursework. Some tips to keep in mind include:
- Make sure you eat:
It’s easy to forget to eat when you’re on a long clinical rotation or up against a deadline, but our bodies and brains need food to function at their best. Sometimes fast food or a frozen pizza is the only thing you can fit in, and that’s fine. When you find yourself with more time, try to eat fruits and vegetables to give your mind a boost.
- Get enough sleep:
The Centers for Disease Control found that adults need at least seven hours of sleep to function at their best. College students notoriously run on fumes (and caffeine) between homework, socializing, and jobs, but a good night of rest can do wonders for keeping them healthy and focused.
- Try exercising:
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 75-150 minutes of exercise per week for optimum health. That may seem like a lot when you’re drowning in coursework, but remember that exercise comes in many forms. If going to the gym seems impossible, try getting in extra walks or playing sports with friends.
Taking time away from textbooks to see friends – be it a coffee chat, happy hour, intramural sports team, movie, or date – can help students come back to their studies feeling rejuvenated and ready to jump back in. Taking a couple hours to see friends and family also boosts happy feelings and keeps your brain in a good state.
Track Your Progress
When implementing new study strategies or time management techniques, it’s important to make sure these work for you and your needs. Without spending more than a few seconds each day, try to pay attention to how set bedtimes, exercise, or eating breakfast make you feel.
Learning Online? These Tips Can Help
Advice provided throughout this guide applies to allied health students enrolled in both campus-based and online programs. That being said, distance learners may encounter some unique misconceptions about what online learning entails and the mistakes they should avoid.
We compiled expert advice from seasoned allied health care professionals to help students better understand the ins and outs of learning online. We paid close attention to what it looks like to effectively manage time without the added structure of visiting campus multiple times per week and interacting with peers and professors face-to-face.
When reviewing the tips given below, try to envisage what your days might look like as an online degree seeker. You might feel confident in your technical abilities but a bit shaky when it comes to carving out the time needed for your course load. Figure out which tips speak to your stressors and focus on finding ways of addressing those issues.
Take Online Courses Seriously
Some students erroneously believe that online learning is easier than traditional classes. The majority of online programs advise learners that they’ll spend approximately 10-15 hours per week, per class completing requirements. If taking four classes, that means you’ll need between 40-60 hours to get everything done. Online degree seekers enrolled in asynchronous programs may have more freedom when it comes to learning at their own pace, but that doesn’t mean the work will be any less rigorous that its on-campus counterpart. Online courses are not intended to be an easier way to learn, but rather a more convenient one.
Pay Attention to Course Design
Course design can make a significant difference in the student’s experience of online learning. When assessing whether a school provides adequate structure, consider asking the admissions department how long the institution has offered distance programs and whether professors leading the classes receive training in delivering materials on digital platforms. Thoughtfully designed course should offer clear instructions about how to complete assignments and when they should be turned in, aiding in a student’s ability to stay organized. Poorly designed courses put this burden on the student and often leave much room for confusion.
Brush Up Your Tech Skills
Online courses provide much needed flexibility for busy students, but the flip side is that they require them to be proficient in navigating the learning management system being used. Degree seekers learning at a distance must also create safety nets so that a computer glitch or poor internet connection doesn’t cost them hours of lost work – not to mention ample frustration. In addition to repeatedly and frequently saving your work, consider using cloud-based programs such as Google Suite both while working and when saving completed assignments.
When a student decides to enroll online, it’s not only coursework they’ll need to learn about. Distance learning has a lot of specific terminology and jargon used by professors and students alike and knowing what these words mean will make it a lot easier to acclimate to an online classroom. Students who are new to the online classroom may run into some terms they unfamiliar with:
When you see the word asynchronous in relation to courses, it means the school does not require you to login at specific times to watch live lectures or participate in live chats. Instead, you can tune in to prerecorded lectures and respond to class discussions at times that work with your schedule.
- Blended (or Hybrid) learning:
Blended degrees combine online and on-campus coursework. Some programs only require students to visit 1-2 times per year while others may be up to 50% blended. Take this into account if looking at a school to which you can’t easily drive.
- Computer-based training (CBT):
Also known as computer-aided instruction, this type of learning involves using software and other tools to provide customizable training that can be accessed at any time. Students can learn at their own pace and the system monitors their work as they progress through the course.
- Learning Management System (LMS):
Learning management systems refer to the platforms used by the school to convey distance education. Common names in this world include Blackboard, Moodle, and Canvas. These systems allow learners to watch lectures, upload projects, participate in forums and chatrooms, and take exams.
Netiquette, or net etiquette, refers to how an online student should behave around their peers and professors. Some of these rules are the same as campus-based learning (e.g., treat everyone with respect, use the professor’s title when saying their name) while others are specific to distance learning (e.g., don’t use all capital letters as it may seem like you’re yelling, use discretion when sharing personal information). The University of Memphis provides a comprehensive guide to netiquette.
- Self-paced learning:
Asynchronous learning allows students to complete assignments at times that work with their schedules while meeting daily or weekly deadlines. Self-paced learning adds an additional layer of flexibility by allowing students to decide how slow (or fast) they move through coursework.
The converse of asynchronous coursework, synchronous classes depend on live involvement from students in lectures and discussions. This option works well for students with flexible schedules who enjoy participating in real-time work and need that extra bit of accountability.
- Web-based training (WBT):
Web-based instruction can be accessed at any time, from any system with a steady internet connection. Learners can pace themselves or the school can set a desired pace. These trainings tend to be more interactive than CBT and can be used on many different platforms and devices.
Expert Insight: Allied Health Professionals Share Their Secrets to Success
Developing top-notch study techniques and note-taking skills, alongside proper management of time, can go a long way in helping students succeed in their allied health programs. While it’s one thing to read all of the tips throughout this guide, some students want to hear expert advice from a health professional who has been through the process. Fortunately, our allied health experts are here to provide tips and advice on how to develop good study habits and avoid running yourself ragged in the process. They also offer guidance on how to ace your licensure/certification exams and complete your clinicals while still managing a good night of rest. See what EduMed’s expert allied healthcare providers have to say:
From the Experts
Advice from Alexander Belkin, an expert in medical assisting:
Be patient: The course may be easy or challenging. During the challenging parts, you need to be patient with yourself, give yourself the time you need to learn and master a concept, which may take longer than expected. When things are easy, you need to be patient with the class, because when things feel slow, you’re more likely to let your mind wander and not learn the fundamentals.
Alexander Belkin is an experienced medical assistant on his way to becoming a licensed physician. He has received a double major in neuroscience and biology from Brandeis University and is experienced in internal medicine, family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, pediatrics, oncology, neurology, and clinical pathology. When he’s not at the hospital, Alex works with the United States Medical Licensing Examination board creating study material and practice exams.
What are some expert tips when it comes to managing your time as a nurse?
Get to know your teaching assistants (TA’s), they can often provide key strategies for learning and remembering clinical content in courses such as Anatomy and Physiology
What advice would you give students starting out studying to be a PA?
Be open minded; collaboration as a healthcare provider is key. Collaborating with physicians, patients, families, other providers, etc. will be a large chuck of your day.
Managing Your Time
What can veterinarians do to best utilize their time?
Make time for yourself and your family. This goes back to taking care of yourself. Yes, you need to study long and hard, but in order to do that, you have to be well.
How do you manage your time as a pharmacy technician?
Don’t spend too much time on any single thing. If something is tripping you up, regardless if it’s on the test or in the pharmacy, move on to something else and come back to it.
What are the keys to successful time management for a medical assistant?
Making to-do lists, calendars, notifications, and timers are great methods for keeping time in check. You have requirements for yourself, including sleeping, eating, and exercise that must be fulfilled.
Do you have any test taking prep tips for medical assisting students?
Practice exams may be the key to succeeding on tests. There are only a handful of ways to determine whether a student has understood a concept, and with enough practice, you will learn every way a question be worded on an exam. After taking practice tests, understand why your incorrect answers were incorrect. On the other hand, read every explanation, not just the ones you got wrong. You will be able to master the information.
How can occupational therapy assistants pass their exams?
Definitely obtain a guide book and take practice tests and don’t overload yourself with studying you will be better off completing small sections of information regularly and letting the information digest than a marathon session.
Completing Your Clinicals
How can nurses better navigate through their clinicals?
Choose and volunteer at places where your specialty you are thinking of pursuing will give you firsthand knowledge as to how nurses interact within that specialty.
What can a physician assistant student do to prep for clinicals?
Get as many contact hours, volunteer hours, work experience or shadowing as you possibly can. Ask a lot of questions, read professional journals, take any certifications you can.
What’s one thing you wish you knew about medical assisting clinicals?
An important point to understand is “it’s who you know.” Developing a relationship with a doctor in your area, coming in to shadow them when you have some free time, and learning clinical techniques in a hands-on fashion will make you a better medical assistant.