Doing a master’s degree is no walk in the park. It takes hard work, time and passion in order to not only pass but do so with flying colours. Don’t let this put you off, though! The dedication is well worth it for the qualification, knowledge and skills you will gain, not to mention the enjoyment of immersing yourself in a subject you truly love. 

So, how can you give yourself the best chance of excelling in your chosen postgraduate programme? Keep reading for effective study tips and advice on your dissertation, plus useful tactics for balancing your studies with your existing commitments. Coming up are also several recommendations for getting the most out of an online course if you choose that mode of study.

Top study tips

If you’ve had a break between your undergraduate and postgraduate studies, you might be a tad nervous about returning to formal education. However, there’s no need to be! With the right study skills under your belt, you’re sure to find the adjustment to academic life a breeze.

Here are some tips to help you out:

  • Take notes by hand rather than on a computer, as this can improve your retention of the information.
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand something, and also request feedback on your work to learn how you can improve.
  • Study a little bit every day rather than doing all of your university work in one long session – creating a study plan can be helpful for this.
  • Actively test yourself on the material you’re learning, rather than just reading over your notes and textbooks again and again.
  • Try explaining tricky concepts to others as a way to highlight the parts you don’t fully understand yet.
  • Find a study buddy to work with who can help to keep you motivated and hold you accountable (be sure to return the favour!)
  • If you find yourself getting distracted when you study, use an app that blocks you from accessing social media and other unproductive websites.
  • Try to summarise topics in your own words rather than just repeating what the textbook or your professor says, as this will boost your understanding of them.
  • Actively take part in all your classes and seminars rather than simply staying silent.

Tackling your dissertation

For the majority of master’s courses, you will be required to complete a dissertation towards the end of the programme. This is the culmination of your studies in the form of an independent research project that involves producing a lengthy essay on a question of your choice. You have a lot of freedom here to pursue a topic within your subject area that you’re genuinely passionate about (as long as your tutors approve the title). You’ll be spending a lot of time on it, so choose wisely!

In order to do well on your dissertation, it’s best to begin early. Think carefully about the structure of your writing, and make a plan to commit to a certain number of words a week – this will help you avoid a last-minute rush! That way, you should also have plenty of time to go back and edit your dissertation until it’s as good as it possibly can be. Also, don’t forget to reference properly!

Balancing work and family with education

One factor that can make postgraduate study more difficult than undergraduate study is that you generally undertake it when you’re a bit older and might have more existing commitments to fit your studies around. These could be your job, your family, volunteer work, hobbies, caring responsibilities, and any number of other obligations. 

One possibility is to choose to study on a part-time basis, which leaves you with more free time. Another option is to enrol in a distance learning course for greater flexibility; for example, you can do an MA education postgraduate degree if you want to enter the teaching field or expand your career prospects as an educator. A remote learning program like this is specifically designed to be suitable for people balancing their studies with other commitments, allowing greater flexibility and the choice to select their own learning schedule rather than being stuck to a traditional university-mandated timetable.

Still, whichever route you take, it can be helpful to draw up a study schedule to fit around your work and home life. This is generally more effective than trying to squeeze in study time as and when you can. It doesn’t matter if it’s early in the morning while everyone else is still sleeping, in the office on your lunch break, or late at night after your kids have gone to bed – find what works for you and stick with it.

Remember that you can always ask for help if you need it, whether you want someone to watch the kids while you go to a lecture or you need your partner to handle more household chores when you’ve got a deadline. Your university will also likely have some pastoral services you can make use of if needed.

Succeeding in an online course

If you choose to go down the path of virtual learning, there’s no need to worry about success – even if it’s going to be your first time on such a course. There are plenty of tactics you can employ to get the most out of the experience and up your chances of passing with top marks.

 For example:

  • Arrange a dedicated study area in your home where you can do your university work. Try to find a spot with good lighting, lots of room for all your notes and stationery and plenty of peace and quiet. Investing in an ergonomic chair can also be great for maintaining a good posture and avoiding back pain.
  • Mix things up by working in another location every now and again. Whether it’s a bustling coffee shop or a tranquil library, sometimes a change of scenery can reinvigorate you and help you get a new perspective on your work.
  • Test the waters by taking a free short online course before your master’s begins. This can be a great way to get used to the experience of online learning, figure out your preferred learning style, and practise using some of the software and digital tools it involves.
  • Read blog posts written by other students who have taken an online degree (ideally, the specific one you’re planning on doing) or watch YouTube videos on the topic. This can give you an inside look at distance learning and how to excel at it.
  • Make sure you have a good laptop or desktop computer, plus a strong internet connection!