Enduring Advice

Back when I first enrolled in my AU program, I read some advice from a student who was approaching the end of her studies. That student, Dawne, wanted to leave some parting words to encourage other students. In addition to her own words of encouragement, Dawne also included words of advice another student had posted years earlier—advice that kept Dawne going through the years it took her to finish her degree.

Not everyone at AU is on the same journey. We start at different times and take different paths to different destinations. However, we are all bound together by a common thread. We’re all unique, but we’re all learning.

Some of what we learn along our journey doesn’t come from AU. Sometimes the most valuable learning comes from each other. That’s why we congregate on social media and read student interviews in The Voice Magazine. Sometimes we hear or read suggestions or advice that come at the right time—words that just fit.

I found Dawne’s post inspiring when I read it in 2013. I copied it into a computer file so I could always access it. I haven’t followed all the advice in the post, but I read it often during times when I need some inspiration and direction. The original post is no longer available online, having disappeared when AUSU eliminated the former student forums from its website a few years ago.

Some of the advice is dated, but most is still relevant. Here is the original post, from May 16, 2013; the imbedded earlier post is undated:

After five and a half years, my AU experience has come to an end. In that time, I completed a University Diploma in Arts and a Bachelor of Arts degree. I am heading to convocation on June 6th.

At times, I thought convocation would never happen but now, as I reflect back on the experience, it was extremely rewarding and I obtained a life-long goal. I had been away from any formal schooling for a very long time and when the first package of course materials arrived, I sat and stared at it, wondering what had I got myself into. Over time, I found a routine that worked and plugged away at courses, feeling a greater sense of accomplishment with each one I completed.

I was trying to think of something really inspiring to write for those who are still working on their degrees and then I remembered a quote a former student posted when he completed his degree. I printed this quote and kept it nearby as I worked through my courses. I think he touched on many of the points that we face as students and provided some great advice.

[tnagel quote] Parting tips from a successful student? Here you go:
• Don’t read everything. Don’t feel guilty about not reading everything.
• If you can fulfill the “Learning Objectives”, you’re good. Stop studying.
• On multiple choice exams, the questions are almost certain to be the same as the end-of-chapter self-tests. Do these questions over and over until you can get 100%. This is the best study tactic I’ve found.
• Write on only one side of the page in exam books. Ask for another book if you need it. The backs of pages are great for inserting extra blocks of text or re-writing things you’re not happy with.
• Take self-directed study courses where you can, especially if you’ve worked with the prof before.
• When you get close to the end of your degree and have option courses to complete, there are lots of courses that don’t have final exams. I got sick of writing exams and was able to take no-exam courses for my last 6. It was an awesome break. Look in the forums here for courses that don’t have exams.
• If it seems too hard, there’s probably a better way.
• Ask for help, here in the forums or from your tutors.
• Don’t put up with late marking on your assignments. Prod your laggard tutor with an email, and if there’s no response, send an email to this magic address: tutserv@athabascau.ca . The few times I’ve had to use this email address, I’ve got a response (and usually a marked assignment) in less than 24 hours. I’ve never had any negative effects (like revenge marking) through a politely worded complaint to this email address. Remember, if you don’t hold tutors to account on marking times, the service will be poorer for everyone.
• Set a specific objective, even if it’s small, every time you sit down at your books. This avoids aimless “timewasting” study time, where you think you’re studying but you’re really procrastinating and feeling sorry for yourself.
• Set a VERY detailed schedule for every one of your courses and STICK TO IT.

What would I do differently? Well, I’ve found that most courses can be completed in a month of INTENSE work. I wish that I’d have ordered a course, completed it in a month, and then taken a month off, free and clear, with no studying. With this one month on, one month off strategy, I would have completed, on average 18 credits per year, which means I would have completed my degree in six years (I had some transfer credits). This might not work for everyone, though.

I wish everyone success in their studies and know that in the end, the hard work does eventually pay off.


I can’t remember if I thanked Dawne for both her advice and for passing along that of “tnagel”. I know from the comments on her post that many students found it inspiring. Over the years, I’ve heard others mention this post and I was glad that I’d had the foresight to save it and the ability to share it. I think both contributors would be pleased to know that their words continue to inspire.

Since I’m approaching the end of my own AU program—I’ll finish my BGS in Spring 2018—I’ll add my own words of advice to those above:
• Write the top five reasons why you are pursuing your education and post this where you can see it. You will have dark days when you need reminding why you’re doing this.
• If some of your courses require essays, take an English composition course, such as ENGL 255, as one of your first courses. There’s a reason why this course is a requirement of many programs.
• Always contact your tutor before an exam to ask for guidance. They often can help you focus your study efforts, which will save you time and anxiety.
• Reward yourself for milestones. Whatever your personal hurdles are, whether it’s assignments or exams or finishing a course, plan a treat for yourself when you achieve it.
• Hang out on social media (but not too much!) There are often important tidbits of information, study tips, and motivating stories on AU-related channels on Facebook, Twitter, The Landing, The Voice Magazine, and others.

My final word of advice, and this applies to life as well as school, is to enjoy the journey—the destination is a fleeting moment, but the journey endures.

Did someone inspire you? Or do you have any advice you think would inspire students just beginning their AU journey? Contact voice@voicemagazine.org and we’ll share your inspiring stories with our readers.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario.