How to study from home

As of Monday schools across the UK will be formally closed, following an announcement from the Government on Wednesday. Many British independent schools have already made the decision themselves to shut. The summer examinations – GCSEs, A Levels, IB, Pre-U and more – will not take place in May or June, with no confirmation yet on how qualifications will be awarded. Schools in China, Hong Kong, Italy, France, Spain, Ireland and parts of the USA have already closed, and it is expected that more will follow around the world.

Most universities have already closed, moving to online learning and looking at how exams can be taken online through timed assessments, as students leave halls and residential colleges indefinitely.

For all of us – parents, teachers, and students – these are unprecedented and difficult times. Many students will be anxious about their qualifications, with a great deal of uncertainty over how summer assessments will proceed, while many parents have already been in touch with questions about how to best set their children up for remote learning.

As our tutees in Hong Kong and China have been managing online learning since the end of January – we have seen what does and doesn’t work, and what other students could learn from this.

So here’s a guide we hope will help students settle into a productive and well-structured routine during what could be an intensely difficult period. These tips and tricks should be suitable for all ages – whether you a parent of primary-school aged children, an A Level student, or someone now at home from university, without your usual library access.

When should I work?

This seems like an obvious question, but if you have ever been around students on study leave, you will know that timings can often go completely out the window.

Some schools will be offering online classes, in tandem with students’ usual timetable – meaning the school day is structured much the same as before. This seems to be the case predominantly in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea where schools are already well-adapted to online learning. Universities and colleges worldwide also seem to largely be going for this approach.

Whereas schools in the USA and across Europe are broadly opting for a less-structured system, where some video resources, worksheets, lesson plans, and assignments are emailed to students every day or every few days. There is much less ‘real-time’ teaching going on, which can make it much harder for students to structure their days.

Scheduling is key! Create a realistic timetable, which follows the rough patterns of the school day. When you would have a break, take a break. When you would have a free period, have a free period. When you would have a less strenuous or academic subject, do something similar.

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Most importantly: when you wouldn’t be working, don’t work. If you would stop working at 4pm, then stop at 4pm.

Equally, if you have online tuition – or are keen to start – try and move this to during the usual school day, instead of evenings and weekends.

Lots of students have been really tempted to condense their day, skipping the normal breaks to finish earlier. Others have let their days drag on, pushing start times to later meaning school spills over into the evenings. If school is normally 8.30-3.30, keep it as that – routine and structure are incredibly important right now.

If PE or art or music* is on the schedule, but you don’t have any formal work set, do something similar. For PE, go for a walk outside (if safe), find an exercise class online (plenty of free pilates, yoga, and Zumba on YouTube!) or, as plenty of my students in the USA have been doing, go shoot some hoops outside! For art, do something creative – ideally away from a computer screen, like drawing or colouring or cross-stitch or even cooking (one of my students in Hong Kong makes a new beautiful dessert every few days!). For music, curate a Spotify playlist, listen to a new album, or try your hand at instrument you already have.

*For this I don’t mean for students taking PE/art/music as exams – for these, you will want to follow the work being set by teachers.

Where should I work?

Appropriate workspace is something we all take for granted, until we are based at home for an extended period of time. Writing an essay from bed or doing a maths paper sprawled across the sofa might work when you are just doing an hour or so in the evening after school, but it’s not going to work when you have an entire school day’s worth of time to fill.

Create a specific work zone – or zones, if you are lucky and have a few spaces you can work from. If you can, make sure the space where you work is different from where you relax. It’s important to separate work from leisure as much as you can.

If you are lucky enough to have a few spaces where you can work, move between them throughout the day. Do different subjects in different spaces, just to keep your body moving and give you a change of scenery.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have a desk that looks like something you’d find on Pinterest. Pastel notepads and succulents won’t improve your ability to work, however good they look on the Gram. Saying that, a clear workspace is helpful – so try not to let your desk or table get too cluttered if you can help it.

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As many likes as this aesthetic may garner on social media, tiny glass bottles of thumb tacks won’t actually improve your ability to work.

What about breaks?

Most students are moving around throughout the day. It’s very rare that students – at any age – are sat in the same place for six or seven hours a day. So move when you normally would. 

If you would change classrooms or lecture halls every hour, then get up and walk around your house for 5 minutes, before settling back down. If you have another space to go to, then do that, just to break up the monotony.

Make the full use of your lunch hour and don’t be tempted to condense it down to get the day over more quickly. Go for a walk, cook something, do some yoga, read a book, play a video game – but make sure you return to work when you normally would as well.

What about my friends?

This is something students struggle with most. Sure, we are all in contact with our friends and family far more than ever before – but we underestimate how much we engage with our friends and classmates during lessons. There are normally jokes or some general chatting throughout lessons – which is hard to recapture while you’re doing digital learning.

It’s worth video-chatting with your friends – even during lessons, discussing work or collaborating on something together. Some groups I know have used tools like Slack – normally reserved for offices – to create a space for academic/school conversations, separate from more general social chat.

What about siblings or the rest of the house?

A lot of the advice above is great if you are an only child, living in a big house with lots of room to move around. Less so for families with multiple school-aged kids.

I am the eldest of three girls and I can’t imagine what we would have been like cooped up together as teens/pre-teens trying to do online school. For a start, the wifi would have been under immense pressure and there would likely have been some sharp elbows at the dining table as we jostle for space.

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Add in the extra dynamic of parents trying to work from home, who also need space and presumably a strong internet connection, and things get complicated.

If you have a few spaces where people can work in a communal area, create a rota of sorts. It sounds ludicrous, but if you are all moving spaces every 1-2 hours it genuinely does make a huge difference. It also stops too much clutter from accumulating on one desk.

For siblings, look at what can be done together. What can older siblings do to support younger ones? What discussions about a topic could you share? Even just working nearby each other and breaking for chats every hour or so, just to say what you are working on, is useful.

Music? Radio? Television?

This is the age-old question. Whether you are a student or a regular work-from-home person, do you have something on in the background?

At the moment, I don’t recommend the radio or anything with the news on. Check it every once in a while if you want, but it’s quite heavy to have on in the background all the time right now. Go for something light if you do want it on, or even a light podcast you can dip in and out of (No Such Thing As A Fish is great for that).

Music can be great – especially instrumentals (I personally can’t write if there are lyrics playing) – but keep the volume low. It’s there to be background noise, rather than whip up a neighbourhood-wide singalong.

I wouldn’t recommend television at all while you are working. Netflix is a dangerous thing – it first hit it big in the UK while I was in year 13 and mid-revision… There was a lot more Orange is the New Black than King Lear for me. Keep it to the evenings.

Should we start tuition? Should we do more?

Well, you’re reading this on the website for private tuition – so obviously we think this is a good thing. But I wouldn’t go overboard and start booking in 20 hours of tutoring a week.

There will be lots of companies trying to garner as much business as possible, but be sparing. Do you really need three hours a day, five days a week? Or is an hour session a week – or even 90 minutes a fortnight – a better way to structure things?

Consider what you need to know, what learning you are finding difficult. A tutor can work well as a regular check-in, ensuring students are keeping on track and focused. Morning sessions might be a good choice for students who struggle to get going, while for others a session at the end of the day to consolidate their knowledge might be best.

At MH Tuition, we offer regular and ad hoc sessions – so there’s no need to commit to regular tuition straight away. We have tutors available for every conceivable subject, ability, and age-group. All our tutors specialise in online tuition, regularly working with students around the world to provide the highest quality lessons.

Increasingly we have options for group sessions, across a range of subjects, which can bring the costs right down.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch today and arrange a phone call with Marthe to discuss the tuition you need.