Tips for Being a Successful Student Who Happens to Have MS
Last updated: October 2022
I have spent so many years in school that at this point, it’s just best not to think about it too much. I can’t help it! I love learning new things, but I can’t wait to graduate with my Master’s degree in May. It has been extremely challenging at times to balance everything including family, household responsibilities, finances, work, studying, and MS. My diagnosis came quite unexpectedly during graduate school. This is a pretty common story because MS is most commonly diagnosed during a person’s 20s and 30s. Unfortunately, that is the age when many of us are still getting through school and starting careers. I had to readjust several things in my life in order to stay in school. I am very lucky that I am able to keep going, and I am grateful because I know not everyone can.
Scheduling around appointments and changing study habits
It takes a lot of sacrifice and planning, but I am determined to get it done! I now schedule all my doctor appointments around my exams. I have altered my study habits and have even had to rework my budget to accommodate student loans and the staggering cost of all my required medical care. It isn’t easy, but education is worth the hassle for me. Compensating for cognitive issues in order to be a successful student is extremely challenging, but I have adopted some strategies that have really helped. Some of my fellow MSers who are also wading through school have shared their study tips with me, too. Together, we made a list of 15 strategies for being a successful student, despite the challenges MS can bring:1
1. Highlight and underline
I always read and re-read every lecture until I can’t stand looking at it anymore. While I do that, I underline everything I don’t already know, then highlight things I REALLY don’t know and need to spend the most time going over before the exam.
2. Read out loud
When you feel your mind wandering and seem to be re-reading the same sentence over and over again, try reading the material out loud. If this drives your family nuts, well, that’s just an added bonus (just kidding, love you guys!).
3. Record lectures
If your teacher allows it, record the lecture on your smartphone or with a recording device. Listen to it again at home while you are studying your notes or even just doing chores. I also like to listen to them while I’m driving in the car.
4. Make a color-coded calendar
Organization is absolutely key. I use Google Calendar and have a color-coded system. School deadlines are in green, bills are in yellow, birthdays are purple, and social events are pink. I would never know where to go or what to do without my calendar! Color-coded Post-It notes are also essential, and you’ll find them littered all over my desk!
5. Work around fatigue
Are you fatigued all the time, or do you tend to have a good hour after your morning coffee? Know yourself and make school a priority when you are feeling good. Schedule study sessions for the time of day that you are least fatigued.
6. Study early and often
Start studying at least 1 week before the exam. The days of cramming are over for me! It just adds stress, and I can’t possibly memorize a ton of information quickly anymore. Instead, I divide it into manageable amounts of material and spread out the studying over 7 or more days.
Mnemonics are a popular way to memorize information. I personally find that they can sometimes help me get through an exam, but I always tend to forget the information again within a couple of days.
8. Don’t just memorize, understand the concept
Once you understand a concept it’s harder to forget. Rote memorization is only a short term solution.
9. Use pictures to understand concepts
Teachers include pictures in their lectures for a reason - they help information stick! Some teachers even have students draw pictures of what they are learning, and studies have shown that this method is effective. For instance, if I was trying to understand how a medication lowers a fever, I could draw a little picture to help it stick in my head.
10. Resist the urge to procrastinate
You never know if you are going to feel terrible tomorrow, or forget to do the assignment all together if you put it off. Never leave for tomorrow what you can do today! Reply to e-mails as you get them, complete papers ahead of the due date, etc. You’ll thank yourself later!
11. Schedule your errands ahead of time
I plan which days I will run each errand for the week, and coordinate them with my study sessions whenever possible. For example, I like to study in the morning but I know I generally lose my ability to concentrate around lunch, so that’s when I’ll plan on running to the grocery store.
12. Don’t forget to bring assignments to class
Print out/gather any assignments that you need to bring with you to class the night before and leave them by your keys so you are less likely to forget them.
13. Know yourself and your symptoms
Keep a journal for a week and try to find patterns. Then, make your schedule around them, not the other way around. I feel better in the morning, and tend to get fatigued and have headaches the later into the day I go, so I like to schedule classes for as early as possible. But it takes me a long time to get going in the morning, so I always make sure to be up a couple of hours before I have to be out the door. Everyone is different, but remember the goal is to learn and better yourself. That’s hard to do if you aren’t taking care of your body. Do everything you can to make life a bit easier.
14. Plan easy and healthy meals for the week
Knowing what you are having for dinner each day ahead of time takes the stress of planning away. It also lessens the chance that you eat takeout or junk food, which just makes you feel worse down the line! Stay hydrated, and set aside time to exercise and relax. It helps to reduce stress, and it’s just as important as getting good grades!
15. Make the commitment
We all have a million better things to do instead of study, but in order to succeed, you have to make school the priority. Remember, it’s only temporary!
Do you know what it’s like to be a student living with MS? Let us know what your experience was like, and what you did in order to be successful!
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