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Strategies for students at TAFE and University

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First of all, well done! If you are looking at this page I hope it is because you are thinking of going to TAFE or uni, or you are already there. That means you’ve already achieved a lot, and you deserve to be congratulated.

Tertiary study is a big step, which may feel both scary and exciting. It will put you outside your comfort zone and a whole lot more. But you shouldn’t let that put you off. If you have a life goal that requires further study, the effort will be worth it. So you’re dyslexic. So what!? You can do it – but it will take hard work, determination and (for me at least) organisation.

I didn’t know I was dyslexic until I was through first semester of my Masters degree. I had made it through my Bachelors degree prior to my diagnosis by using a heap of strategies. These included:

  • Support from friends and family – I leant on my mum and friends inside and outside of uni for help. I found some very smart friends, and also some people who were struggling like me and we would pool our skills together. My mum was always a good sounding board for anything I was learning, and would quiz me before exams.
  • Studying in a small group – I always found that studying with people helped me with assignments.
  • Exam preparation – At exam time I preferred to study alone. Exams were always stressful because my handwriting was terrible, I couldn’t spell big words and getting my thoughts on paper in the right sequence took a lot of time.
  • Readings – I never got through all the readings and hated going to some classes where they would call your name off the roll and ask you about a reading or ask you to read a passage!

Once I was diagnosed, I learnt more strategies that helped me. You  might find them helpful too:

  • Tutoring – Having a tutor for subjects that I knew I would have difficulty in (for me, that meant accounting, biostatistics and epidemiology).
  • Discussing my needs with lecturers – I made sure to tell my lecturers at the start of each semester that I had difficulties. They were generally keen to help and would negotiate accommodations.
  • Exam accommodations – I asked for extended time for exams. I did this through the university disability service. I found this a little bit stressful because I’d never seen myself as a person with a disability. However, it was important to do my best and I eventually felt empowered by my choices and ability to get the help I needed.
  • Proofreading – I always had someone proofread my work.
  • Assignments – As much as I could, I would draft my assignments before I wrote the final version.
  • Planning – I broke tasks up into manageable size pieces and did them in the right sequence.
  • Choosing a quiet study environment – I did my study in quiet places so I wasn’t easily distracted – no coffee shops!

There are other strategies that might be helpful for you:

  • Reading lists – Ask for reading lists before semester starts to get a head start on the reading. Also, ask what the essential texts are and start with them.
  • Mind maps – Use mind/concept maps to get what you’re learning into a visual format.
  • Assistive technology – Check out assistive technology like Speech to Text and reading pens.
  • Alternative assessment options – Talk to your lecturers about other ways of assessing your understanding of the course. Is it possible to do a verbal exam, video recording or presentation?
  • Start early – Give yourself plenty of time to complete tasks so you don’t become overwhelmed.
  • Submit drafts – Ask if it’s okay to submit drafts for review – and then make sure you draft.
  • Ask for help – Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t know if you don’t try.
  • Access support – Meet with your disability support service. This way you can be allocated a caseworker who can help you advocate for what you need to succeed.
  • Assessment accommodations – Find out about what adjustments can be made for assignments and exams. Your lecturers and disability support can help you to find out what you’re eligible for.
  • Handling stress – See a counsellor or psychologist to help you with your time management, organisational skills, stress and anxiety. This is especially important during busy times and exam time.

You might find What’s in A Label useful to help you find out what services a diagnosis can connect you to at TAFE or university.

Study Skills for Students with Dyslexia by Sandra Hargreaves an excellent resource for students in year 11 abd 12, TAFE and University.

Study Strategies for Students with Dyslexia is a resource compiled by Lois MacCullagh from ideas provided by students from Macquarie University – some them have dyslexia and some don’t.

For more information, watch the Study Strategies for Students with Dyslexia clip.