How I was successful…

Cameron Paige MSc graduationFormer External study student Cameron Paige graduates with an MSc Sociology (Research) from the LSE, presented by LSE director, Howard Davies. In this blog she shares the secrets of her success…

A few years back, sitting on a train home from work, I pulled out one of my study books and set about highlighting everything I deemed important. After a short while, a man sitting across from me leaned over and said:

“You highlight too much. You’ll never learn like this.”

He had an all-knowing, benevolent smile. He wished well. Unfortunately, he didn’t know me. I had a system. The system worked for me. I’d underline whole sentences so I could read the book again comfortably, block-highlighting only the key words. I’d even highlight random words across the page so, when read together, they made for coherent sentences and smooth argument flow. I had four different colours of highlighters for different levels of discussion within a piece of text: yellow for major themes, green for sub-points within those themes, pink for juicy detail and orange for counter-arguments. Occasionally, I’d throw in blue or purple for good measure as well. I had four colours of Post-its I used in a similar fashion, labelling them with a key word so I could easily find any argument I’d read and couldn’t perfectly recall. In a similar fashion, one of my friends had a system of his own. Every time he picked up a study book, he’d pull out his highlighter (he only used yellow), and block out the title and the author’s name.

“You’re supposed to highlight the important stuff,” he’d say a little belligerently if anyone tried giving him a funny look. And he was right.

The point of this lengthy introduction should be quite clear by now: it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you do it and it works for you. What might have been a waste of time to somebody else, for me was vital preparation. Yes, I spent ages underlining and making labels. But once that was done, I could whizz through a book again and again in no time. By the time the exams came around, I would have read all my study books once cover to cover, at least three times the highlighted gist of it, and about ten times the key words. The day before the exam, I could pull out my notes and do a complete revision of a subject within an hour. Because by then, I didn’t have to search and read whole paragraphs. By then, a single word underlined in orange or green was enough. And if it wasn’t, I knew exactly on what I had to read up.

Here, then, is my second point: there’s no substitute for studying, no easy fix. I can tell you what I did to keep on top of my studying: I found a library I liked and made sure it was my ‘happy place’. The staff were nice, the chairs were comfortable, and there was a great cafe right outside. I got up early and exercised before hitting the books. I ate well, slept well, and made sure I took regular breaks. I carried pocketfuls of apples and energy bars with me everywhere. I gave myself Friday evenings and Saturdays off, no exceptions. If the weather was good, I took my notes to the park. If it was bad, I made myself cocoa and read curled up in a blanket on the sofa. But I was never without the books. I watched no TV, I rationed my time with friends. I imposed on my partner and made sure everyone knew that degree was my top most priority. I was lucky that my family and friends were understanding, for I must have been insufferable.

The third and my final point is this: be nice to yourself. Know what you want, and arrange your life to make it happen. You cannot drift through your time with the External System, it’s not that kind of a degree. But if you can take the responsibility for your studies, then at the end of it you’ll find you’ve managed to get your life in order too. Keep up the good work. And good luck!

Cameron Paige

Cameron graduated with First Class Honours in BSc Sociology in 2008, receiving the Academic Achievement Award 2007 and 2008, the Graduate Merit Award, and the 150th Anniversary Award, and went on to study MSc Sociology (Research) at the LSE. To do justice to all the grounding the External System has given her, in 2009 she completed that degree with distinction, and was awarded the Hobhouse Memorial Prize in recognition of achieving the best overall performance in the Department of Sociology Masters’ programmes. She currently works as a Clinical Research Associate, single-handedly project-managing a major study for NHS Blood and Transplant. To put all this in perspective, five years ago she had no higher education and was working as a kitchen porter. So there you have it.


28 Responses to How I was successful…

  1. Aisha says:

    The part about using highlighters and having a colour-coded system felt like I was talking to myself! That is pretty much how i study — expect I don’t go into the detailed notes.

    This post is very motivating, it hits the point, there really is no easy fix!

    Thanks Cameron!

  2. Kimia says:

    Such a motivating and inspiring story! Congratulations Cameron and thanks a lot for sharing your story with us! 🙂

  3. Nadia says:

    I envy her life.

  4. Ipsita says:

    Congratulations Cameron! I am sure this will inspire many young external system undergraduates to appreciate the quality of the programme and aspire to be the best. It is always possible to reach out for the stars if you are prepared to take that one small leap.

  5. Albert Cheong says:

    The information Cameron shared was very helpful.

    I started as an external student and have three courses to complete the BSc. but work, family and other activities have really taken a toll on my studies.

    Thanks for teh tips

  6. Vitor Novaes says:

    You go girl!

    You are such an inspiration for those students starting their degrees, Cameron!

    Congratulations for your success


  7. Franzene P. says:

    Thanks Cameron! Just when I was beginning to fall into a study slump, this piece was highly motivational 🙂

  8. Jehan ben yousef says:

    I cried thanks for sharing the story

  9. Ogunyemi Olakunle says:

    This is motivating, now I feel I can get back on my feet and do justice to my studies. Once again thank you cameron for sharing your story.

  10. adedayo idowu says:

    thanks cameron.just when am starting to think ve being wasting my time with my study pattern, cos ve got a similar study method. sharing this really do help. wishing you the best in ur future endeavors.

  11. Haryati says:

    Hi Cameron

    Congratulations again on your success!
    Your story really motivates me and puts everything back in perspective. I was kinda disappointed upon receiving my poor results from 1st year and started to doubt myself. The added stress from work and attention from family and friends didn’t help at all. Until I read your story and I suddenly remembered why I take up this degree in the first place.

    Thank you for your motivating story that reminds me that I’m not the only ONE! 😉

  12. Aaron says:

    Amazing Thanks will Study Harder Today …and very I am motivated by your journey !

  13. Priya says:

    I wished I had read this post earlier..better read than is indeed very inspirational and i guess there is always an opportunity costs..itz my last yr next yr but will study harder to get gd grades to help boost my grades for a better degree..thanks alot cameron..

  14. Wade Cason says:

    A Clear sincere Story! Brilliant! It has inspired me and will inspire millions of others if passed along.

    This story indicates what we as individuals can achieve if we are disciplined and self motivated!

    The Journey to my degree has gotten a lot more exciting.

    Many thanks to Cameron

  15. Prince Williams Mawanda says:

    Inspiring story! obviously am changing some routines come next academic year.

    Thanks Cameron

  16. Magdalene says:

    Very encouraging!! Thank you.

  17. Bhurinder Gill says:

    Fantastic story, and that’s what it’s all about. Being determined, focus and looking at the bigger picture, your long term goals…and above all thinking..why can’t that be me..

    Well done, Cameron !!

  18. Min Jia says:

    nice story. but i don’t know why it didnt work well for me in my first year UoL. I’m a direct entry year 2 and just got my results.

    I found a nice study method that suited me and used it since 2 years ago before i entered university. it worked nicely 2 years ago (with improved results) and backfired on me this year in UoL very badly.

    any advice? you can find me @
    thanks 🙂

  19. Louis Gbayan says:

    Congrats. I pray to be like you dear campaige. Just starting mine. Though for those whom it may work for,personally, I take down the notes with my pen any 1hr free period I have. I then revise it from my notebook taking special attention of economic theories n doing more investigative work thereafter

  20. Adrian Adams says:

    Brilliant, well done Cameron. Definitely inspiring.

  21. I solute your pAsSion!! Cameron…hatsofF to you.

  22. Jethro C says:

    Well done Cams. Thanks for the inspirational story. i have been feeling low the last couple of weeks and have had no motivation to read after a fired up start. I am into my 2nd year and i want good results. I will go for it now, thanks to you!!!

  23. Congratulations Cameron!
    I would like to ad that, this is why I believe in hard work. I live in country with a populist president who stimulates people to ignorance. The ordinary people have all reasons for everything, not to study. To study is not a good idea for populist governants.
    You are really an inspiration, and the prove that finding the best way for studying, is still the best road to sucess. I will follow your suggests!
    Adalto (from Brazil)

  24. Joel CJ says:

    Brilliant story and glad to hear that it all paid off.
    It’s true, that kind of dedication is needed to gain a first class degree/Masters distinction. I’m currently trying to make sure that I get enough done each day (especially as I’m starting relatively late) and it is hard to keep concentrating unless you give yourself the right breaks.

    I tend to write in a lot of colours when making my notes. Not so fond of highlighters as I tend to just highlight away without really thinking about what I’m reading, so I read, go over it, make coloured note and read on. For anyone who can get a hold of them, look into getting Krammers – little notes you can keep on a keyring. They are very good for helping you ingest the knowledge because you can whip them out at any time of the day and read them.

  25. ADESHINA says:

    Hi Cameron,

    What a great inspiration you past to the students behind you in UOL. We appreciate this and wish you well in your fusture endevour. thanks & God bless. i am a new student with lot of challenges; work & environment but i still believe i can do it and i will definately get it done…….. Trust me!

  26. ADEDOYIN says:

    Thank you for sharing this , I appreciate.

  27. David says:

    Thanks Cameron for pointing out that it is the system of study that works for us that matters and not what works for everyone. I found studying a bit too slow and hard with balancing work and family commitments. Consequently missed exams because I was not ready. Gearing up for another assault at the task!!! I really need this.

  28. David McKinnon says:

    Clearly, it’s not easy to organise yourself and to come up with systems which help you to achieve so highly but, for me, a vastly understated practice is that of maintaining a healthy body. It is absolutely the foundation of solid brain work and should be considered as crucial as learning how to highlight and take notes from books.

    Especially loved reading that this level of academic achievement was reached by someone who comes from a non academic background.


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