First time studying since school & I'm completely lost

I am studying the level 5 diploma & attended my first workshop 5RST at the end of May; since then Ive been swallowed in the busy world of work, children & life. My first assignment is due to be submitted on 5th July & I havent even started.  Honestly, I think Ive put it off because Im scared. I left school well over 20 years ago & never attended uni or anything so quite simply put I have no idea where to start. I dont know how to write an assignment or reference (although I think the latter isnt really an issue) It just feels like an absolute mine field.  Having worked at HR BP & HRM levels for over 8 years its not that I dont understand the content its just working out how to put it all into the correct context. My career to date has been one of a very hands on generalist & analysis of data etc has been restricted to internal requirements so comparing labour trend markets right now just fries my brain. 

Is there anyone who can offer some guidance, tips, tricks, advice or a miracle??

Thanks in advance

  • Hi Marie,

    I too am new to this world of studying and I’m also new to HR. It’s a complete career change for me and although I’m doing a different course to you, I can safely say you are not alone!
    I submitted my first assignment a few weeks ago and got caught up in the tornado of worry and stress. Being my first written document in over 20 years, it felt very daunting. I also had the added stress of changing the organisation I was writing about as the one I picked initially just wasn’t a true fit for the areas I needed to focus on. I literally gave myself less than two weeks to do the assignment and that just made my stress even worse.

    I would suggest you start writing something for each section of your assignment. At this stage, what you write won’t need to be pretty or be within word allowance, but treat it as your template. Look at the assignment questions - do they ask you to identify or perhaps describe? It could be that you need more in depth answer for the ‘describe’ than what you may need to answer for an ‘identify’ question so really understand what it is they are asking.

    You may also need to do some research for each section which can take some time so prepare to work for a certain amount of time, but give yourself some natural breaks to grab a cup of tea or lunch.
    I really benefited from some examples that my tutor gave which allowed me to understand what they were visually looking for. That helped me shape the style of document, adding graphics and tables where necessary. Have you got similar tutor support or examples?

    When you have your template as such, read over it and see if you have room for improvement. Can a long sentence be reduced perhaps?

    Look at the questions the other students are asking and can you too benefit from the replies others are offering?

    You will also need to consider the referencing for level 5 - we have to ensure Harvard referencing is done within the document within my course and maybe that’s the same for yours? There are websites out there that can help you understand how to do this.

    Get someone to review your work, they maybe able to streamline your document or give you extra areas for consideration. Do you have someone you can go to for this?

    Finally, I put the usual day to day chores off for a bit so I allowed myself to fully focus on the assignment. It was a week of chaos trying to source children’s school uniforms from a mountain of ironing but it’s a small price to pay for that moment where you get to press submit on that assignment. That Marie, feels very good indeed ;-)

    Good luck, don’t give up and I promise you the next one will mentally feel a little bit easier!
  • I feel your pain.

    I'm doing RST now as I type, second to last assignment, and just feel like winging my laptop out of the window and giving up, I want my life back!

    No real advice as Im currently in my 2nd year of what should be a year long course so I won't share any time management tips (none, I'm only able to concentrate on the course for about 6 hours a week)

    Ive tried a few approaches to the assignments.......jotting some ideas down first and then expanding on them bit by bit.......drafting the full assignment more or less and padding it out......I seem to struggle with word count.

    I'm actually finding that not faffing with notes, mind-maps etc is making it a bit easier (feels like 3 assignments in one doing it that way) and my approach is now - new word doc, write the assignment usually including WAY too much information, then whittling it down. Organised chaos, which is the story of my life really :D

    Also - not sure if this makes any difference when being assessed, but I'm using "for me XXXXX means..." "to me this demonstrates XXXX". I also noticed some of the assignment questions conflicted with the criteria e.g. in EML one of the assignment questions is delivering an awareness session on recent maternity changes, but the criteria states "outline maternity provisions" - 2 different things. So I started the assignment off with "the brief was to deliver a training session on recent maternity changes" - to draw attention to the fact that I did answer the actual brief given. (was difficult to answer both due to word count)

    Also be aware that the word count isn't necessarily evenly split throughout the assignments - some criteria only demands a few sentences really (may depend on the provider)

    Citethisforme is the website Im using for referencing. I did the first few assignments before I found this website.....there were tears....

    Good luck, once you get the first assignment out of the way and get a feel for the whole thing it does get a bit easier.
  • Hi Marie

    There are a couple of big differences between professional study as an adult and your schooldays.

    Firstly, you are a customer now and can choose whether to study or not and which institution to patronise. Therefore, you are entitled to ask them for whatever help you need or you aren't getting value for money. On their side, they want to attract more students and want to be able to cite high pass rates, so it is in their commercial interest to help you pass.

    Of course, they won't do the assignment for you, but your tutors should be able to give you quite detailed guidance in what they are looking for. I did an MBA some years ago and you could take tutors an essay plan and get their feedback on whether it would answer the question or there was something vital you had omitted. There was one tutor who shared his marking scheme so you knew to include more detail on the part worth 40 marks than the part worth 10 marks. Try talking to your tutors to find out what they would be willing to do - you will not be the first student who has not studied since school. They should certainly tell you what format to use and the conventions on references.

    The other point to remember is that you only need to pass. If the pass mark is 45% and you get 46%, that's good enough. I'm not actually advising you to aim at 1% over the pass mark, but if you are studying at the same time as working, the important thing is to get the tick in the box and move on. I learned this when one of my fellow MBA students observed to me that I'd get an assignment written and then spend days polishing it to get an extra 5% - what a waste of time! Good enough is good enough.
  • Hi Marie,

    I've always found that starting with good old fashioned pen and paper helped me rather than staring at blank word document - personally nothing stresses me out more than a blank word document.

    I would just start writing the first thing that popped into my head in a notepad and go from there as my starting point (even if was complete nonsense). I found that approach got the "messy" thoughts out of my system and I could start to focus my thought pattern and gradually the good stuff came out. And with pen and paper you don't end up hitting the delete button every other sentence. I also found with pen and paper I could sit somewhere more comfy initially rather than at my desk.

    Once I had some initial scribbles down on paper I would move to my desk and start bashing away at the keyboard and getting some words onto that blank document.

    If you can go and work somewhere different as well rather than staring at the same 4 walls that can help.

    Good luck with your assignment and hopefully you find some of the advice given helpful.
  • Hi Marie

    I am even older than you.....I left school in 1984 and in 1988 I did a BTEC National in Business Studies, Finance and Law. Since then, nothing.

    Then at the end of September last year, I did my ILM Level 3 Diploma in Leadership and Management and finished in February. No Harvard referencing etc, so pretty straightforward.

    On 1 April, I started my 100% online CIPD Level 5 Diploma in HR Management and I have completed 2 out of the 8 assignments.

    This is a huge leap, in my opinion, from the Level 3 I have just completed and I often feel like throwing my laptop out of the window. However, I also feel quite chuffed with myself for even doing the course at my age and especially as I am not in a HR role.

    So, pat yourself on the back, concentrate on what you are achieving and how well you are doing to have got this far, have a HUGE glass of wine (or if you are like me, VODKA) and ask for help from your course tutors. That is what they are there for and I am sure they will put your mind at rest.

  • Hi Marie,

    I also just started studying but level 5 Learning and Development, I never studied and built my career on the job. I wouldn't be surprised if I'm the oldest here.

    Anyhow, are you studying with ICS? I'm not very happy about their website structure. I felt overwhelmed and I think it became better. I felt the need to create the structure for successive learning by myself.

    What I do: I first check the activities I have to fulfill. With these in mind I know what I am looking for in all the sources I come across. Relevant parts I note in the following tools.

    • OneDrive to save my MS Office Files
    • Excel as my CPD (for me better than the blog) because I can sort, filter and use colours. So I can control what I should read, prepare, create and so on. Even leave a link, if I have to read something later.
    • OneNote to collect my notes, articles, images, charts, videos in one place.

    I gave myself time. I don't know if everybody needs this but for me it is always good to let settle all the information I get. As soon as I had the impression that I can do a part of my activity, I did so. My presentation needed the least work in time but it received content over many days.

    I know that you feel nervous now because your assessment is on 05/07/2019. Can you ask for more time? Ask yourself what you need to get yourself better organised and guided.

    Step by step.

    Heads up and kind regards,


  • Elizabeth's post resonated with me for a number of reasons.

    I went to do my DPM in what is now a university. A novel experience for me as a forty year old as I'd left school with one GCE.

    I was totally thrown by the esoteric questions and the fact that the tutors wanted "5000 words by next Friday", sort of thing. I'd never written an essay in my life and I was annoyed that they placed so much value on writing long essays, when far more accurate assessments of your knowledge could be assessed by other methods. I was used to answering questions which had specific answers or ticking box A, B or C sort of thing.

    Early on I got an essay returned by our 'training' tutor as he told me it looked like a, "consultants handout", well actually I'd been a consultant and on this particular topic I knew I knew far more than him but getting down in a few thousand words in an essay format, for me, was impossible. However, banging my head against the wall wasn't going to get me anywhere and whilst I felt like taking the arrogant man behind the wall and banging his head against the wall too I refrained.

    Like Elizabeth says, as I was the customer, I asked a couple of the more approachable staff for help and got directed to another staff member who explained to me how to write an essay. I found some of the post grad, students found writing them easy and relatively simply. Indeed one passed me an old book where a previous student had blocked out several paragraphs with the remark; "Copy this and you'll get a B + for the assignment B19".

    So ask, insist indeed - and you'll get help. The essay style writing was a total handicap to me but I managed in the end - and got my DPM.
  • Referencing is an utter pain in the neck, but it does follow some rules. You should search on the website of the learning provider for their official referencing guidelines as although "Harvard" is standard, lots of institutions have their own minior variations.

    As for writing assignments, there's a good rule of thumb I've followed for years:

    1. Say what you're going to say.

    The introduction should be an executive summary of the contents of the essay, e.g. "In this essay I will argue that the introduction of Shared Parental Leave has been a failure because..."

    2. Say it.

    Whatever you said you were going to say in the introduction, say it. You should be sure to consider and eliminate the counter-arguments, e.g. "it has been argued by [Academic Source] (Reference) that this was not the case, because X, Y and Z. However, when we review the data, we can see that fewer than 2% of couples has actually etc etc".

    Don't say anything you didn't say you were going to say in the introduction. If you find yourself doing so, either stop or re-write the introduction to include this other thing.

    3. Say what you've said.

    It can be helpful to write your conclusion first. Repeat your introduction, with emphasis. "In conclusion, the thing that I said was the thing is definitely the thing, because if it wasn't the thing, then it wouldn't be the thing, but it is, so it is." (circular reasoning supplied here for comic effect; do not use in real life).
  • I have been in HR 22 years and have already completed Certificate in Personnel Practice (previously Level 3), NVQ 4 (no longer recognised by CIPD) as well as a degree, yet I still initially struggled to get going with the level 5.
    As others have provided good advice above, get in touch with your tutor or equivalent for further support. I had a Coach/Assessor who would go through the assignment with me and then I would provide a draft so I could check if I was on the right lines and if there was anything further I might need to add. I was also really lucky in that I work in a large HR team who are all qualified at Level 5 or above so I had their support as well as an allocated mentor within the team.
    There are good study guides available in the student section of the CIPD website and I also found some helpful study skills books (some recommended in my core texts).
    I have a 50 year old colleague who hadn't studied since leaving school who did really well on their level 7 (though she did have some help from her daughter who was also at uni around the same time!) so it can be done.
  • Hi Marie
    Sorry to hear this but please do not beat yourself up! You are not alone, what you are going through is very common. My advice to you is:
    1 Contact your centre and talk to your advisor
    2 Take a deep breath and look at the assessment criteria for the unit
    3 Do little things like - create a template document for all your reports. Think about the presentation your name, the unit title, date submitted, word count.
    4 Then use the learning outcomes to structure the report with the learning outcome being a section heading then the assessment criteria being a sub heading - for example
    Learning Outcome 3 Understand how to maximize employee retention
    3.1 Explain why people choose to leave or remain employed by organisations and the costs associated with dysfunctional employee turnover.
    3.2 Assess the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches to the retention of talent.

    So my real advice is to take a deep breath and break down this elephant into smaller chunks.

    Good luck!
  • In reply to Maureen Scholefield:

    I have just started my level 5 - and doing this online. I have never studied and totally lost with the 1st assessment and its 3000 words :-(

    I was wondering if you can get private tutoring? just to get me started?
  • Johanna

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    25 Jun, 2019 15:41

    Hi Marie, this is not unusual at all, so don't think you're alone in this. On the plus side you have lots of really useful practical experience to draw from so that's going to stand you in good stead. Lots of good advice here from community members and here are some tips from our website too: www.cipd.co.uk/.../study-guides
  • In reply to Nicola:

    It seems you don't get as much support online - do you have any kind of Tutor, Forum or similar?
    Are you stand alone or in a small HR team? As I had really good support from the rest of my (large) HR team and had a designated mentor.
  • In reply to Clare:

    I have a few people in the team who have done Level 5, but don't like to ask too much with it being my 1st assessment done want them to think i'm cheating my asking them to help me. plus we are a new team and only been working together for 5 months. the online tutor is good, forums are good just feel like i need someone in person the explain everything and what is expected from the answers, and how to format things and how to reference stuff. :-( At the minute i'm just doing the 1st activity on the CIPD Map and struggling already - Do i pull the information from the map and reference it, or do I actually have write my owns words.

    If anyone knows of anyone in manchester area that offer tutoring, I would like to know more :-)
  • In reply to Nicola:

    I see. It's not necessarily cheating . I found my team really helpful in explaining it and applying it in the context of the workplace - pointers of examples to evidence in my assignment etc. So more of a steer and guidance than actually doing it for me.
    I found the same - whilst Coach/Assessor was good I needed to understand it in the context of my own workplace.
    I found the CIPD student section really useful for referencing guides etc. Even though I had completed a degree it was over 20 years ago and in quite a different subject.
    I'm not very good at putting things in my own words and too reliant on texts etc. However you should be able to reference what you are writing about.