October 29, 2020

How to Successfully Self-Teach Yourself a Subject

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Today you are going to learn how you can successfully self-teach yourself a school subject.

Have you ever wondered how you or someone you care about can independently study a subject and go on to score a good grade in an external examination?

In this post, I intend to share with you what I did personally to successfully self-study a number of high school level subjects.

I will also show you what you need to be doing to become a successful private candidate following your self-teaching.

I am a great fan of homeschooling and self-education so I preach it at the least opportunity. Are you one of those who desire to study at home as a means to achieving their educational and life goals?

Then this post is good news for you.

My goal for doing this.

If you are an independent learner or desiring to be one, I trust very much that the points I’ll be making in this article will serve as a guide and an inspiration for you to go ahead and achieve your aim.


I left Middle School without any hope of moving on to secondary school. I’ve stated the reason for this situation elsewhere.

The obvious option left was what was then known as a post-middle teacher training college. So I found myself there. We were trained to go back to teach at the basic school level. For that matter, much of the curriculum was about general educational principles and the most basic topics in subjects being taught at the basic level.

For most of us, therefore, the thought of advancing to university was a really tall order.

But there was always a way out.

Find the money to attend special GCE Ordinary Level classes organized for ambitious Cert-A teachers/students (that’s our qualification), attempt and pass a few “extra-curricular” subjects and keep hoping.

God willing, one day you might obtain the required grades in enough ‘O’ Level subjects, pass your Advanced Level subjects as well and see yourself in university.

Can you imagine!

Few exceptional individuals did this. No question about that. But for the overwhelming majority, either the difficulty in studying completely new subjects or the inability to afford the prohibitive tuition for those special classes put them off. I was one of such disadvantaged ones.

So how did I end up at the university? Well, I did it somehow.

Before you begin to have ideas.

I still hope and pray that I’ll not be forced to pay a bribe or cheat in an examination for the rest of my life. The mere thought of these two sickens me. I enjoy paying the price for each personal goal I intend achieving.

That’s all I did. I paid the price. And that is exactly what you must do. Be willing to pay the price. You have what it takes to do so unless you’re not wired to be good at academic work. I don’t mean exceptional. Just good. That’s enough.

Another thing: you need to have a desire strong enough.


If others can teach themselves subjects like Literature, Economics, General Science, Mathematics, Government, etc. and go on to become majors in them at college, why can’t you? You definitely can!

And I’m about to show you how.

And remember, your age does not really matter. I’m yet to come across an examination board or university which sets age barriers as part of its admission requirements.

I now present to you the steps you need to take to successfully study a subject on your own.

Find your passion.

I’ve heard people say that the only subjects anyone can study independently are the so-called reading subjects. That’s the greatest fallacy ever propagated.

The truth is if you don’t have the passion for studying Literature, History or Economics, you’ll flop miserably should you attempt to study them on your own. In fact, even a dedicated teacher may not be able to save you. So what are they talking about?

In a similar vein, your passion and talent for number crunching will certainly make you self-study the sciences, including Mathematics, successfully. That is if you give it all you have.

Let’s move to our next point.

Start early

Take this from me. Being your own teacher in a subject to which no one has ever introduced you is not an easy thing. That is why you need to start your studies early or long before the examination. This calls for a very high level of self-discipline and commitment.

When I tell you I did these things successfully, I never added that I started late and took things easy. It will never work that way.

You will only succeed at being your own supporter if you know how to discipline yourself.

Genius apart, you will not go far if you wait till a couple of months or weeks to the examination to begin studying that totally new subject.

Get the vital resources

There are three key resources every private candidate needs in order to prepare effectively for an examination.

  • Good textbooks.

You need not to buy brand new textbooks unless you can afford them. Contact former students, former candidates and supportive teachers you know to give you used ones. Used books did much of the trick for me even though I had to buy a few new ones.

Today, it is possible to find equally good study material on the internet to supplement what you find in your textbooks. All you need is a good internet connection and the productive use of your online time.

Do I need to tell you that spending long hours on social media checking and posting photos is a non-starter?

  • Current syllabus.

This is a must for any examination subject you intend studying as an independent learner. A subject syllabus is to the indie student what a compass is to a sailor.

A subject syllabus is to the indie student what a compass is to a sailor.

Study your syllabus diligently. Pay close attention to major sections, units and topics. Know what deserves your immediate attention and what you can put aside for a much later date.

  • Past question papers

Collect as many recent past question papers as possible. Past questions will help you to strategize for the examination. You can’t be a serious private candidate if you can’t boast of a handful of past questions in your possession.

Past questions will help you to get to know the kind of questions you will have to answer. In fact, you will do well to attempt answering a large number of past questions on your own as part of your preparations.

  • A fourth one.

Get the marking scheme if you can.

I was not lucky enough to obtain the marking scheme for any one of those subjects I had to study independently. If I had, my life would have been much easier.

Though it is not a must, I will urge you to make the effort to lay your hands on the marking scheme – if it’s possible. It can also serve as a useful guide.

Test yourself regularly

Don’t forget for a second that you’re virtually left to your own devices in this matter. One trick I found most rewarding was to set standard questions for myself, get someone to serve as my mock invigilator as I sat through it all.

Afterwards, I assessed my own work as objectively as I could. I sat for about a dozen of those self-styled mock tests before I went on to sit for the actual exam.

One benefit of testing yourself sufficiently as an independent learner is that it makes you learn to use examination time efficiently. Another is that you will get used to the atmosphere, albeit in a mock way, before facing the actual battle.

One benefit of testing yourself sufficiently as an independent learner is that it makes you learn to use examination time efficiently.

Leave nothing to chance.

Today, as I devote part of my time to preparing private candidates for external examinations, I always advise them to leave nothing to chance.
Being an independent student means that you must be thorough in everything you do.

A lacklustre attitude will not make you the success case your desire. So right from your preparation days to the day of the test do everything expected of you. And make sure you do it thoroughly.

Some tips will do.

Study all topics in the syllabus – especially the key ones.

Practice how to answer questions without deviating

Make sure to write legibly.

Provide enough illustrations as part of your answers, if required.

Read over your final work and correct any lingering errors.

Avoid doing anything that breaches examination rules.

Remember this always. It’s no use giving any excuse to whoever will be marking your scripts to award you marks lower than what you’re capable of scoring.


From years of experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that independent learning is an art and a science at the same time. To win at self-teaching, you will have to follow your passions and study what you love to study so you can have fun while learning.

At the same time too, there are certain principles to follow to get the results you want.

The bottom line is this: anyone, including you or that loved one of yours, no matter their age or environment, can win at independent learning provided they are wired for academic work in the first place.

Photo by Nikhita S on Unsplash

Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph has a passion for the teaching and learning of Language and Literature mainly because these two help him to understand and appreciate why people act the way they do. Over the past two decades, he has coached over 5000 students and adult learners to achieve their educational goals. Ralph is the founder and CEO of Cegast Academy.

View all posts by Ralph Nyadzi →

One thought on “How to Successfully Self-Teach Yourself a Subject

  1. Pingback: 6 Good Reasons to Resist the Fear of Criticism | CegastAcademy.com

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