Studying the RHS Course: FAQ

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Dr Lee Raye, the writing tutor here at ADL, has been studying on our RHS Level 2 certificate course this year. We had a chat with them about how they are doing with the modules, whether the course is easy to understand and (gulp) how the exams work.

How easy is the material to understand and read?
Generally, the lessons are really well written so it’s easy enough to understand them. However, for some of the lessons, there is so much knowledge to take in that at the end of each lesson it all tends to be swimming around in my head a bit. I find the activities really useful to counter that, and I’m glad the tutor support is in place.

What's the tutor support like?
The tutors on the course are really supportive. They respond quickly, and they are very kind about my constant butchering of their favourite subject. I’ve especially had contact with Steven Whitaker and Susan Stephenson. Steven is so encouraging. He gave me some fantastic tips before my exams in January. Susan is a bit of a garden genius. When she explains things they seem so obvious!

How much time does it take to go through a Unit?
I’ve found each lesson is just right for a short study session. I read through the lesson, taking notes on difficult bits as I go. I then download the workbook from the end of the unit and fill in that lesson’s work. That takes me about 2 hours, or sometimes a bit longer, so a unit is 12-15 hours, and then before the exams, I spend another 5-8 hours revising and doing practice papers for each unit. So it works out about 20-25 hours per unit/exam, so consider it at most 100 hours for each module and 200 hours for the whole Level 2 Theory Certificate. That’s much faster than doing the module at a face-face college!

Do you have to do a lot of extra reading?
The module is really good at providing supplementary information when it’s needed. There are a few handouts available. For a couple of lessons we even had word searches to do! However, I have found a few reference books incredibly useful. There is a book called Principles of Horticulture which covers all the tricky biology stuff we’re supposed to learn for the Certificate in the Principles of Plant Growth, Propagation and Development exams, and I’ve found the RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants is really good for looking up plants. Brickell’s Essential Gardening Techniques is good too, especially for the propagation material which I find really difficult.

How does the course fit with the exams?
In order to get your level 2 certificate or diploma in horticulture from the Royal Horticultural Society, you have to sit eight theory exams. Wait, I’ve made that sound really awful! In reality, the exams are intense, but it’s all planned out for you. You just sit in a classroom at a nearby college or horticultural garden for a day and bring a picnic for the break.

The course is arranged so that there is a unit on the course for each exam, meaning you can study for them separately. That’s really helpful because it means you can focus your revision on the exams you find the hardest. Each of the units is in turn broken up into a series of lessons (usually around 6 per unit). So that means for the module I am currently doing (Garden Planning, Establishment and Maintenance) there are four units (one for each exam) and twenty-three lessons.

Is the exam hard?
I’ve talked about this a bit before in my Exam Q&A. The exams are designed to test every single aspect of the course, not just a representative portion, so that’s why there are so many of them. The exams are also designed to be really difficult in order to separate out the best students, but the pass rate is only 50%, so it’s not impossible. From the statistics I’ve seen, 25% of students fail the hardest unit each time they sit the exams! Never mind… I can always reapply!

How has the course made a difference to your life?
I was interested in plants before I started the course, but now I feel like a real professional. I can name most of the plants I see everyday, and I know exactly how to look after all kinds of plant and how they fit into the garden.

The Academy for Distance Learning offers online courses covering the RHS Level 2 and Level 3 certificates. All learning is done in your own time and at your own pace, and every assignment is marked by a professional in the field.

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