There’s only one word scarier than ‘exams,’ and that word is ‘results.’ Luckily for me, my course only had two exams and they were both fairly non-threatening (even if it absolutely did not feel that way at the time). Most of my grades are decided by assignment results, so having submitted a fair few over the last two years, I think I’ve — mostly — gotten it down. Here’s some tricks and tips I wish I’d started out with:
Taking pages of notes isn’t always the best way to learn:
This may seem obvious, but let me elaborate a little. I take a disgusting amount of notes. A friend of mine who took longhand notes during class once referred to them as ‘Siân-notes’ because it’s become that much of a joke. I’ll tell you a secret though: because this friend spent so much time taking notes she didn’t pay any attention to what was being taught. Some students do better with a Dictaphone, some do better with open discussion, reading, presentations. Work out what’s best for you, what helps you pay attention and helps you actually absorb what’s being taught. Pay attention to feedback, and learn from your mistakes. Get better for next time.
. . . You should make notes as you read, though:
It’s assignment week. Everything’s due at once. You know this one book had a bangin’ quote that’s going to piece your essay together, and you can’t find it. What’re you supposed to do? Ask someone about it, spend time looking for it, google it? I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you that next time you see a quote like that you’re going to slap some highlighter on it or stick a post-it note on the top of the page. Do this for themes you should be looking for, key events, anything you don’t quite understand, anything that — for whatever reason — feels like it might be important later on. Then when you’re writing your assignment, you save yourself time, and half your work (identifying your evidence/case studies/critical theories) has been done for you. By past-you!
Also, get through the books on your reading list before the lecture discussing that book. Don’t be that guy who needs to ask ‘What was the book about?’ when you’re put into a group. No one likes that guy.
Double check everything:
Deadlines, word counts, assignment titles, your emails, Blackboard — I can’t tell you the amount of classmates I’ve had that almost-miss deadlines or forget assignments all together, the ones who think an assignment is 1000 words when it’s 4000. I’ve done it before! It would be a real shame if you worked really hard on something, only to find out it was due the day before you thought it was. Also: check the time they need to be in by. Most of the time, for me, it’s 11:59pm, but sometimes you get a sneaky 4:30pm or 12:00pm and that would be a disaster.
Give yourself time:
Again, obvious, but bear with me. I don’t just mean time to get the assignment done. I mean time away from it when it’s finished, so you can look it over without the deadline-induced snow blindness that happens when you’ve been writing for a while. You get too close to your work, and then you can’t see the mistakes. If there’s a housemate or friend you trust, have them look over it too. Just get your eyes off the screen for a bit. If you’re in the middle of it all and just can’t stand the sight of it anymore, give yourself an hour away. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you’re not doing things right before the deadline: you rob yourself of the chance to take a breath, and come back with better ideas.
There’s a lot of support out there for you, if you need it:
At Staffs there’s a lot of help and guidance available for students, so if you find yourself struggling — emotionally, with your mental well-being, academically — there are plenty of resources there for you. University can be really stressful, but you can’t let it get on top of you. I’ve been to plenty of tutorials were I just sat and stressed out about things, and my lecturers were always happy to be there for me one-on-one. They’re going to know your work better than anyone, and if you’re having a really hard time with an assignment, your lecturers are the first people you should see. Your tuition fees include office hours for your lecturers — take advantage of that.
So yeah. Try and stay on top of things, and don’t punish yourself if you start to feel overwhelmed. You’ve got this!