We go to university for an education and a degree, but it can’t be denied there are other attractions. The freedom of being away from home, the social experience which can be so liberating and intoxicating. Often in first year the latter of these dominates our lives. Going out, socialising and enjoying your freedom seem of much greater importance than work, revision and exams. Especially when people constantly remind you: “First year, oh it doesn’t count.”
It may not count towards your degree but the skills, practices and habits formed in first year set down a precedent for the rest of your degree. It’s important that you don’t simply dismiss exams in first year as annoying inconveniences that mean nothing to your degree. Exams in first year are more a test of your academic skills, practice and revision than your basic knowledge and cramming skills. This is a big departure from A-level style exams where pure knowledge and memory is king.
Take this into account when approaching your January exams at uni. When beginning revision don’t simply “cram cram cram” as many of us did at college. This may get you an okay grade but it won’t teach you anything about working at university. Simply continuing from A-level practices will see you struggle in second year.
So how should you approach your first exams? Motivation is key, and often lacking! Find where you work best, at home or the library? In halls your room may not be best suited to the long hours of revision and often it is best to keep your work and relaxing spaces separate. Going to the library may even help with motivation, seeing hundreds of others working hard can motivate you to do the same. Or, seeing others struggle and growing frustrated can help you feel less isolated. You are not the only one! But if you decide you work best in your room, with unlimited access to cups of tea and snacks then go for it! Your work environment is vital to ensuring you do the best work.
Finding what suits you is key to revision. Don’t simply follow formulaic revision practices, or copy your course-mates. If you like to write down your notes, then rewrite, simplify and rewrite again, do it! Everyone has weird revision quirks that help them. Find yours and go with them!
If you do decide to work on campus you must not be put off by just how staggeringly busy the Robinson Library is. During exam periods you will have to get there before 10am to get a computer, but there are plenty of other facilities on offer. The Walton Library, The Old Library, Law Library, Fell Cluster, Pop up libraries, the top floor of the Students’ Union along with the numerous clusters provided by different courses and schools. Never panic, there will always be somewhere to work.
Finally I would recommend you make use of your lecturers, whether via email or office hours. No matter what you may think of them, they are there to help you and guide you through the process. I can certainly vouch for this from a humanities perspective. Talking to your lecturer can open your eyes to what you need to focus on. How you need to tailor your writing, research and approach. By taking this on board you will not only do better in the exam but you will have strong foundations on which to build upon in second year. You know what is expected from you, not simply in terms of knowledge but of approach, exam tactics if you like.
Finally, it may all seem like an insurmountable task and it can be if you approach it in the wrong way. Working is important, but so is taking time off to relax. Give yourself enough time on a couple of evenings a week to relax, see your friends, go to the pub or just laze about in your room. It will give you a distraction from your work and help you unwind which will help you work better when you begin again.