You may have mastered the art (or got pretty close) of writing essays at sixth form level, but most students have no idea what to expect when it comes to writing that first university assignment. So here I am once again to save the day, with a handy introduction to writing your first assignment!
The main difference is the amount of research you’re expected to do independently. In college, you’re given one definitive textbook, and guidance from a teacher. At uni, you’re given an introduction to the topic in an hour long lecture, look at some sources in a seminar (a small class), and the rest is up to you. That means reading at least 10 books and articles so you actually have something to say – don’t worry, you’ll soon become great at skim reading.
The best thing is you’ll get to write about what you’re interested in. You can choose most of your modules at uni, and within that you can choose which essays you’d like to write for an assignment from a handy list of options. If there’s nothing you fancy, you can even ask to write your own question. This is how coursework assignments work (essays you write in your own time and submit online before a deadline), but exams will also involve choosing which questions you answer. You’ll have to do a mix of both, depending on which modules you choose.
Getting the gist of an argument from the introduction or first couple of pages is really important, or you’ll be forced to spend all your time reading instead of actually writing anything. This is definitely something you have time to learn – at Leicester, your first year doesn’t count towards your final grade, so you have time to find your feet and work out what you’re doing.
So you’ve read a few books and got some sources together – what do you do with them? The most important things are keeping a consistent and well evidenced argument, and picking out the points authors make to contrast them with each other and yourself. Getting your teeth into a historical debate is a great way to show you understand the topic. Also try and read the books your tutor has written. By all means disagree with them, but it’s good to understand the work your module is based around.
As for essay length, this can range from 1,500 words to 5,000 words. Your dissertation will be a 10,000 word monster, but you have three years to realise that’s not actually as bad as it sounds. I’d say the average maximum word count for an assignment is 2,500 words, compared to my 1,500 word A level essays. I’m referring to coursework assignments here as to be honest I’ve never really counted how many words I write in my exams, for obvious reasons.
So there are some things I wish I’d known before I started uni. Share them around to spread the gift of knowledge, and let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed, or if you have any advice for people going off to study History soon!