The highlight of June 2018 for me was getting my final dissertation mark back. I scored in the mid 70s, and that was sufficient to ensure that when I graduate next month, I will be the holder of a first class degree. This has made me really happy. I’ve enjoyed being a university student but I have not attended university to have fun. I’ve done it because I wanted to deepen my knowledge and improve my employment prospects. It should be acknowledged that people do not always get the rewards that their hard work deserves in life. I’m therefore delighted that my efforts have gained the reward that I believe I deserve.
Now that my deadlines are all behind me, I’ve spent part of the last few weeks reflecting back on my three years at the University of Leicester. One of my primary aims of this blog was always to try and help any fellow ambitious undergraduate or prospective undergraduate students achieve their potential. For that reason, I dedicate the remainder of this post to passing on a few tips I have used to excel in my degree:
- Attend Every Teaching Session
Yes, success at university is about self-learning and doing lots of reading on your own. But the teaching sessions are like a map: they will not help you find the buried treasure. You have to do that yourself. But a teaching session will help you plot the quickest route to the treasure by giving you the resources, main issues, themes and theoretical perspectives to help you understand your field. And as I’ve said before, attending a lecture, listening carefully and taking good notes can save so much time in not needing to read as much material to understand key concepts. That way you can save your reading for gaining understanding of contentious topics and analysing the strengths and weaknesses of arguments and counterarguments.
- Always ask: what is my goal?
Some students study hard but do not excel. Why? It’s probably because their reading and note-taking is unstructured. Never read anything for the sake of it, even if it is on your reading list or specifically recommended by an academic. Always have a goal. In what way will reading a chapter or article help you in your degree? Unless you have a specific purpose, there is a big danger that reading something will be a waste of time. There is no point gaining knowledge for the sake of it.
- Read Abstracts and Contents Pages
This is linked to the previous point. There is no point reading a chapter or article unless it will help you gain a deeper understanding of a concept or theory, prepare for a seminar or help with an assignment or examination preparation. Some people might argue that you cannot know whether something will help in advance. I disagree.
How many journal articles have I read in full as part of my degree? Four.
But how many journal articles have I read certain sections of? Don’t know but it’s a 3 digit number.
And how many abstracts of journal articles have I read? At least 500.
Yes, you have to study hard to excel in an undergraduate degree, especially around assignment deadlines and revision periods. But you don’t have to spend your life in the library. How smart you work is as important as how hard you work. If you work smart, you can still excel in your studies and have a social life or enjoy your hobbies. And the best way of smart studying is to ensure that you maximise your reading time.
I’ll discuss three other three tips in my early July post.