You will be responsible for your own academic development at university, far more than at school. Approaches differ, depending on the course and university, but you should expect little spoon-feeding and will probably experience unfamiliar ways of learning – seminars, lectures, maybe problem-based learning. You may be asked to make Powerpoint presentations of your work to groups of other students (and tutors) and write extended essays or dissertations (of maybe 10,000 words), based on your own research.
Many universities run short courses at the beginning of the first term to help you develop study skills, particularly essay-writing and IT skills. Don’t be embarrassed or too snooty to attend, some of the best students need them.
It is assumed that you enjoy your subject, are committed to it and want to find out more about it. You may be given a booklist but not advised which of the books you really need to read; you will need to use your judgement. You will be expected to use a much wider range of sources than the lecturers’ handouts, eg international academic journals. Your timetable may be different to your friends’ and you will probably be expected to work it out for yourself. It may include lectures and tutorials, seminars and practicals – some will be compulsory, some not (but think hard before you decide not to attend). Your timetable will probably leave you with what looks like masses of free time but it is for your own reading, analysis and writing.
Not having a busy schedule can lead to much time-wasting. Grip it from the start. A well-known technique for time management is to analyse your diary in detail for a whole week, recording what you do hour by hour. The results can be illuminating. Remember it is your own time you are wasting, nobody else’s.
Watch out for deadlines − you need to deliver work when it is due. Excuses, however real, may not be accepted and you can be marked down for missing a deadline, even by a minute. On some courses late work may not be accepted at all (so late submission means you fail that paper). Always make sure you have back-up copies of your work and that you give yourself enough time to print out all the copies you need to hand in.
Sometimes a number of pieces of work have to be handed in by the same deadline, which means you really have to be very organised. Make a careful schedule, with enough slack to accommodate a bout of flu or a computer breakdown; and where you have at least something to hand in for each piece of work, rather than one piece of work that is perfect and several that are blank.
Don’t be put off by students who appear to be more sophisticated; they are not necessarily brighter than you. Use your own sense and go your own way.
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