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Navigating the warzone that is your 2nd year at University

Surviving first year is a feat in itself. Bravo on making it this far. Unfortunately though, the dreaded 2nd year is upon you, and all the rumours are true. This is the year when sleeping through your lectures and starting an essay the night before the deadline is not going to cut it. This is, quite possibly, the first time you’re going to actually have to do some serious work at university. Despite having been warned this before I began, I refused to believe it until way into my 2nd year. When it did finally dawn on me that I was no longer in first year, it was a desperate scramble to get back on track, and I cursed my past self for letting it get that bad.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have worn so much denim when I was younger. In hindsight, Michelle Williams should never have thought she’d have a budding career as a solo artist. In hindsight, I should have taken 2nd year seriously from the beginning. It is possible to keep up with the workload, but not doing so from the beginning just makes things harder for you later on. You may feel a bit silly looking super keen in the library in the first week, but you’ll look sillier during exam period when you’re in the foetal position on the library floor because you’ve only done half the reading and there are no copies left of the textbook you need.

It’s so easy to slip back into the old routine, and dodge work at whatever cost, but that is a dangerous place. Do not go there. Staying on top of work from the beginning allows you to set up, and get used to, a successful routine before the workload gets too heavy. Finding your perfect working spot on campus is a great start. I would recommend trying lots of different places. I only recently found my dream working location - I hadn’t noticed it before because the entrance intimidated me. That’s right, an entrance intimidated me. Don’t let stupid things stop you from checking out everything your campus has to offer, because everyone will have their own set of criteria that will make working that much more bearable.

When it comes to recommended reading, it’s recommended for a reason. Often the lecturer will have a lot of information that they have to squeeze into a 50 minute lecture, so naturally things will be skimmed over. This can make the lectures quite difficult to follow, and lead to perfecting the act of daydreaming whilst looking interested - so reading around the subject is always a great way to help consolidate anything you’ve been taught. Sometimes just flicking through the lectures on Blackboard (or your University’s own Virtual Learning Environment) the night before can help you follow what’s going on, as you’ll know what to expect. This way you can also look up anything you might not understand to avoid feeling left behind in the lecture.

Lecturers can also ask questions about topics that they may not have covered during their lectures, but will expect you to know from their reading list. An exam is the last place you want to see an unwanted topic come up, so if the lecturer has made a specific mention to a particular chapter or page, then make sure you make a note of it and look it up. Exam questions are sometimes even lifted directly from the textbooks. I’ve had exams where the questions are word for word from the text book, or they’ve lifted a diagram from the text book and asked you to fill in the blanks. Of course, those who have done the reading will be at an advantage when it comes to these questions, but that’s precisely why they do it.

Despite the importance of text books, I wouldn’t recommend buying them simply because they’re so expensive. If you do plan on buying them, your faculty will probably send you an e-mail in your first few weeks informing you of a book sale where recent graduates will sell you they’re old text books at a decent price. Then, once you’ve graduated, you can sell them on here and make your money back. They may not be the latest editions, which means you will probably have to hunt to find the corresponding chapter number, but all of the information will be there. You can also find some really great deals on second hand text books on Amazon. Once again I would recommend going for a slightly older edition, as there will be a remarkable difference in price. Don’t just stick to the text books that have been given to you though. Your library will be full of text books on your subject – all approaching it from a different angle. So, if you’re struggling to understand something, having it explained in a different way can really open up your eyes.

When it comes to exams at university, they’re in such a different format to those from college or secondary school that you may not know what to expect. If you can get access to past papers, then I cannot stress how important it is that you make the most of it and use them. Answers may not be provided, but at least you’ll have an idea of what you’ll be up against come exam time and can look up what the answers should be. Seeing as your lecturers set the exam questions, more often than not there’ll be at least a couple of questions repeated on your paper. Which is why it’s also crucial to look up answers to the questions, because there is no self-hatred stronger than the kind you feel when a question you’ve seen in a past paper comes up but you didn’t look it up.

In addition to exams, your marks will come from deadlines set throughout the year. Online assessments are fairly commonplace now amongst universities, and can account for a percentage of your module mark. It may only be 5%, and so you might be tempted to forget about it, or leave it until the last minute, writing it off with “oh it’s only 5%, it’s hardly anything”. You will kick yourself when you’re desperately clambering for any measly half percent you can get your hands on at exam time, and the thought of 5% would make you consider doing some fairly questionable things. 5% may not make all the difference, but it will help, and it will give you some piece of mind when you’re sat at your exam desk. Plus, online assessments are a great indicator of how you’re progressing with the module, and can show you which areas you should probably invest a little more time in. Around exam time, they may even make these assessments available to try again so that you can track your progress.

Lecture notes can be found in every crevice of a student home, but taking the time to organise them is definitely worthwhile. I was terrible at this, and then so envious of all of my friends who had actually kept on top of their work and organised their notes in a logical manner. It makes everything so much easier when it comes to reviewing them, and you’ll never have to spend time hunting for them. It depends on your personal preference as to how you want to store your notes, but a big deciding factor is whether or not you use paper notes.

Technology is everywhere at university, and the lecture theatre is now probably a 50/50 split between those taking notes on their laptops or tablets and those writing notes on paper. Storing notes on a laptop or tablet is much easier and means you’ll never be without them, but studies have shown that writing notes by hand actually increases your ability to recall facts from the lecture (Mueller et.al., 2014). However, it can be difficult to keep up with the pace of the lecture when you’re being bombarded with information. If you do choose to type notes in a lecture, I would recommend also producing a written version in slightly different words after the lecture. Changing the wording makes you think about what you’re writing down, and ensures that you actually understand what you’re writing, rather than just mindlessly copying down what is already written whilst you think about what you’re making for dinner.

As it turns out, reading week is actually for reading. Unfortunately, it’s not just a week off from lectures (who knew), but by 2nd year you won’t be able to wait for that chance to finally catch up on all that work. Make the most of the time you have to catch up, it may be tempting to plan a holiday or binge watch Netflix for a week, but that just means having to do even more catching up over Christmas – and I’m pretty sure you’d rather be eating turkey and watching the Doctor Who Christmas special.

It is so obvious, and yet this piece of advice still manages to elude students. Go to lectures. It can be a struggle to keep up - especially if you’re tired and the module really doesn’t interest you, but it can make all the difference because I can guarantee that something will stick, and it could end up being something useful. Even if you end up leaving the lecture theatre not entirely sure what has just happened at least you’re awake and out of the house. Sleeping away the day seems great at the time but it’s such a waste, and even just leaving the house can make you feel more motivated to do some work. If you’re already up and in university, you may as well.

If you write a lot of essays in your course, having an online database of references is a necessity. I didn’t realise these were available until 2nd year - when I started using EndNote - and it has made essay writing so much easier. Referencing is a minefield, but EndNote creates an online collection of your references and inserts them into your text in whichever style you want. It really does speed up the process, and ensures that you’ll never mess up the Harvard referencing system again.

Second year is tricky. Your marks actually start counting and you can sense a shift in the way that everyone is working. It is easy to feel like you’re being left behind and have no idea what’s going on, but I assure you that most people feel that way. Second year is also really fun. You’re probably living with friends and feel a bit more at home than you did in first year - so it’s important to remember that despite all of the work you’re guaranteed to enjoy yourself. Besides, if second year doesn’t exactly go to plan, there’s always third year.

References:

Mueller, P. A., Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking. Psychological Science. 25 (6), 1159-1168. Can be accessed at: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/25/6/1159

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