The jump from college or sixth form to university can, for many, seem like an incredible struggle. After consistently being near the top of your class and getting amazing A Level results, you’re now struggling with essays, drowning in the amount of content and beating yourself up over an inevitable few bad marks. For many, this feeling of no longer being smart can really affect students, but I wanted to give you a few tips on dealing with this and proving that you actually are capable of amazing things.
Remember that first year doesn’t count towards your overall grade
I’ve seen so many people get really disheartened after receiving their first essay result and it’s lower than what they expected, but that’s honestly okay! For most of us, our first year results don’t count towards our overall grade for a reason – everyone will know that you’re adjusting to the new way of working and it’ll take some practice to get there. Also, your lecturers would much prefer you to be experimental and try out new things that might not work out, rather than playing it safe in first year. It’s your chance to get used to the new style of working and experiment with ideas, so it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t work out straight away.
You have many other things going on
First year is a stressful time for everyone – there’s moving out, learning how to cook, do laundry, getting a part-time job, and all of the other boring ‘adult’ tasks that you now have to juggle. It’s understandable that in first year, you’ll still be getting used to all of these and they’ll likely cause quite a bit of stress, so it’s understandable why a lot of us can feel overwhelmed for the first few months. Once you fully settle in and can dedicate more time to working, it’ll all fit back into place.
Try out new study tips
Your degree isn’t like other exams you’ll have taken, so it’s quite likely that the revision methods you used back then are no longer effective. Making mind maps might’ve been incredibly helpful and productive last year, but when there’s an incredible depth of content in university, other methods may work so much better. Spend your first year playing around with different variations of studying and research to see what works best for you, and why not ask other students what they do? The Library staff are also really good at helping you get to grips with stuff like getting out books and finding the right online resources.
This applies for any course but particularly those that are essay-based – you will have to do a lot of independent reading! If you’re worried that your grades won’t be good but feel as though you can’t physically do any better, then why not try looking for some books, articles or essays? These will enrich you with new ideas and possibilities, gaining knowledge or seeing topics from a different perspective, and being able to employ this greater depth of understanding in your writing will definitely make a difference.
Forget the formula
Essays and exam questions at high school and sixth form were often pretty formulaic, and more about learning how to tick the boxes that the examiners wanted. Include context here, make sure your answer has this… – at university it’s a completely different ball-game. Although your essay still needs some sense of structure, it’s nowhere near as regimented or fixed as you would find at A Level. You’re no longer restricted into writing a certain way to please examiners, or not being able to explore certain texts because of constraints – you just need to get your referencing nailed down! Your degree comes with so much freedom, and one of the first ways to do well is to remember this and stop forcing yourself into being restricted.
Collaborate and help each other
It’s really easy to see a result lower than you expected and beat yourself up, but if you ask around I can guarantee that there will be a lot of similar grades. It’s really easy to think that you’re the only one struggling while everyone else is flying high, when in actuality it’s not the case at all. Also, if there is something in particular that you’re struggling with, why not get together in a group and all revise it or help each other out so that you can improve together. Not only will you start to improve from combining your knowledge with other people’s, but it also makes a fun study session that you’ll enjoy a lot more than stressing out to yourself.
If you’re unsure, ask for help
If you’re really worried about your grades or you don’t know how to improve – talk to someone about it! Your academics may run workshops, have office hours, or be willing to set up an appointment if you email them. They’ll be able to assure you and lead you in the right direction of how to improve, and actively taking a step to improve your work will definitely make a difference.
I hope that this helped you understand that it’s not the end of the world getting a few bad grades in your first year, and also gave you some tips for what to do if you’re struggling. Remember that you’re not alone in university: there are countless people on hand to give you support and help at this time, so reach out and I can guarantee it’ll make a difference!