Hit the Ground Running: Tip Two for the New Semester
It’s the summer break. You’ve had your summer holiday, maybe you’ve gone away with friends. You’ve done some sports, spent time in the park, had a barbecue, maybe found a job to work for throughout the break to give you some spending money. You’ve been to some parties, you’ve had your results in, and it’s only August. What do you do next? Make sure you can hit the ground running in the new semester.
The summer holidays between terms – whether that be between school and your first year of university or between years at university – is a long stretch of time that shouldn’t be wasted. There are very few times in an adult’s life that we have such an extended period of time to do whatever we want in, and so we should use them to our advantage. For many of us, this means getting a job, starting a career with some work experience, finishing a project that we have been planning to do for ages, and these are all worthy ways to spend the summer. But, it is worth factoring in some time to look ahead to your future studies so you can hit the ground running.
A university degree is an investment, not just in yourself from the point of view of the institution, and not just in money as well, but in time. University is a huge undertaking and one that simply is your life for years. Given this is true, there is a common misconception that you only have to start working when you start term. Whilst it may be that you only start lectures and lessons when you begin a term, your studies extend way beyond the weeks you are there, and to get the best out of yourself and your degree it is worth changing your mind-set and the way you perceive your studies.
I have already talked about the great freedom that university confers on us as young adults, and part of that freedom is choosing what you do with your studies. A degree is what you make of it, and you can make the most of your degree and look forward to not only a fulfilling time at university and a decent grade or you can do the bare minimum. Part of making the most of your studies is to not see day one of term one as the day you start studying – start now and then hit the ground running.
Get ahead of your studies by beginning some gentle preparatory studies to get you immersed in the subject before you start term. It doesn’t have to be a great deal of work; I’m not saying that on the first day of the summer you lock yourself away in your bedroom with some books and don’t emerge until September; you are supposed to have a good time in the summer break. But neither am I saying go to university having done nothing and expect not to struggle. There are certain ways you can pick up some light learning without detracting from your summer.
First of all, if you are a new student going into their first year at university, and you have done the subject at GCSEs or A-levels, it is worth having a quick flick through your notes or your textbook. If you haven’t studied the subject you are about to do before, and you know it may be quite a tricky topic from the off, it may be worth picking up some material from the GCSE or A-level syllabus to give you a firm background and a better idea of what is about to come. For those students already well into their studies at university, when you are getting towards the new academic year, it may be worth looking at some of your notes from last year, especially in topics that you know are going to occur again in the coming year.
Next, find out the reading list for the coming year. Many, if not all universities will have this published online somewhere, so it is simply a matter of finding it, and for many confirmed students the university may send a preliminary reading list. It is important to remember that these reading lists are only guides, and there is no expectation on you to read every single book, article or paper on them. Pick two or three books that you like the look of from a preliminary reading list, and read them at your leisure over time, rather than rushing to cram them all in. Make some occasional notes – in the margin is best – to give you a hand if you need to refer back to it when in the thick of it studying. If you are looking at a reading list for the year, try find books that are indicated as being introductory; these are often a lot easier to read and involve fewer terms that you have yet to be taught about.
However, if you find a book in the field you are about to study and it isn’t on the reading list, don’t leave it alone simply because it isn’t recommended by your professors. Universities always want outgoing, well-rounded students that have an inquisitive mind, so if you find a book that you are interested in, read it. You will be surprised how much of what you read can be incorporated into your work for the better.
If you make sure you make the time for some light reading during the summer in the area of your studies, it will help you to hit the ground running in the first weeks of your term. It will make studying less of a struggle and means you won’t have to work as much during term time, giving you more time to relax when others can’t.
Make sure you check out the rest of the articles in our series on Tips for the perfect start for the next semester: