A letter to my first-year self

If I could send a letter back in time, back to my former first-year self, I would.

When I started my uni journey in 2015, I had no idea what to expect. What happens in a lecture? And why is it different to a tutorial? What happens between classes? How do I log on? Where do I go?

This kind of unknown, while moderately stressful, is incredibly exciting. It’s a new adventure. Honestly, most of the answers to these questions are discovered in due time. Uni life is quick to accustom to.

In my letter would be the little things, the odd pieces of study advice that is only realised with the gift of hindsight. Unfortunately, such travel is not possible, so here I share this wisdom (if one could call it that) with the hope that it might help those currently studying.

Be organised and save all files

You should have seen my desktop. At times, it was a disgrace. It’s quick to create some folders for each subject and then save everything categorised. Specifically:

  • Save all class materials and PowerPoint presentations to your computer in a clearly labelled digital folder. You don’t have access to them online forever. Sometimes I wish I could peruse some of my first-year psychology slides, but alas I did not save them (or can’t find them).
  • Back. It. Up. To the cloud, hard drive, both! Just do it.
  • Don’t call your assignments ‘assignment_version1_v2_v2.1_final_finalfinal.txt’. Please.

Do the readings

That’s it. That’s the advice. Do the readings.

Make study notes that are in your style

I was a serial carbon-copy note maker. Meaning I would write pages and pages of notes taken straight from class materials or textbooks. Great for hand cramps and that’s about it.

I’m a visual and verbal learner. Instead of writing pages and pages of notes, I think I would have benefited more from doing things like mind maps, diagrams, and flow charts. Finding study groups and talking about concepts helped me immensely in my final year – something I wish I had done sooner.

I would suggest finding what kind of learner you are and playing to your strengths.

Do practice questions

Yeah-yeah, ‘but I have to get through the content first!’. This is a lie I told myself every semester, where I would leave practice questions for exams until the last minute, doing them half-heartedly or not at all. If anything, these exercises are the best type of preparation possible.

Two specific suggestions:

  1. Try doing some practice questions (well before the exam) and send them to your lecturer for feedback. They’ll appreciate if you ask them first though.
  2. When you answer questions, mark them with a green, yellow, and red star. Green means you know the answer and don’t need to revise that specific topic, yellow would be good to look over, red is a priority to revise.

Maybe you got something out of these tips, maybe you do them already. Uni is a massive learning curve. Eventually you will find your groove, see what works, and see what doesn’t. That’s half the fun.

Submitted by Emily Cross, researcher and young scientist.