by Alex Powell

I’m sure you’ve all heard it at least once. ‘40% is all I need. It’s first year, it doesn’t really count for anything.’ It’s obvious, right? If the year doesn’t count towards your final degree classification, then you don’t really need to try. Right?

I’ve experienced this phenomenon from both perspectives. Firstly, I was occasionally guilty of adopting a sort of half-hearted variation of this attitude during my own early undergraduate days (though I was always too much of a perfectionist to ever say any of those things with any conviction). As a postgrad tutor, I have recently experienced this attitude from the other side of the lectern. Hypocritical as it might seem, it’s infuriating to hear these kinds of remarks from the position of the teacher. Because, and I really am sorry to say this, your first year counts now more than ever before.

While it is true, in almost all institutions, that your first year does not count towards your final degree classification, this should not be taken as an indication that your first year does not matter. Now more than ever, with undergraduate numbers ever rising, employers are looking to first year performances as an indication of suitability for their roles, or of commitment and work ethic. This means that students need to step up their game. By this I don’t mean that the first year should become a struggle for perfection, or that you need to abandon the golden chance to make life-long friendships. Rather, I mean that it’s time to start taking essential reading seriously.

Always do the required reading. That’s it, that’s all. You wouldn’t believe what a difference it will make

It’s not just first year marks and employability that are impacted by the ‘easy first year’ attitude either. The first year is excluded for degree classifications because it is supposed to be introductory. It is supposed to be a time for students to stimulate their academic curiosity, to try new and daring things, and to develop the skills that will enable them to tackle the far more taxing tasks that await them as the degree programme progresses. Students that dodge key texts and classes in the first year often find themselves falling behind later, not having developed the same skills and knowledge as their peers and having to play catch-up. This can make the second and third years, which are already a stressful time, much harder than they need to be and can leave talented students facing an uphill battle.

I’m not saying all this as a frustrated tutorial leader who is tired of unprepared students, although that does get old. I’m saying this as someone who is concerned that far too many brilliant students are selling themselves short, placing themselves at a disadvantage, by missing important content in their first year.

Therefore, with a new year approaching, I’m suggesting a new year’s resolution for all the first years out there: Always do the required reading. That’s it, that’s all. You wouldn’t believe what a difference it will make to your performance in tutorials and in your final module grades. By all means, go to the pub after, or before. Or actually, if you like, during – just do the reading.

The first year of university is supposed to be more about settling in, making new friends, and experiencing new things. But let’s all resolve to leave a little more time for our studies. You might even find that you enjoy them.

Featured image credit: TheDigitalArtist

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