When I started at Warwick, I had no idea how to be a student. The first weeks can be daunting: new place, new societies, new friends, and new modules too. But once you understand the system, as I do now, it isn’t as complicated as it initially seems.
You’ll typically have nine weeks of content per term, each consisting of a lecture, a seminar, and reading for each module. Your essays will then usually be based on work done during one or two of these weeks.
Most lecturers I’ve had typically assign one or two required texts, and then three or four additional ones. You’ll be able to find these on Moodle, the module webpage, or you’ll be sent a list at the start of term. It can be overwhelming looking at a reading list, but don’t panic! I spoke to a few soon-to-be freshers, and these are the questions they had:
How do you know what to read?
Your assigned reading list is your best friend. At the top will be your weekly required reading, typically an article, or select chapters from an important book. It forms the basis of your lectures and seminars for that week. If it is required, my honest advice is to just do it. Don’t forget to jot down anything you don’t understand and use the seminars to ask about anything you’re unsure of.
Speaking of essays, what sources do I need?
Again, check your reading list first. Your lecturers are literal experts, they will give you what you need to know as a springboard. Ask your lecturer, seminar tutor, or department librarian if you are struggling to find supporting literature, and always check that what you’re reading is relevant.
Most of all, don’t panic. As a fresher, you are expected to ask for help. Further, it is possible to write a solid essay just by using the recommended reading. Don’t overwhelm yourself.
Top tip: If you have found what looks like a good source, read the abstract and conclusion, and this will likely give you an idea if it would actually be helpful.
How do you manage it all?
Don’t do what I did in my first year and neglect your reading because it looks long. Block out time to do it and build the routine. If your text is difficult, start with a skim, then read it again to take it in. Most sources will be online, but printing things out to annotate physically is always a great way to go!
General tips for studying: take regular breaks, don’t forget to hydrate (I’d choose coffee over a pint, but hey, whatever gets you through), and if you don’t understand, ask! I know I keep saying it, but not enough freshers ask for help when they need it.
There is also a magical seven days every term known as ‘Reading Week’. This is your catch-up lifeline. By Week 6, you’ll probably be at least a little behind on one module, so use this as your chance to get back on track, or even get ahead for next week.
Do you have time to read for pleasure?
If I’m being completely honest, no. But you can make time: reading before bed, listening to an audiobook on the bus, and finding an hour to sit in Curiositea (the best campus café) are great ways to de-stress. If you keep a consistent schedule, there’s no reason why you should have to give up fun reading for academia. I aim for two books a term, and nothing heavy or difficult (sorry classics)!
And those are my top tips for surviving and thriving as a first-year reader. Your first term will be a whirlwind, and it is easy to let your studies slip, but as long as you prioritise, there’s no reason you can’t do it all. Hey, maybe you’ll even find time to write an article or two for The Boar!