Keeping on Top of Things

The past few weeks have been… a little stressful. January, at my university, comprises the publication of Christmas assignment grades, and the release of the next set of question papers. Stressful as it may be, it’s also a great time to consider how to make progress as the academic year continues. As I was drawing up my own plan of action, I settled on four tools for staying organised and focussed. Here are my top tips:


  1. Your timetable. Yes, of course, your academic timetable, but more so the gaps that it leaves you with. If you don’t have contact hours on particular days, don’t consider them as days ‘off’. (Take it from somebody who has made this mistake!) Look at them as days for you to spend as you choose, but spend them wisely. What reading do you have for the coming week? Do you have any research to do? Now’s the time to do it.


  1. Syllabus and Reading List. Most universities release reading lists in the summer before the academic year begins. It would be unrealistic to expect to have powered through all of your texts by September, but being smart about your reading is essential. Consider which of the texts intrigue you, and try to identify those that you’d be happy to write on. This ensures that you’re not in a state of panic when question papers are released!


  1. Essay Feedback. Though at times it can be painful, reading the feedback on essays is the easiest way to figure out what’s going well and what’s going… not so well. While your essay may have focussed on texts you won’t be studying again, carry forward any comments on style, structure, referencing, or critical engagement.


  1. Grade tracking. Sometimes, numbers are just the clearest way to go. After receiving my results, I immediately drew up the above grade tracker. The format allows for the calculation of grades for single components, and entire modules. Having your progress displayed so visually can be an excellent motivator. You can also calculate how much of your overall grade each module or assignment is worth, which proves useful in restoring some rationality if you’re worrying about an upcoming assignment.


Fingers crossed that these tips help you (and me) to stay focussed this semester!

My Late UCAS Application

I am 100% happy to admit that my UCAS application was submitted two months late and that I hadn’t even considered applying until two weeks before that. After a disastrous AS Results Day, I had sworn off higher education. I shut myself off from any conversation about personal statements, references, and predicted grades, and let the deadline pass.

Over a month later, year 13 parents evening took place. The Director of Sixth Form took the opportunity to suggest that I submitted a late application in the interest of keeping my options open – there was always a possibility that I’d open my envelope in August and wish I’d applied. Even if I didn’t get any offers, having an open UCAS application would make a world of difference in trying to secure a place through clearing. I took the advice, and maintain that it is one of the best decisions I have made to date.

If you find yourself in this position, UCAS Extra is the best tool you’ll have at your disposal. Extra is aimed at applicants who have been rejected by or have declined all five universities on their original UCAS application, but it’s incredibly useful in this situation too. Once I’d decided on my course, I checked which universities were advertising on Extra – this usually indicates that they still have spaces that they are willing to allocate. To be certain, I contacted the admissions departments of my five choices, and all five confirmed that they would consider a late application.

With my choices settled, the hard work began. I’d already waited far too long, so the remainder of the process had to move as quickly as possible. I started working on my personal statement, and my Director of Sixth Form began writing a reference. A couple of friends and relatives let me have a look at their personal statements, allowing me to get a feel for what I should be including. I decided to take the opportunity to showcase my ability to think critically about texts from different periods, linking this to texts found on the A-Level syllabus. I had a total of five drafts – with feedback from two members of staff – and by the time I was happy with it, my Director of Sixth Form had completed my reference. All that was left to do was compile everything and finally submit on March 15th.

I had an offer a day later. I received all five offers, two of which were unconditional despite my late application.

It’s been just over a week since the 2018 deadline. If you’re wishing you’d applied, it’s not too late to give it a go.

Easy Living

This week I’ve received a few emails from my university telling me that it’s Housing Week. My university provides accommodation for all first-year students, but having spent my first year in halls I was definitely relieved to be moving to a space that I’d chosen myself. Some parts of the process played out as smoothly as I could have hoped, but there a few things I wish I’d known last year. Here’s my advice for finding private student accommodation:

1. Choose your housemates wisely. Moving to uni is daunting – there’s no other way to say it. One of the most difficult parts is being randomly allocated to a flat or corridor full of people you’ve never met, and might not get on with. Moving to private accommodation is your chance to pick your own housemates, but you have to pick carefully. How does their work ethic or lifestyle compare to yours? Are they clean? Loud? Pedantic? It all counts!

2. Location. Obviously, close to uni. But there might be a bit more to it. Universities have many surrounding areas with completely different atmospheres. Every university town tends to have an area packed full of uni students, and the nightlife is usually the best there. Other areas of town will have a calmer atmosphere, with fewer student houses. If nightlife isn’t really your thing, think about moving to these areas instead.

3. Be wary. Take note of horror stories from second and third years about estate agents in your area. If lots of different people tell you to avoid a particular estate agent, it’s probably worth listening to them. If the estate agent you settle on tells you that there are forty other viewings for your property in the next three days or that anything is ‘flying off the market’, take it with a pinch of salt. If you’re not certain, don’t settle.

4. Ask questions. That bit of damp in the bathroom? Ask about it. That broken gas ring? Ask about it. Whose responsibility is it to get it sorted? Make sure you know what you’re signing up for.

As a bonus, here’s a couple of tips for after your accommodation is secured:

1. Read everything. Landlords and estate agents don’t always expect students to read their tenancy agreement or inventory before they sign them, which is exactly why you should make sure you do. If there’s a scratch on the wall that isn’t mentioned in the inventory, have it amended. If the carpet in the hallway is peeling up at the corner, have it amended. (All in the interest of your security deposit, obviously.)

2. Discuss everything. The more you discuss in advance, the easier moving in will be. For example, if all the rooms are different sizes, decide who gets which room beforehand. Bills should also be sorted in advance: if your rent doesn’t include a bills package, discuss things like direct debits and standing orders to make sure that nobody is left short of money.

Good luck!

Efficient Essays


Having just submitted all my assignments, I feel like I’ve learnt an awful lot about efficient essay writing. You’ve spent half of your Christmas break staring at blank Word documents and doing your best Ross Geller impression, then suddenly you’ve got thousands of words to write and not very long to write them in.

So – in the interest of efficiency – let’s keep this short and sweet. (And, let’s be honest, if you’re reading this in the middle of January deadlines, short and sweet is probably all you have time for…)

Here are my top five tips for a smooth essay writing process:

  1. Start working in the morning. You tell yourself you’ll start writing in the afternoon, and suddenly afternoon is evening. By that point, you might as well start tomorrow, right? Wrong. Start as early in the day as you can.
  1. Prepare. By prepare, I mean gather. Quotations, secondary reading, page numbers, the lot. If you’ve got them to hand from the off, you won’t waste time searching for them later.
  1. Always plan… Although it might be tempting, writing without a plan leaves you without a sense of where your argument is headed. By outlining what you want to say, your response will be much tighter.
  1. …But plan in stages. If you’re like me, then you find nothing more daunting than an empty page. Take your paragraphs one at a time and alternate with planning and writing: plan one, write one, and then plan the next. Make sure to note down point headers to keep your response seamless.
  1. Reference as you write. The last thing you want is to finish your essay and realise you haven’t finished at all. Your future self will thank you.

Happy writing! (And don’t forget to proofread!)