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!

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!)