Saturday 08 May 2021

Learning to be a Student

When you start at university you have to learn a whole new way of being a student. Independence is not just a side effect of moving away from home to live with people your own age, it’s expected of you. You need to be independent and proactive when you’re set essays, hunting down relevant texts and getting essays finished on time with far less support than you might be used to.

Today we’re presenting a short guide to help you learn how to be a student wherever you are, whether you’re settling into student accommodation in Sheffield, private rented accommodation in Bristol or Stephen Fry’s old rooms in Cambridge.

Dealing With Reading Lists

You’ll receive your first reading lists when your offer is accepted and your place at a university is confirmed. It’ll be tempting to immediately go and buy everything on the reading list, and digest it over the summer, so you can show up for seminars in the autumn overflowing with knowledge.

Unfortunately that’s not enormously practical. The cost of buying everything on a reading list is just about sustainable the first time around, if you’re studying a humanities subject: buying some novels and plays and a handful of critical texts and anthologies is doable. By the time you get to your third year, you’ll be doing this for approximately 20th time, on an increasingly stretched budget, and it looks less sustainable. If you’re studying law or medicine and relying on textbooks that can cost upwards of £100 buying everything new is simply not an option except for the wealthiest students.

Instead you have to learn to interpret reading lists. Work out which are the texts that are going to be used again and again throughout the course, and which serve only to illustrate a single point a lecturer wants to make. If necessary talk to older students and find out which books have proved useful throughout their university career and which simply weren’t.

Armed with that information you can prioritise what to buy, what to borrow, what to read and what to skim.

Going Beyond

One way to accrue some extra credit and extend your understanding of the material is step beyond the reading list: finding texts to read and reference that aren’t just what you’ve been handed. Seeing a bibliography at the end of an essay that’s stocked with books you’ve found independently will impress a tutor, and it’s not hard to achieve!

Start with the books you have – look at relevant sections, and see what the authors have referenced in their own scholarship. Using your library to track down those original texts will give you a broader base for your reading. Repeating this process a few times, as well as looking at titles authors refer to in introductions will give you a good base of ‘extra texts’ to draw from!


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