It took me over two weeks of doing nothing to recover from the not-sleeping-till-i-finish-this-coursework phase I was in at the end of term. Luckily, after spending another sleepless night with my theories of self, I managed to complete, print off and hand in two 4000 word pieces of coursework by Wednesday morning – a day before the final deadline. Then I hopped on the train home.
The next morning I received an email from King’s College inviting me for an interview! The fact they’re giving me an interview means a lot, and I now believe in my chances of actually getting in even more! Now I have to prepare a research proposal presentation, which isn’t going that great… But I still have time!
Anyway, back to the point. Now that I have officially finished all coursework I thought it was only fair to reflect on the entire experience over the last three years of my degree. Although the coursework pieces differed from each other, I found that there are some general rules that cover all of them. So I prepared a list of DOs and DON’Ts of coursework. Yes, I know you’ve heard it all before! I have too, but I never took it seriously enough. I guess you really have to experience something to be able to take it all on board. Anyway, here it is.
– plan in advance! Seems obvious that you need to plan, right? Not necessarily. What I mean is plan what you’re going to write about weeks before the deadline, not right before you’re about to write it. Some essay questions are easy, and you know exactly what points you’d like to get across; however, often lecturers give topics that are very broad, so they can be answered in many ways, and that’s when it might get difficult to concentrate on a specific aspect. And it WILL give you a panic attack if you leave it too late.
– research! Lecturers always give us core readings that can be used to answer the essay questions, but one book and lecture slides are not enough to write a strong 2:1 answer! Psychology department encourages its students to think critically about any given issue in psychology, and without evidencing further reading and independent research, you cannot show this ability. I am sure this is the case for any course out there; after all, University is meant to teach us to think for ourselves.
– make notes! There is nothing more distracting than trying to navigate between numbers of papers, journals, websites and books all while trying to get your points across. What always worked for me was making notes on only the things I needed for the essay. It really does cut down on the time you spend on a piece of coursework, makes it easier to organise the facts and thoughts, and most importantly, helps you focus.
– avoid all-nighters! Personally, I find that I work best at night, but staying up all night doing work really messes with your body clock. Especially if you do more than one in a row. You might think that by staying up you’re buying yourself more time, but the truth is that it makes you more tired and it is harder to concentrate. Instead, get a good night sleep and get up earlier than normally to get more time.
– set yourself mini-deadlines! For example, if you have an essay due on a Friday, aim to have if finished by Monday so you have time to read through it a couple of times, and make changes where necessary. If you have to do a portfolio made up of sections or a dissertation, set yourself deadlines for specific sections, so you can do them throughout the year.
– use formative assessment! If you have an opportunity to hand in a piece of work for a formative assessment, do it! It will make it so much easier to finish the whole thing and it will give you tips and some peace of mind when you come to writing the rest of it, as you will now know how to go about it.
– leave things till the last minute! Some may find it more helpful to work under pressure (I was one of those), but you really don’t need all that stress! It only makes it worse, and panicking is quite common. Always leave yourself some extra time in case of any emergency changes you need to make.
– procrastinate! Of course, scrubbing your bathroom floor is more important than your coursework at any given time, but let’s face it, you’re not getting anywhere with it. Have breaks, but don’t let them turn into movie marathons or 3-hour naps. Just get the coursework over with, and you’ll have all the time in the world to do whatever you want.
– proof read when you’re tired! By tired I don’t mean after a long day of reading/notes making/writing. I mean tired after an all-nighter and a few (not enough) hours of sleep. Trust me when I say this, no matter how many times you try to proof read, there will always be something you missed! It wasn’t until recently that I realised that one of my pieces of coursework that I’ve handed in reads: “The effectiveness of goal setting on human performance has been established in many studies (Locke & Latham, cited by Cochran & Tesser, year)“. Yes, I said “year” instead of inserting an actual year of the publication. And I promise you, I proof read it many times!
– compare yourself to your friends! Just because they finished sooner than you, doesn’t mean you’re behind. Just keep working at your own pace and make sure your coursework represents a high standard. Their work may not, especially if it was rushed.
I hope someone will find this useful. I wish I knew all these things earlier!
Good luck to everyone in their dissertations, dissertation interviews, courseworks and exams. We can do this!