University of Portsmouth's History Blog

‘You will get out of the course what you put in’: Being a first year History student

Are you just about to start your first year as a History student and wonder what it will be like? Then read this blog written by one of last year’s ‘freshers’, Amelia Boddice. In the blog Amelia reflects on her experience when starting this whole new chapter in her life, from how to prepare for class to enjoying life both inside and outside the lecture room. Amelia is just about to start her second year of studies.

What to expect?

In terms of the gap between A-level and doing an undergraduate degree you can expect a big difference in the workload. There is an increase in the amount of preparation you must do for class, any written assignments and your participation in group work. You should do the core reading as a minimum but if you find you have some spare time I would suggest doing some further reading as this will show your enthusiasm and help to get your marks up for the portion of your final grade which is composed of seminar participation marks. This works in concordance with the lecture material to help consolidate your background knowledge on any given topic. Doing this will also help you to prepare 2/8 core readings needed for essays so you will be ahead.

This increase in workload, I have found, may increase the pressure you feel to succeed but the lecture/seminar format of this course helps to reduce this to a degree. This dual system is very different to the A-level system, but I have found it more effective for consolidating knowledge and you must understand lecturers do not have enough time to teach us everything about every topic so attending both will aid in your general understanding. I would always recommend emailing or asking tutors for essay specific readings to help make your essay more succinct and to show your dedication to the piece. There is always an area for you to succeed in and this system will allow you to do well regardless of what your strengths are, whether they are essay writing or giving a sustained verbal argument with evidence. Seminars are broken down into four tasks: presenting, primary sources (historical documents to be analysed which can be found in your handbook), secondary sources (which is the general background reading) and the blog. These tasks alternate with each seminar and all your marks go towards your final grade – so do not worry if you find essays difficult, if you have succeeded in seminars your overall grade will rise as a result.

My experience:

I found that I spent an awful lot of time in the library as the staff were friendly and the atmosphere was brilliant for studying. However, you can do a lot of the reading online at home so if you are not staying on campus there is no need to worry as you will be able to do it remotely. By doing this I could do work in advance and therefore not feel any huge pressure when facing upcoming deadlines, so I would suggest finding a place you love to study.

Everyone on the course, including the tutors, are very friendly and there to help. As much as you might have been told everyone is in the same boat, it really is the case! If you are open to making new friends and working in an environment you may have previously found uncomfortable, such as presenting, you will find the course very rewarding. If you meet your presentation group in advance and do your part, there is really no need to worry. Then once the presentation has been completed you will feel very rewarded and may have overcome a fear in the process.

Listening closely to the advice given by tutors about written assignments you may not have previously encountered, such as document commentaries, really helps! There are also essay writing guides on Moodle under ‘Learning Development.’ Use it, it has been put there for your benefit. Also remember lecturers have office hours which you can use for any essay specific queries. In addition to this take note of tutors’ email addresses for any questions you may have.

This course will allow you to build your confidence and experience opportunities you may not have been able to before. For example, in my first year I volunteered for the Ministry of Defence at the National Museum of the Royal Navy reconstructing RAF packs from the Second World War! Take all the opportunities that come your way.

How to prepare and general advice:

The general reading lists are always a good place to start. Either read the introduction or a chapter you think may be helpful to give you an insight on the module.

Be willing to make new friends.

Practice referencing. Although you will do this in the course ‘History At University’, it may be beneficial to just give it a go.


  • Find time for yourself. Your mental health and wellbeing come first.
  • It is possible to balance coursework, work and any social activities you may want to be a part of. For example, being a part of a sports team is made much easier as Wednesday afternoons are free of all classes for all university students because that time is dedicated to sports fixtures.
  • You will get out of the course what you put in.
  • The first year of university is kind of like a practice as it does not count towards your final grade; use it as a practice but try your hardest. It is comforting to know that whatever assignments you do you will have a second chance to improve your grade.

Good luck!


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