Reiss Sims, one of last year’s first-year students, offers some great tips for those beginning their study of history at the University of Portsmouth in 2020.
“The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the U.S.
Now let me start off by apologising for the classic “insert quote by famous person” approach to the start of this blog, but I do believe that Roosevelt hit the nail on the head – the study of history provides us with the understanding of the world we live in and outlines the possibilities for change, so congratulations for joining the team!
Just like I was a year ago, many of you will be both excited and nervous about starting the next three to four years of your life. Don’t worry, this is totally normal! The chances are, you’re going to look and think differently by the end of your course, so my advice would be to sit back, enjoy the ride and jump headfirst into every opportunity that presents itself. Hopefully, by the end of this blog, you’ll have a better insight into studying history at degree level. I’ll try and give you some advice that will be useful for tackling the first-year academics, whilst attempting to paint a realistic picture of what the next few years will look like.
To begin with let’s address the key difference between A-level and GCSE history and degree level history: freedom – the subject remains the same but the approach to study will be totally new.
During school and college, you would have likely been taught about a historical event (why and when it happened) and then required to regurgitate the textbook into your essay – spoiler alert, this isn’t the case at university. At university, you will be encouraged to explore, discover and discuss all perspectives of history to build your own argument (this is the key to writing a sound essay). The topics you choose, the articles you read, the opinions you form will allow you to write your own history!
Now I want to assure you that it is normal for this newfound freedom to seem daunting at first, it certainly was for me, but you’ll come to learn how to use it in all the right ways. Freedom will also become apparent, if it hasn’t already by now, in life outside of the classroom. Whilst it is important to put as much effort as you can into your studies, you must make sure that you get out and explore everything that the university has to offer (if your work is done, the pub is always an option…). University isn’t just about obtaining a degree; it’s about experiencing new things and meeting new people, so make sure you meet and sign yourself up to everything you can! Get that work/life balance nailed early, and you’ll never look back.
Five tips for university study
Tip 1: The First Year Counts
The idea that your first-year grade doesn’t actually count couldn’t be further from the truth!
Going into the second year with very little idea of the strengths and weaknesses of your academic game is not ideal. Try your best, don’t worry about making mistakes and really get stuck in from the get-go.
(Tip within a tip: companies offering work experience/placements/graduate jobs will use your first year as a reference!).
Tip 2: Do the Readings
It is a minimum that you do the assigned readings, the more you do, the better you’ll understand.
You’re going to spend the majority of your reading, so you need to learn to enjoy it. It may seem long and hard to understand initially, however you’ll soon start to develop your own techniques to tackling the readings.
My advice? Organise a time to read throughout the week; plan ahead, don’t leave it to the last minute, break each piece down into digestible parts and make clear and concise notes. Oh, and just reading the intro/conclusion isn’t going to be enough either (wink).
Tip 3: Experiment with organisation
I started the year off by writing up all of my notes and then typing them up again later – it was very time-consuming. So by the end of the year, I found that by typing the notes up to start with would save me time and reduced the risk of losing my notes.
Set up a good and organised file system for all of your notes, be it physical or digital. There is nothing worse than having to re-read an article because you are revisiting the topic without notes.
(Tip within a tip 2: Make use of both One Drive or Google Drive – do not risk just having a physical copy of your work)
Tip 4: Don’t be afraid to say something wrong
Seminars are great – the professors are engaging, the topics provide hours of in-class debates, and by the end of them, you’ll have developed a better understanding of your readings and lectures. However, the idea of public speaking isn’t for everyone. My only bit of advice (other than doing the reading in preparation): never be afraid of giving the wrong answer. It is always best to give it a go and share your perspective! You’ll only learn more by doing so.
Tip 5: Enjoy it!
Look, you’re only at university for a very short period. Three years may seem like a long time, but you’ll soon realise that it flies by. So enjoy every second of it!
It’s not always going to be fun and easy, there are periods of long, hard graft! But if you do the right things and try your best, then there is nothing to worry about.
History is a pretty demanding degree, but it pays you in the skills you develop. Read, learn, discuss and have fun and I look forward to meeting some of you this year!