The essays you write at the beginning of your time at University are a BIG DEAL!
Yep, there are significant advantages for students who take them seriously.
I often hear students say “first-year essays don’t matter” or “first-year essays don’t count towards your final degree”. But if you choose to ignore your first-year essays it DOES make a difference to your results.
Here are three reasons why your essays count right from day one.
- You learn to write,
- You write to learn, and
- You get access to more opportunities
Read on - there are three pro tips at the end which you can employ right away to help you nail those essays from the beginning!
Why do students think first year essays don't count?
Many universities understand it can take time to settle into a new way of life and get accustomed to a higher level of study. As a result, they tend not to count the marks from the first year and instead award the degree classification based on results from the second and third year, most heavily weighted towards the third year.
Technically, students are right when they say first year essay marks don't count because they don't count towards the final mark. But this doesn't mean they shouldn't be taken seriously. First year essays can have a major impact on your academic writing, critical thinking and ability to secure industrial placements and internships.
How? Well, I'm going to go into each of these points in more detail today.
Three reasons you should work towards good first year results
Academic Writing (First year essays help you learn to write)
Every time you write an essay, you have the chance to improve. If you don’t take those early essays seriously, then you’ll miss opportunities to hone your research and writing skills. If you got A* or As at A-level, then you may feel confident about your study skills, but you shouldn't be complacent. There is a big jump upward in standard when you begin to write at University.
At university the focus is on learning how to evaluate research independently. Often you’ll be supplied with an outline of what is required to pass the module and how marks are allocated. You may get a rubric showing what the marker is looking for, or you may be given a previous year’s exam paper or essays as examples. Generally, though you’ll need to figure out what, when and how to pass the assessment by yourself.
Your lecturer or tutor wants you to be successful, but they’ll assume you can already craft an essay that reflects your intellect and ability.
Critical Thinking (First year essays help you learn to think)
The actual process of writing, if done correctly, can also improve your ability to learn how to think. Writing enables you to improve the clarity of your thought process AND the precision of how you express ideas.
When you begin to research an essay topic, initially you think about your subject matter using the words of the scholars you have read. Subconsciously, you’ll think along the same lines as them too. The process of writing forces you to push beyond what you’ve read and make decisions about what is important, relevant and best supports your argument.
It is only when you begin to write that you really pull apart the different ideas and evidence you’ve read, and start to piece it together in an order that answers your essay question. It’s this two-part process of separation and synthesis that helps you comprehend, critique and commit the material to memory.
Writing also improves your ability to express your thoughts in a concise, coherent manner. Submitting an essay your tutor can easily understand will bring in those higher marks from the start, and those first half-dozen essays are ideal to practice new vocabulary, definitions, and terms that are important in your field too.
Ability to secure industrial placements and internships (First year marks show consistency)
As student numbers continue to rise, employers look for different ways to differentiate candidates, not only for jobs after graduation but for internships and industrial placements too.
Understandably, these opportunities are hotly contested because there is a strong correlation between students who complete placements and those that are offered graduate positions after they conclude their studies.
What employability factors do employers look for in applicants? Creativity? Confidence? Competence? Yes, all of those are obvious qualities that employers look for. One attribute that’s often overlooked is consistency. Employers know past performance is one of the biggest predictors of future achievement.
It makes sense.
When you apply for an internship or industrial placement, you'll often be asked about your first year marks. Employers know that consistently achieving good marks shows you take your academic work seriously, which leads them to believe you’ll take their internship or industrial placement seriously too.
Pro tips to help you write better essays
One: Every time you write an essay, set yourself some objectives for learning the process of writing alongside your main outcome of answering the essay question. Your process objective could be to: improve essay structure, apply theory correctly, or cite better evidence. This allows you to use each of those essays that ‘don’t count’ to learn to write better.
Two: Create your own mini-dictionary for each subject that you study. Every time you find a word in a book or article that you don’t understand, make a note of it in a spreadsheet or notebook. Take time later to look them up and write what they mean in your ‘dictionary’ using words that you can easily understand.
Three: Examine the modules you’re due to take this semester. What assessment methods are used? Essays? Reports? A presentation? Now look at the marks assigned to each element. Are some parts of the assessment worth more than another? Then split your time accordingly. If 70% of your mark is an individual essay and 30% is a group presentation, focus your attention on the essay – tempting though it is to hang out with your group over coffee!
There are enough matters to contend with when you start university and your performance doesn't have to be one of them. Don't try and play the game, thinking you will go into your second year automatically getting good marks. Study well from day one and you will save yourself a lot of stress and worry. There you have it: first-year essays count because they help you write better, learn better, and get better opportunities. What's not to love?
Which reason resonates with you? What are you going to do to get great first year marks? comment below.
Remember, it's NEVER too late to study well. If you are struggling in your first year or have gone into your second year without good first year marks, all is not lost. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be in touch to advise you.
**This blog post is adapted from a guest post I did originally for The University Blog in 2016**