Studying at university level can be quite daunting, especially given the amount of independent work required. Moreover, when the average humanities degree offers a mere 9 hours of contact a week it can be easy to question what you’re paying for. However, if each 30-credit unit suggests something like 167 hours of independent study a term, and you times that by three, well there’s a reason I didn’t do maths: but it can really start to add up! But when it comes down to it the crux of a humanities degree is reading and conversation. With this in mind and a few tricks up your sleeve, you’ll easily take it in your stride!
Before the seminar: Reading
Tip 1: Keep a planner.
Simple, but easily forgotten, a planner (such as this one) makes all the difference. Allocate your study around lectures and seminars; it’s easiest to keep on top of work when you’re in a rhythm so I’d recommend timetabling specific days for specific units.
Tip 2: Discursive notes
When it comes to journals, monographs and theoretical works don’t simply copy them down verbatim! Rather, try and keep track of the argument and your own responses: where do you agree or disagree? How does it speak to other things you’ve read? What other questions did it raise? And is there anything you didn’t understand? This will turn your notes into great seminar prompts and offer fantastic content for exams and essays!
Tip 3: It’s okay not to have read the whole encyclopaedia
Even if you miss a lecture, or didn’t manage to finish the reading, still go to the seminar! Working with other students is a brilliant way to catch up, you might share notes or talk the content over with a brew or pint. Life happens, and we can’t be on top of our game every day of the week, but don’t feel defeated, there’s still lots to learn from listening in a seminar.
The seminar itself
Tip 1: Come prepared
It’s a great idea to brush up on your lecture and reading notes before a seminar, this will give you a grounding for engaging in conversation and the confidence in your own ideas to really make the most of those precious contact hours.
Tip 2: Be an active listener
Listen to your peers as you do in a lecture. Keep track of what you agree and disagree with and what further thoughts and questions their suggestions raise. This is a fantastic way of getting a stronger sense of your own response to the content and will help you navigate your own arguments when it comes to essay and exam writing.
Tip 3: Use your voice!
It’s much easier to speak once you’ve spoken! So, try and contribute within the first 15 minutes. You might begin with your first impressions of the content, by asking a question about something that made less sense or by talking through a peer’s response with them. While it can seem cliché there’s rarely such thing as a wrong answer: a seminar is not an essay, it’s a space for working out thoughts, testing out your ideas, and finding out what you think. Make the most of your hours by joining in!
Beyond the seminar: Office hours
Tip 1: If you’re in a muddle
Every lecturer holds office hours, and with a quick email you can find out when and where they are. While it can feel intimidating to approach a lecturer one-on-one, these hours are there for you. If there is something you didn’t understand from a reading, lecture, or seminar, they can help talk it through.
Tip 2: Getting ahead
It’s never too early to think about your essays or exams. Once you’ve got a sense of what you might write about, or even an argument of your own, a lecturer can help you broaden your perspective, find a clearer path, and extend your ideas to the next level!
Tip 3: For the joy of it!
If something really sparked your interest, on or off the course, office hours are a great way to continue the conversation, find specific readings, and figure out where to take your ideas next. Lecturers do their jobs for the love of their subject, and most will be thrilled to have a conversation!
About the Author:
My name's Esme, having graduated an English Literature degree in the highest marks in my year at the University of Manchester, I stayed on to do a Masters. I love Ecocriticism, queer theory, and reading anything from the medieval to the modern!