Assignments are a key part of university life. They help us to learn from others, educate ourselves through self-led research and show our understanding to our tutors – oh, and they make up our final grade, eek. The fact they are so important can make them seem incredibly daunting, especially when there’s only a few days left until submission and you’ve just remembered an essay’s due... just me?
Now that many of us are working from home, this could be the first time you’ve truly had to take responsibility for your own study. Alongside assignments, many of you will have self-led research tasks and Aula exercises to do in your own time – which are actually designed to help you find and absorb the information needed for the big essay at the end. However, with no-one looking over your shoulder, and Netflix right there… how can you stay motivated to study and get the most out of your course?
Prioritising your week
One of the best ways to conquer a difficult week is by working out what needs to be done first – often this isn’t the thing that is demanding your attention most. For example; taking ten minutes to draw out a weekly schedule and set daily goals, instead of launching straight into hitting your word count, will (I promise) make the rest of the week seem manageable. Equally, spending too much time on the small things (Hello bullet journallers, what a pretty, but lonely, page of notes you have there…) can drain your energy and use up your limited time. Finding the balance between planning and doing is tricky, but ultimately nailing that level of organisation now will undoubtedly help you in the long run.
Planning in advance
Every year I get sucked in by Paperchase, fully believing their new planners will solve my uni fears and make everything more manageable… and they do, if I use them properly. I realised just writing a long to do list on Monday and then sobbing at the end of the day because I hadn’t done it all, wasn’t actually that productive… By spacing tasks out across the week, keeping every task under two hours and scheduling breaks between tasks – I find the week seems much easier to face every Monday morning, and I sleep better on Sunday nights! We all work differently; some of you may find it makes sense to do one big task a day, rather than a few hours on each thing, each day, like me. I’m no expert and it’s fine to follow your own rhythm, just remember the key is taking a break every two hours – but just for ten minutes, not for a whole Netflix episode.
The great thing about Coventry University is that tutors are here to help, not hinder you, and they really do care about your success. Receiving feedback on an assignment can be daunting, especially if there are any criticisms or learning points. It’s tricky to not freak out, and I’ll admit I have shed a tear or too in the past, but ‘learning points’ really is what they are: opportunities to learn and improve. It’s always a good idea to review feedback from previous assignments; especially what the assessor thinks you could do better – this is their subtle way of telling you how to perfect your work – so take advantage! Additionally, those endless learning outcomes and marking criteria aren’t just added to the briefs to give you more to print out; they are genuinely helpful in showing you what your focuses should be, and will stop you getting distracted in your writing.
Piece by Piece approach
Breaking down assignments into bite-size pieces helps them seem much more manageable. Rather than focusing on crafting the perfect 2000 word assignment straight away, I aim to draft 300 ‘okayish’ words today, 300 tomorrow… etc for a week. Then, once I have all my thoughts down on screen, I can reflect, edit out the ‘ish’ and work out what on earth I was trying to say... Often I’ll print everything out, cut into paragraphs and move pieces around on the floor until I have the perfect essay jigsaw (an essaw… a jigsay?!). This is normally the stage where someone else walks in and questions when I’m going to tidy up… but at least I can point at the ‘mess’ and say I HAVE ACHIEVED SOMETHING TODAY! Which is a very rare feeling when you’ve been stuck at your desk researching theories for hours…
Just a side note on distractions here: Pick up you phone, go on, do it… and turn it off. Or at least put it on silent. It might feel like you’ve lost a limb, but removing that distraction is key to focusing on your work. The same goes for turning off notifications on your laptop or tablet; the fewer distractions, the better.
Procrastination – the art of doing nothing to avoid doing everything* – has a bad reputation. When a deadline is looming, everyone talks about the dangers of putting work off until the last minute… (In fact, I think I started this blog saying just that...) While it is true that delaying the inevitable never helps anyone feel calmer, sometimes positive procrastination is the perfect cure to stress and anxiety; especially if you’ve been working really hard for hours and need a proper break.
Whether you go for a walk, meet with friends, watch a film or just do something creative; taking time out from the land of books and highlighters could be the refresher you, and your brain, need. Science says a relaxed and refreshed brain is a productive and positive one, so returning to write after an hour’s rest could be all you need to craft the conclusion of your (tutor’s) dreams.
*not an actual dictionary definition
Many of us put pressure on ourselves to succeed, to be perfect in everything we do, say …or submit to Turnitin. Pressure can be external too. You may be aware of sacrifices others have made to allow you to attend university, or you might face parental expectations of what career path you take, and what grade you achieve. Pressure can be helpful; it motivates us, drives us, and encourages us to work hard. However, putting all that energy into doing everything perfectly can be exhausting, and often means we set ourselves impossible goals – leading to feelings of failure when they haven’t been achieved.
In group work, being a perfectionist can make you too afraid to delegate, thinking you can do the job better yourself. How many of you have stayed up late the night before submitting a ‘group’ project, because you took on all the main tasks? The truth is, by delegating you get to share the pressure, and each team member gets to practice negotiation, giving direction and providing feedback – all tools you will need to work in the big wide world.
Picking yourself up
Sometimes, it’s hard to find the motivation to study. Maybe you’ve received some negative feedback; you’re feeling unwell; you’re having problems with friends and family; or everything just feels a bit too ‘much’. As well as the services mentioned at the end of this blog, there are simple coping strategies you can put in place to make things feel more manageable. Something that helps me is to reflect on a time when things have gone well, particularly if I didn’t think they would! For example, if a deadline seems impossible, or a word count too ridiculous, I remember when I’ve handed my work in on time and managed to write 2000 words on even the driest of subjects. It also helps to think about the things that didn’t go so well – as long as you don’t dwell on them – and identify what needs to change to stop that happening again.
Coping strategies help you keep calm and refocus when everything feels overwhelming. Ideas could include mindfulness, practicing deep breathing, making uplifting playlists, using stress balls or worry stones, or simply talking things through with friends. There is a proven link between having a healthy body and having a healthy brain, so going for a walk whilst chomping on broccoli could improve your mood... or, you know, you could just enjoy the two activities separately.
Ultimately, the key to picking yourself up is practising self-compassion. None of us are super-human (except maybe the Kanneh Mason family). It is okay to have an off day, it’s okay to struggle and it’s okay to ask for help.
Please reach out
The above is just general advice for getting through your studies. For practical support, our library teams offer an online chat service to help with research, available every day from 9am to midnight. The Centre for Academic Writingoffer fantastic tuition around coursework planning and can provide one-to-one support to perfect your essays, and the language centre provide resources to aid communication. The library is also home to SIGMA, who provide workshops and one-to-one support with maths and statistics.
Despite our best intentions, sometimes a week, a month, a module... even a year, doesn’t go to plan. And that’s okay. For mental support, we have a dedicated Mental Health initiative called Connections Matter, which provides weekly emails and signposts support services and initiatives to staff and students across the University Group.
Our Health and Wellbeing Service has everything you need to stay safe and happy during your time at Coventry. It provides information on mental and sexual health, support with money worries, bereavement support and welfare services for staff and students. Finally, our Student Union offer a range of ways to get involved in and support the student community.
Remember you are not alone, whatever the new normal.
Who am I?
I’m Elizabeth, a Public Health and Community student at CU Coventry, and an intern with Curriculum 2025. I’m a wellbeing advocate and I volunteer for SHOUT – a Mental Health text line.