6 Essential Tips for All History Students

Have you just started your first year of your university degree and feeling a bit bewildered by it all? Or perhaps you have started your second or third year and you want start taking things seriously and need a bit of help with your studies. Maybe, you just want a few tips on how to stay on track throughout your year. If you fit into one of these categories then you have come to the right place.

So, you've decided to study History because, hopefully, you love learning about the past and that's great. However, you may have already noticed, it can be a lot of hard work. Every week you're probably loaded with pages and pages of reading to do for seminars, reading for essays and all of that extra reading you should be doing to support your lecture notes. Trust me, you wont be reading for fun for the next three years. There's probably lots of other things you think you should be doing to help yourself throughout your degree, like copying up lecture and seminar notes and y'know just generally being super organised. In reality, it doesn't always work out like this and the best of us are up late at night before that Wednesday 9am seminar desperately trying to get through a 60 page journal article about religious symbolism in France and you can't help but think "I wish my degree was easier!"

Having studied History myself, I have a few tips and tricks on how to keep up with your work and make it all seem a lot less daunting. I also have this wonderful benefit of hindsight so I can also let you know things that I wish I had done and hopefully this might make your experience a little bit easier. Here are 6 relatively simple tips and tricks to make your history degree a little bit easier.

1. Show Up. This isn't supposed to be patronising or condescending but there are a lot of people who don't show up to lectures and seminars. You may also find yourself not going to seminars because you haven't done the reading (see point 2) or missing classes because you don't have time and you just really need to finish that essay that's due soon. However, before you know it you will have missed 4 weeks of classes and you're begging your friends for their notes only to find, they didn't go either. If you have genuine reasons not to show up (e.g. health, mental health, family etc. then tell your lecturers in advance and they should be understanding and keep you up to speed).

Tip: Powerpoints are just the skeleton of a topic - the bare essentials. The actual meat of a topic will be what is said in lectures and discussed in seminars. These are the most important themes that you will need to highlight in essays and exams to show that you were actually paying attention. Show up, take notes. It will be worth the 9am start. Treat yo'self to a coffee.

2. Do the Reading. I know you don't want to because you've been told to read three 40 page journal articles about a topic you find really dull but if you don't do the reading you will dread going to the seminar and perhaps even not go. The more you start missing class, the more it becomes a habit and doesn't seem like a big deal. Why not try skim reading the articles and highlighting bits that you think are important and get a general idea of the main themes. If you can't read all of the essential articles for the seminar, at least try and read 1.

Tip: If you are really stuck for time, to get an idea of what an article is about instead of reading the entirety of a paragraph, I often found reading the first and last line of the paragraph to be helpful. The first line will introduce the idea and the last will do a mini-summary. This will help you get a general idea without reading all of it. Also always read the introduction and conclusion of an article as these provide good summaries/overviews of the main themes that will be discussed in your seminar.

3. Start Your Work Early. As soon as the essay titles are available to you, get a headstart and start researching your chosen topic and planning your essay. This is particularly a good idea to do if you find out the possible questions quite a few weeks earlier when you have no other deadlines so you can start at your own pace without having to rush and without competing deadlines. Trust me, there's nothing worse than trying to research, write and edit an essay in under a week.

Tip: If the essay titles are available but recommended reading is not, ask your tutor if they can suggest some. Most of the time tutors/lecturers will be more than happy to help you.

4. Pick Essay Topics That You Have a Genuine Interest in. When the essay titles get released, take your time to choose your topic. Don't pick what you think will be easiest, always choose the topic you are the most interested in. You will be researching this topic for a few weeks so you do not want to be stuck with something you find incredibly dull just because you thought it would be easier. Remember, you are here to get the most out of university (and you're paying a lot for it too) so you might as well study your favourite topics whilst your there.

5. Chose the Modules that You Like. Kind of similar to the last point - choose modules that you are interested in. This mainly applies when you are going into second year. It can be really easy to choose topics because your friends are doing them. This is lovely but it is not going to benefit your education. If you don't like, American History for example but you decide to take it instead of Medieval History because your friend is doing it, you will regret it in the long run. Chances are you will find it harder, mainly because you're not invested enough and then you will be filled with regret.  You can still meet your friends for coffee. Choose modules you like not the ones they like.

6. Create a Schedule. Yes I get it, this one sounds nerdy but it will help. Create a schedule or timetable of when you will do certain things throughout your week to ensure it gets done. Allocate enough time for each task, e.g. two hours per piece of reading, a couple of hours a day doing research for your upcoming essay etc. This way you can make sure you get everything done and don't spend too much time on one thing. But also make sure you schedule in time to do things that you want to do. You need 'me' time and time for self-care otherwise you will become too stressed. So make sure you schedule that lie in and extra long bath. You deserve it.

Tip: Also create a schedule a few months before exam time to make sure you have enough time to revise enough topics for your exams. Again schedule in relaxation days and 'me' time to reduce stress!

What are your top tips for studying History at university?
Disclaimer: These are things that helped me out massively at university and I obviously cannot guarantee that they will work for everyone. They are simply a few pointers that might offer guidance if you are feeling lost. 


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