I finally received my exam results yesterday and now I can officially say I’ve passed first year! As I begin to look ahead to my second year of studying history I have a few reflections on how first year went…
My experience of learning history before university was pretty limited in terms of topics and periods. We didn’t study a big variety of historical eras/events, and, widely speaking, my historical knowledge was distinctly average unless it was Modern Germany or the Tudors! This meant that before coming to uni I was excited about being able to study history in more depth and range, but also a little bit worried that my knowledge was nowhere near good enough to be a history student!! However, it didn’t take long to establish that I wasn’t the only one with gaps in my knowledge – in my first medieval seminar it became very clear none of us knew what we were talking about, except for one person who’d studied the Crusades at A-Level, so I shouldn’t have worried! You come to university to learn, so you’re not expected to have all the answers already.
When applying for history at university there were so many different courses to choose from. Something I really liked about UEA’s history course was that the first year modules are fixed, so you don’t have to pick your own options for the whole of first year. At first I wasn’t sure about this because it meant the first year wasn’t flexible, but then I realised it actually made a lot of sense for me. Having not covered much range of history at school, I wasn’t really sure what periods of history I would most enjoy studying. Therefore being able to study widely in first year seemed like a great idea. In my first semester at UEA the modules were Medieval, Early Modern and Modern which provided a great overview of a huge range of history. I learnt so much and challenged some of my own preconceptions about what eras of history I liked best. Being able to study a wide section of history helped give me a better idea of what modules to choose for my second year.
In the second semester the topics were Witchcraft, ‘History, Controversy and Debate’ (looking at different approaches to history and why we should study history), and Age of Extremes (which covered Europe 1918-2001). These modules were more focused on specific periods or topics, which was nice after the range of the first semester’s modules. I struggled with the Age of Extremes module because I’m generally not a big fan of modern history. I also felt at a bit of a disadvantage because I had never studied a lot of the content we covered, whereas many of my coursemates had (turns out Modern Russia was a very popular topic for A-Level at everyone else’s sixth form!). However I still got through and it even ended up being one of my best marks, which was satisfying because I felt like I worked harder for it than I did for some of my other modules.
In terms of assessed work, most of my marks came from essays throughout the year and then I had two exams at the end of the year for Witchcraft and ‘History, Controversy and Debate’. For the essays, you choose your own essay title from a list of options. This was nice because it allowed you to focus on specific topics that interested you, making the task of essay writing a tiny bit more bearable. The essays were challenging, and some of mine were sent in dangerously close to deadlines, but overall I had no big problems with them. Although writing a university level essay is really daunting, you get great support from seminar tutors throughout the year, who were always on hand to answer any questions or look over essay plans.First year doesn’t count towards your overall degree for history, you just need to get 40% or over to pass the year. This took off some of the pressure which was great, especially for exams, which are always scary!
My first year wasn’t always plain sailing – it’s definitely a big step up from A-Levels, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re staring at a pile of books and realising you somehow how to construct an answer to an essay question from this reading. Despite these inevitable challenges, I’m so glad I chose to study history. I’ve really loved the course and I feel like I’ve learned so much in the space of a year. I’m excited to get started with the modules I’ve chosen for next year, which will hopefully allow me to explore topics I enjoy in more detail.