There can seem a lot to get your head around when you start uni — living in new halls with new people, moving to a new place, adopting a new lifestyle, and so on. Beyond this, though, I remember feeling a little apprehensive about starting my course. I wasn’t sure what to expect — would there be a big jump from A Level? Would I be expected to have loads of historical knowledge at the ready? Would I have anything to say in seminars? Overall, I know now that I had nothing to worry about here. Everyone’s new to the course, and everyone will have covered different topics or have been taught in a different way. You’ll probably find that in some seminars you feel pretty confident, maybe having covered the topic at school, and can contribute more easily. Other weeks, your peers will feel more confident with the content and you need more time to take everything in and mull it over. The day-to-day nature of studying History was nowhere near as daunting as I had expected; although it’s challenging, I think you settle into the new way of learning quicker than you might expect.
After a few weeks of adjusting to History at uni, I was met with my first assessment. I remember panicking over it much more than was necessary. I felt unprepared and ill-equipped to tackle an essay, but after chatting with friends, it quickly became clear that we all felt the same way. We were all unsure of exactly what was expected in a uni-level essay, and what we needed to change from A Level, and how we were supposed to condense all the big ideas we’d been grappling with in lectures and seminars into 1,500 words. Thankfully, our seminar tutors were on hand to answer our questions, and History Society ran a workshop on the assessment. We needed to pass Year 1 to progress to Year 2, but our First Year did not count towards our overall degree classification. This definitely alleviated the pressure, and made the first essay into a good opportunity to figure out what was expected. I learned a lot about essay writing in First Year, so I felt much more at ease by Second Year when assessments counted towards my degree. Your first essay (nor any other essay) will be perfect, so you can use First Year for some trial-and-error to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing, and it will most likely make you a better essay-writer in the long run.
Essays are the main form of assessment, and definitely an essential skill for a History degree. You learn how to communicate your ideas, structure an argument, and express yourself clearly, all of which are key for any future career path. Essays aren’t the only method of assessment at Warwick, though. At the end of First Year for our ‘Making of the Modern World’ module, we had a digital history project, for which we either had to produce a source or a podcast on representations of History. I chose the latter, and had to pick a film or book which depicted a historical period and analyse how well it did so. I then recorded a ten minute podcast on my findings, which was a fun alternative to the usual essay. It was an interesting task which gave us a lot of room to think for ourselves and be creative.
We have also had lots of group projects. In First Year especially, we were often put into partners and given some questions to answer. We then had to present our answers to the rest of the seminar group. I enjoyed these collaborative tasks, because as Humanities students, a lot of our work tends to be independent. It was fun to discuss the topics and put together presentations, and definitely developed my confidence with public speaking and communicating ideas.
Given the circumstances of the last couple of years, I have not had any formal, in-person exams. These have been largely replaced with coursework and take-home assessments (where we’re set a question and have limited time at home to write and submit our essays). Whilst it’s difficult to predict what exams and assessment will look like in the future, I’m glad that I’ve had so much variety in methods of assessment. Essays are an important way of showing how well you’ve understood the content and if you are able to communicate your understanding clearly, but I think I’ve developed a much broader range of skills with different assessments. So, if you’re starting History at Warwick, you can be sure of some inventive and exciting assessments ahead!