How to manage your first class ambitions while in school
It is one thing to dream about graduating with “First Class Honours” printed in bold letters on your degree certificate and another completely different thing to accomplish it.
Like every dream in life, finishing with a First Class requires careful planning, hard work, consistency and a great deal of luck. Oh yes, you will need a lot of luck, especially if you are studying in the typical Nigerian University where some lecturers are die-hard sadists and will rather you fail than succeed. So, here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to have a First Class or you know someone you think you can encourage to work towards it.
One, you need to have a plan. Before I was admitted into the university to study Economics, I already understood how the Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) system works and how it entailed that I need to start working hard from the very first semester to the last because every single grade counts towards the final grade. A lot of young people do not know this before they get into university and so, first year for them is for getting used to the university system, making friends and socializing.
Sometimes they don’t wake up to the reality until it is third year, and late. Knowing that every single course counts towards the final CGPA helped me to map my path even before I got admitted into the university. I knew that I had only four years to make this lifelong achievement and that I had to give it everything. You will need to decide (and you will do well to decide on time) what you want to achieve before you start, and then make plans; daily, weekly, monthly, yearly plans.
Two, hard work does not kill. It will hurt. It will be painful. But it will not kill. This is from first-hand experience. You will be pushed by lecturers: assignments, impromptu quizzes, seminars, crazy deadlines, difficult exam questions, so many materials to study and all, so you need to develop thick skin.
Burn the midnight candle. Sacrifice your weekends for studies. Study. Study hard. Sometimes, your back will stiffen in protest and you will fall sick, but you need to keep your eyes on the prize. Immerse yourself in every assignment, in every quiz, in every exam. Let it mean everything to you. I like to think of every exam as going to war and that I have to be prepared and ready. I don’t know what works for you, but use anything. Invent anything, any prompt, and make it work for you.
Three, be consistent. Don’t start working hard in your first year and suddenly slowdown in your third year because you think you are already getting enough good grades. There’s never enough. Or even worse still, don’t hope to start working hard from third year to make up for the earlier years. You mess up from the beginning, you mess your final CGPA. Start from the very beginning to work hard and stay committed until the final examination in your final year. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by anything, anything at all. You will have to always bear in mind that it is just a few years and those few years matter. They will come and go and never come back to you again, and so you need to give it everything you have.
Four, be aware of details, even the tiniest of them. You will need to become a psychologist in this sense. Try to understand the lecturers and know what they really want from you, the student. Be very attentive in class. Pick out every single detail, every single illustration they use, every single question they ask.
Play with them at your free time. Imagine yourself in an exam and cook up possible exam questions based on your understanding of the lecturer. Get a grip of what works for a particular lecturer and what doesn’t, how to answer their questions, what to do to get their attention when you are answering questions.
You need to understand them. More importantly, it is not just enough to study. It is also important to understand the questions you are asked and to know how to go about answering them. For instance, what does a lecturer mean when they say, outline, or discuss, or analyze, or compare and contrast? Do they want you to give an introduction, body of the answer, and then a conclusion for every question? Be very detailed. Every little detail matters.
However, upon graduating, you will understand that life is not all about that First Class paper you possess but what you have to offer, your unique skills. Because you have a First Class, people will want to dictate to you what is good for you, what to do with your life, how to carry yourself.
People will practically want to live your life for you. “Oh, you have a first class so you should do this and that and that.” Remember that a First Class does not make you any more or less a human being. You should have your own life. You should explore and not stay in a box. You should find your own passion and pursue it with all your heart. You should live.
Munachim Amah graduated with First Class Honours in Economics from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra state. He is currently a Master’s student at the School of Media and Communication, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos. He worked as a research assistant at the Lagos Business School and has had his writings published on several platforms. He is an alumnus of the 2016 Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop organized by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
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