Arts subjects are becoming less vigorous, but let’s still make the most of our degrees

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By Euan Merrilees, First Year Philosophy

First year of arts degrees may ‘not count’, but we should remember that we are at university to learn and work hard.

With exams so soon after the Christmas break, why did I feel so unprepared?

‘First year doesn’t matter’ was my favourite mantra over Christmas with ‘I only need 40 per cent to pass’ coming a close second. It was a good excuse to neglect revision, choosing instead to spend some quality time with friends and family over the holidays. Besides, it is true, at least for us humanity students.

First year really does not matter all that much as it does not count towards our final grade. You only really need to pass, and that is an easily attainable 40 per cent mark on the exams. So, I had a plan: do a minimal amount of work to get a decent enough grade to pass and spend time you would have spend studying with friends and family. Relax, take it easy - it is only first year after all.

I was not anxious because I was worried that I would not get a good grade, but instead I was concerned that I had not done enough work to properly learn.

This plan may seem like it would have reduced my stress and anxiety, but it did not. In fact, it made it worse. Sure, I have done enough work to get a decent grade, but is that really what I want?

I realise now that I was not anxious because I was worried that I would not get a good grade, but instead I was concerned that I had not done enough work to properly learn. Unfortunately, I only realized this when looking through a ‘how to write an essay’ guide on blackboard.

Along with ideas on how to move your essay style beyond A-Levels and into university standard, there was a strong implication that we would have a lot of practice at writing essays before being assessed on our ability to write one. That is strange, I thought. For at the time of writing, I had been given feedback on only one essay, and I am still waiting for the other one to be marked.

You might think that I feel let down by my faculty in some way, however the reality is much more complicated than that.

In fact, one of our senior lecturers described how he was very dissatisfied and worried about the way universities are changing. He spoke of how he fought against the decision to cut the number of formative essays that we had to do in half. He said that students should be forced to do things like prepare for essays, in the same way that you force your child to learn a musical instrument. Though kids may want to do something else with their time, forcing them to take up good habits when they are young greatly increases their character.

The australia.gov website has an ‘art fact’ page and I found one of these facts particularly interesting. Whilst only 20 per cent of children were forced to play instruments, 70 per cent of adults wished they had been forced as a child. I feel that this sentiment will resonate with many students later on in life.

Students should be forced to do things like prepare for essays, in the same way that you force your child to learn a musical instrument.

Preparing essays, in the humanities, is the best way to learn a topic. Because in doing so, you must know what you are writing about, you are forced to analyse the content, and planning makes sure you formulate your own evaluative argument. Though stressful, I always feel far more satisfied after having done an essay.

So why has the amount of work required of some arts students lessened immensely? Why are many humanities students getting fewer and fewer contact hours?

One explanation is that this move was one led by students who felt they were being pressured too hard, a move that was then confirmed by administrators who felt they should do something to reduces stress and anxiety.

As significant and important as wellbeing is (and the way in which this University is handling it is an entirely different can of worms), I feel that this move to do less work is going to haunt us in the end. We will come out of the first year less prepared and less knowledgeable than those who came before us.

Universities in general seem to be becoming less a place of learning, and more like a cooperation. They are curbing their products in order to be more appealing to students - the consumers - even if it may be bad for us in the long run.

We will come out of the first year less prepared and less knowledgeable than those who came before us.

Your parents sent you to school because they knew that learning was good for you, even if you hated it. Now it seems we are losing touch on what is good for us.

In many ways, the fault for my feeling of lack of preparation is on me. I could have done more, it would have benefited me more too, and I would not feel like I missed an opportunity. I am not saying that we should neglect our social lives, in some ways that is more important than passing our exams. However, these years are so vitally important for our futures.

We must remind ourselves to keep one eye on the goal, by asking ourselves the question: Why are we here?

Featured image: Unsplash/Will van Wingerden

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