By Helen Owton
The summer is here and for those who want to use it to your advantage here are some top tips on how you could get a First in Sport and help you get ahead for your next academic year!
One of the top tips for students wanting to gain a first in their subject is to have a passion for their subject (Tefula, 2012). The vast majority of sport and health science students share some sort of sporting experiences given that the majority of students partake in sport themselves. Indeed, I argue that these sports science students tend to be ‘active learners’ (Owton, 2016) which means that the best students make notes in learning sessions which can help if you have a short concentration span. Get the most from your lectures by doing pre-reading, take notes and record the sessions and listening to podcasts of lectures that relate to your topic area.
Reflect on personal experience
As sports students, you are in an ideal position to reflect upon your own experiences. Indeed, previous sporting experiences have been sources of confidence for sport psychology graduates and this experiential knowledge can have a major impact on a student’s development (Brown, Gould and Foster, 2005). Martens (1987) has highlighted the importance of experiential knowledge which is vital in areas such as sport psychology and sociology to forming relationships, understanding the human experience, and introspection of self. This is something sports students can use to their advantage and making the most of activities that give you the opportunities to think with personal experience and blend this with academic literature to support your claims will help gain you first in your final degree.
Prior knowledge is another tip for getting a first. Again, sports students have an advantage here with their shared experiences in sport. Also, you have lots of opportunities at the Open University to engage in free OU learning courses at different levels and participate in the Skills Check on the library website (https://www2.open.ac.uk/students/skillsforstudy/assignments.php). You could use the summer holidays before and during your studies to participate in the free OU learning courses to give you a head start. It means you keep a foot in the door of studying as well so you build on your knowledge from year to year.
Reference, reference, reference! Whilst prior knowledge and experience bodes well for students wanting to get a first for their degree, it goes without saying that referencing your points with supporting literature helps strengthen your arguments. This demonstrates that you have read widely and the more widely you read the more you will understand the wider arguments embedded in the topic areas.
When we think of someone with a good work ethic, we might think of someone who is self-disciplined, professional, responsible, positive, organised, dedicated, accountable and humble. These are all qualities that help towards gaining a first in your degree, but being disciplined by making the most of the time and space you have is key to giving yourself the right environment to process what you are reading and digesting. Just remember to submit mitigating circumstances and seek support if you need to.
It much more challenging when you are juggling family, part-time or full time work, multiple modules, relationships and other personal responsibilities which is why this is one of the key aspects. If you cannot study at home or at work, there are plenty of other places which might suit you better – cafes, libraries, hotel receptions. Try different locations for different tasks to see what suits you.
An Open Mind
Your degree lasts 3years and longer which is a commitment to learning, but once you recognise that learning is something that happens through life and your career and doesn’t stop once you complete your degree then this opens up a new way of thinking outside the box. I’m sure some of you are familiar with Carol Dweck’s concept of the growth mindset given that this theory is covered in some of the Sport & Fitness modules. A growth mindset is the idea that talents and abilities can be learned and developed through constant effort, determination and persistence. In other words, with hard work, you could get a first. Working hard and putting in lots of effort isn’t just enough if you are not working hard on the right aspects. Imagine a hamster running round and round in a wheel; the hamster is working really hard but isn’t getting anywhere. If you are not working hard on the right things then whilst you might feel like you worked really hard you haven’t achieved the grade you want because you haven’t worked smart.
Take exam preparation as an example. You can read and re-read notes over and over again until you are blue in the face, but there are strategies for revising which help you to master memory. Testing your memory with Cue cards will be more effective than reading your notes over and over again. Being strategic about how you revise and work will help you achieve the grade you want which is the same about how you work and prepare for your assignments. Reading widely around a topic is a good start, but don’t just include everything you have read and think that a long reference list will get you high marks. Remember, you need to be selective about the things you have read and form a coherent and convincing argument which answers the question.
Writing is a craft
Preparing your assignments in advance of the deadline is a useful strategy. This gives you the opportunity to proofread your work, let others proofread it, give yourself space from the assignment and then craft your assignment with fresher eyes. Writing is a craft which needs work and not even the best writers share their first draft.
Make your final assignment count!
Remember, at the Open University, your final assignment can sometimes determine your overall grade regardless of how well you have done in your overall TMAs. Think about where you expend your energies and how you apply yourselves to make your final grade count.
Run your own race
Remember the best athletes are those who focus on their own race, their own personal best and don’t compare their results with others. Make the most of your degree but remember to look after your body and mind (keep a check on exercise, diet, alcohol and sleep).
Brown, C., Gould, D., and Foster, S. (2005). A Framework for developing contextual intelligence (CI), The Sport Psychologist, 19, 51-62.
Martens, (1987). Science, knowledge, and sport psychology. The Sport Psychologist, 1, 29-55.
Tefula, M. (2012). How to get a first. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.