“First year doesn’t matter”.
Chatting to a friend the other day, we realised that those four words have possibly been the most annoying four words we’ve heard all year. I think its meant to be reassuring (at least it is when the lecturers say it), although sometimes its a bit more snide. Its like anything, when you go past a stage in life it becomes hard to look back and remember how you felt at the time. Instead you tend to see a rose-tinted picture where everything was less stressful and more fun and you know what, you’re probably right. I’ll probably look back in hindsight and see a totally different picture to what I see now. I’ll long for the days when it didn’t matter.
I don’t know if its the same situation everywhere, but in England the first year of your degree doesn’t count towards your final mark. You only need to pass your first year modules (40%) to gain the necessary 120 credits, your marks don’t go towards your average. Now this is nice in some ways. I think the main argument for this is that is allows you to ‘settle in’ to your studies without having any pressure put on you. In reality, it seems many students use it as an excuse to do very little work for a year. Whether they come unstuck in 2nd year is another matter.
I wonder if lecturers on 1st year courses feel the same? I wonder if its frustrating for them that they’re supposedly teaching things that ‘don’t matter’? It must be annoying when only 1/2 the class turns up to a 9 o’clock lecture that you’ve spent time preparing, mustn’t it?
So 1st year doesn’t count. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. I don’t know about anyone else but I’m not confident enough in my ability to know I can mess around for a year and be fine when I turn my brain on in second year. I see this first year as the basis on which I’ll build in the coming two years, so to me its important to make sure I ‘get’ everything we’ve been taught. Its frustrating when people above me on the ladder of degree-dom (New word. I like it.) brush me off with those four words. I think they see a naive fresher who’s worrying unnecessarily. I’m not worrying. I just want to know where I stand.
First year exams at my university are largely multiple choice questions. With a class size of 150 students, its quite obvious why this is and that’s completely understandable. Nevertheless, I don’t like multiple choice questions. They don’t test what you ‘know’, they test what you can memorise. Everyone says that University is not about rote learning. Well in first year, it is. But isn’t first year meant to be about gaining a foundation of knowledge on which to build? How can you be sure that you understand the core of what you’ve been taught when you’re tested on it by being asked 40 questions that relate to one sentence of one lecture of a 150 hour module? There are some modules where this is justified. My Zoology modules for example. I just need to know the difference between a cnidarian and a rotifera, where the turtle’s came from, what a bird’s bones look like, how an amphibian breathes…but testing my knowledge of the underlying principles of evolution, for example, with a multiple choice question test seems a bit of a cop out.
While my lecturers assure me otherwise, I’m sure its quite easy to fluke an MCQ exam and this leads me on to my next point. We only ever get given our percentage mark. We’re not given access to the right answers (because the majority of the questions stay the same from year to year and they don’t want us to pass them down to next year’s freshers). So we get no feedback on which questions we got wrong. If I get a mark of 70% on an exam, its impossible for me to be absolutely certain which 30% I got wrong. In my head, I’m thinking ‘what if the questions I thought I definitely got right were actually the one’s I got wrong and I fluked the one’s I didn’t know?’ Then I could go through the whole of the rest of my degree thinking I know things when I don’t and not knowing the things I think I don’t either. I’m not sure that makes sense in anyone else’s brain, but it does in mine. Before you say ‘just go and ask your lecturer individually’…I have, but when everyone’s saying to you ‘1st year doesn’t matter’ and you’re taking up your lecturers’ time by wanting to get feedback on an exam, it makes you feel like you’re being a nuisance.
I think basically from this we can conclude that I think too much. Maybe I’m in a minority that finds this whole brushing off of 1st year a problem, but deep down it obvious that the first year of a degree is somewhat important. If first year REALLY didn’t count for anything, none of us would be here would we?