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Reflecting on your academic year – setting effective goals for the year ahead

Summer break is the perfect time to reflect on your academic goals and what you want to get out of University. Olaoluwayode is sharing some tips on how she is using the time off to set new goals for next term.

I’m sure you can’t believe it either, but we have come to the end of the academic year! To be very honest with you, time has definitely flown by – not long ago it was September and we were starting the academic year. Nevertheless, summer is here, and we have all earned a well-deserved break. But before we put away the academic year, I think it is important that we take the time to stop, sit down, and reflect on everything we have just finished. Reflecting is an important part of growing up and helps us move forward.

Why do we need to reflect?

Life is a journey. As we travel through life, it is important that we reflect on our actions and feelings so that we can properly move forward to achieve our self-set goals. Now I can tell you from experience, it’s so easy to get caught up in the deadlines, the activities, the night-outs etc that make up ‘uni life’. We have all come to university for a reason, with a goal, for a purpose; it is important that we take the necessary steps to make sure these are achieved – reflection is a big part of this.

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How to reflect?

My first tip is relatively obvious – look over your coursework and exam results.

This is NOT just looking at the score!! It means downloading your school’s ‘Conceptual Equivalent Scale’ (a fancy word for your mark scheme) and determining where your results place you. I find it helpful to not only identify my grading but also how close I was to the next grade level. See whether your grades align with what you personally set out to achieve at the start of the year/module. Don’t only look at individual modules, look at the entire year as well. 

Read your lecturer’s feedback

Read your feedback thoroughly! This is not something to be rushed, or simply glanced over – I personally like to dedicate some time in my schedule to sit down and do this. Now depending on the lecturer, the module and the school you are in, sometimes the class average is included as well as the ‘most common’ problems faced by students. It may be helpful for you to read these, but most of the time I stick to comparing myself to the class average to see how I compare to my peers. An important tip I want to add is that you should take the time in your schedule to visit your lecturer over any feedback clarifications, enquiries and/or tips on how you could improve. A lot of students are scared to approach their lecturers – this is not only silly but could also be highly detrimental to your personal progression in the year/module/course. Don’t forget that as students you have EVERY right to ask your lecturers questions, as active participants in this education system.

Sit down and reflect on how you’ve found the module.

This step is not based on numbers or scores but based on emotion and feelings. It is important that you take the time to look over how you felt over the course of a module and/or year. There will always be ups and downs, there will always be things that happen that were out of our control, but it all comes down to us as individuals to separate the ‘controllable’ from the ‘uncontrollable’. Responsible individuals can not only identify the two, they make the effort to improve the elements they can control.

Here’s an example I found in a previous personal reflection: I had a lack of motivation to start my coursework assignments on time which was resulting in a lot of unhealthy all-nighters the week of my deadlines. On reflection, I found that on a deeper level I was struggling to balance doing my coursework with keeping up-to date on lectures and my weekly tutorial assignments. My conclusion: to implement better time management, for me this meant getting a diary, and setting myself progressive deadlines for stuff like my ‘research’, my ‘1st draft’, and my ‘final draft’. 

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Making resolutions for the new academic year

You might not realise it, but it’s not really the ‘reflection’ itself that helps you become a better student. Rather it’s the new goals/targets that you set for yourself based on your reflection that will help determine your future success. There’s no easy way to properly set yourself effective personal targets, here are some things to consider in setting out your new goals/targets: don’t be too hard on yourself; remember that this is a learning process; don’t be afraid to try out new things (go outside your comfort zone); and don’t be afraid to ask for help/advice (from other students, lecturers or university staff).

Something I have found useful is to NOT simply set myself targets like “next time get a 2:1”; these are lazy and overall not very helpful for your personal growth. Instead, I choose to make what I call ‘end’ and ‘step-by-step’ goals, these allow me to identify my end goal, and the steps I need to achieve to fulfil it.

Here’s another personal example:

END GOAL: get a 2:1 in my exam,

STEP BY STEP GOALS: (1) write combined textbook and lecture slide notes at the end of each topic; (2) complete tutorial work in time for each week’s tutorials; (3) do at least 2 pieces of additional reading/research each week; (4) plan out a revision schedule with topic finishing deadlines; (5) review and find case studies + examples (by topic); (6) make revision flashcards. 

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Making the best of your summer

Now the final and equally important step of properly ‘reflecting on your academic year’ is to rest. Don’t be surprised! Resting and taking the time to ‘take a break’ is extremely important to make sure that you do not overwork yourself.  Summertime has begun, which gives you the perfect opportunity to chill out, relax and enjoy yourself.

So, we’ve come to the end of my personal guide on how to effectively ‘reflect on your academic year’. Being able to reflect on your actions, and from that make yourself new targets/goals is a vital skill – not just as a student but for life after university. Taking the time to reflect and readjust/reposition yourself is ideal to ensure that you reach your goals successfully. Now with all my tips, one thing that I haven’t mentioned that you should consider is reflecting on other aspects of your academic year like your spending/budget. Another thing that I must highlight, is that this guide by no means has to be done alone! I’ve found it extremely helpful over my university journey to sit down with friends (from similar courses) to reflect, make new goals, and share both our individual experiences and our ideas on how to solve a variety of arising problems. We don’t necessarily travel this university journey alone, so I would recommend doing some of your reflection with others if you think this would help you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. Wishing you all the best on your academic journey.

Olaoluwayode Bilewu

Business Economics | 3rd year | GB

Hey, my name is Olaoluwayode Bilewu and I’m a 20-year-old student here at Queen’s University Belfast. I am in my third year of study, and can truly say that Northern Ireland has started to grow on me. I have had the amazing opportunity to get involved in so many things at Queen’s, this year I am the Vice President of the QUB African and Caribbean Society as well as a dedicated member of the Enactus Society. My interests include photography, find new (and cheap) restaurants/cafés and of course Instagram. I look forward to pursuing a career in digital marketing and PR.