Many ASNC students report that they spend at least 20 hours per week in private study during term (not counting time in lectures, classes or supervisions). You should try to work out a regular plan for your week which leaves you several periods free for concentrated reading and writing. Work out in advance what you can reasonably expect to read in the time available, and when you need to stop reading and begin to organise your thoughts and write. Your total working time should be consistent with your status as a full-time student. A 40-hour week (eight hours a day) is a reasonable target, but you may well find that it is often necessary to work in the evenings, and over the weekends, in order to meet a deadline. Of course you should reserve space in your timetable for some extra-curricular activities, such as acting, rowing, singing, dancing, and so on; but bear in mind that such activities should not interfere with your academic work, and that if they do, you may have to curtail them. The key is self-discipline, coupled with effective organisation of available time; and we hope that your natural enthusiasm for and commitment to the subject will carry you through!
Work out in advance what books you will need to read, and which library or libraries you need to go to. Make accurate and tidy notes on your reading, with bibliographical details (including library shelf-mark) and precise page references in the margin; this may save you a lot of hunting and checking later on. Most libraries have systems whereby you can recall a book you need if it has already been taken out by another reader. Do not wait until the very moment when you need a book and then give up because you can’t find it. Try to foresee what your needs will be and plan in advance how to meet them.
It is important that at an early stage you find a suitable place to work. If you find that there are too many distractions or interruptions in your college room, go to a library where you will not be disturbed (and also have reference books to hand). Make full use of college computing and photocopying facilities.
You may well find that it helps to discuss your work with your fellow students; though do not allow yourself to be taken in by those who claim to know it all already, or by the bravado of those who boast of their non-attendance at lectures.
Your timetable in term will undoubtedly be packed, so you should use your vacations wisely so as to ease the pressure. Get hold of reading-lists for next term’s work before you go down, and do as much preparation as you can (including, for example, preparation of set texts). Many students may want to do some paid work during vacations, and to enjoy the Christmas and Easter holidays; but you should be aiming at the same time to do as much academic work as you can, so that you are not slogging through basic reading when you should be getting the most out of the teaching programme.
You will need to plan your revision carefully. It is not wise to assume that you can make do with your accumulation of lecture notes, your supervision essays (which might be almost two years old), and any other notes taken in preparation for classes and supervisions. Nor is it wise to target specific subjects which you predict will turn up in the examination. A good essay is one in which it is clear that the student is thinking on his or her feet, and working things out in relation to issues suggested by the question. It is important, therefore, to make sure that you read some new material, or cover some new ground, in order to extend your knowledge across the field and to keep everything fresh in your mind.