MSc Management- Block Taught Structure

When I was deciding to join MSc Management at Lancaster University, I had absolutely no idea that the course was block taught. Most of you will not even know what it is.. I’ve been there.

Block taught quite literally means being taught in blocks, where each block was a week’s period and each module was taught in that time period. It is a very interesting concept. Throughout the week just one module was taught from 9am-5pm. We did case studies and group work and everything else related to that module in just that week. However, the final assessments are usually scheduled two weeks after finishing the module, be it exams or individual essays. To summarise, my month, on the whole, looked something like the first two weeks of intense classes and group work and then the next two weeks chasing deadlines for the modules that I had just finished.

I had never experienced such structure before and thus for the first few months, I struggled to cope with the deadlines and to keep up with whatever was being taught in the class, but as the year progressed I noticed that my ability to understand things and to manage my time improved exponentially. I no longer needed to go through the slides as I understood almost everything in class and also made concise notes while being taught. Also, in order to keep up with the deadlines, I followed strict schedules and began working on the assignments or preparing for the exams while the lectures were going on, rather than leaving things to the last moment.

I prefer this structure over being taught multiple modules at the same time because I could focus on just one module and, moreover, it helps reduce stress. It’s far less stressful to have exams and assessments spread over the entire year than to have all the exams at the end of the term or year for that matter. The month of May is dreaded by everyone as this is usually the month when everyone has exams. However, it’s not the same for me. Having finished all my exams, I have had the opportunity to enjoy the weather. Summer in the UK is a rare occurrence and I am enjoying every bit of sunshine.

Reflections on Doing First-Year Exams – for the Second Time

My first LUMS blog post, written in January, was about the somewhat unusual experience of what it’s like to be a first-year at university – for a second time. It’s now April, and another familiar experience is rearing its head for a second time: exam season. Exam season was a stressful period for me as a first-time first-year. I’d like to think, however, having a crack at it again as a second-time first-year, that my experiences in 2016 equipped me with some valuable lessons to make it a smoother ride this time round. I won’t be so bold as to say ‘take my advice’ – you’ll have to check back in a few months to see what grades I get to know whether that’s a wise idea or not! Nonetheless, here are my reflections.

I suppose the first thing to mention is that, although I am a second-time first-year (those don’t sound like real words any more, do they?) I did pass the first year of my previous course, BBA Management, and my decision to switch to Management, Politics, and International Relations was made before taking my exams. I say this not as a matter of defending my own honour – well, not entirely, anyway – but to address the oft-touted notion of ‘first year exams don’t count!’. While it’s true that at British universities, your first-year exam grades do not contribute towards your final degree classification, they absolutely do count, and thinking otherwise does one no favours. Many LUMS students, myself included, take the opportunity of going on a year-long work placement as part of their degree. As the application process for placements takes place during your second year, your first-year exam results will be just about all your potential employers have to go off regarding your academic performance at university. Insisting that you’re intelligent and hardworking, but got middling grades because ‘it was only first year’ will surely not be an appealing notion to a FTSE 100 company looking for the best and brightest, and this thought has certainly kicked me from any lingering complacency I had regarding exams.

Furthermore, it is undoubtedly the case that you get as much out of university as you put in – and as stressful as exams can be, they are ultimately there to help you, not to punish you. I’m not going to pretend that I was experiencing meditative feelings of self-improvement and development whilst trying to memorise every last accounting formula over a third cup of coffee last year; but that I still remember many of those formulas today, despite doing a different degree and not being a natural ‘numbers man’, is testament to how valuable exams are as learning tools. The takeaway for me is to go into exam season with a positive mindset. If you’ve attended lectures and put your all into your course over the year, and you have the will to put in the necessary time and effort into revision, there’s nothing to fear, and everything to gain. A university education would be worthless if it was not challenging. Knowing you’ll come out on the other side of exams with much-improved knowledge and skills in your subject area is surely a motivating thought.

One big mistake I made last year in my exam revision was attempting to substitute sleep for caffeine. Sleep is often seen as an enemy in exam season. We try to ‘game the system’ – seeing each extra hour of sleep as a lost hour of revision in those crucial few days just before an exam. This is a totally flawed way of thinking. Four hours of revision on a good night’s sleep is infinitely more valuable than eight hours of revision on a short kip broken by fifteen alarms and gallons of energy drinks. Practice doing timed papers is essential, and it takes a lot of revision to get to the point where doing this kind of practice is feasible. I’ve found this year that spreading my workload in small, manageable chunks across a long time period is not only far less stressful but much more effective. To paraphrase Will from ‘The Inbetweeners’, on a tired brain, nothing goes in. What’s more, I found that doing some of my exams last year on very little sleep made for a much more anxious and nerve-wracking experience. Confidence in exams comes not just from knowing your stuff, but from being well-rested and able to approach the exam room with calmness rather than underslept agitation. After one particularly poor night of sleep, I ended up forgetting to bring both my pen and my student card to an exam, and then sitting in the wrong seat. The thought of ‘one day I’ll look back on this and laugh’ provided little consolation at the time, and the debacle added some much-unneeded extra stress to proceedings. Had I had a clear, well-rested head, I doubt I would have made the blunder, and I’m sure I would have done better had that stressful situation not occurred.

Of course, you can only treat yourself to those few hours of extra sleep if you actually start revising early enough that you don’t have to cram half of the course content on the night before the exam. And that’s really the key to everything: starting early. Revision, in my experience, always takes longer than anticipated. There will always be parts of the course you’re not so familiar with, or find particularly challenging, that will take you unawares. Discovered early on, you can tackle these bumps in the road. But discovered three hours before you need to be in the exam hall and they can deliver a wounding blow.

Although my exams are still a fair way away, my experiences last year have kicked me into gear and I am some way into my revision already. First year exams come quite a bit later and are ultimately less important than second-year exams – but they are important nonetheless and provide a key opportunity to develop good revision practice. I go into this year’s exam period viewing exams as friend rather than foe; and aiming to have more hours of sleep and fewer trips to Costa Coffee.

Dealing with Failure

It is now almost the end of my second term at Lancaster University and, oh boy, let me tell you that learning to deal with failure (and setbacks in general) has been by far the biggest learning curve for me. It’s not that I never failed before coming to university (of course I have!) but at university the pace of everything is just so much more rapid that I found it very challenging to get over things so quickly. So, for example, I didn’t get the grade I expected in my second politics essay and, especially considering the fact that I did put a lot of effort into it, I was understandably upset. While I would usually let myself feel sorry for myself for a few days in normal circumstances – at university, I had to start writing my next essay pretty much straight away. That is definitely a very difficult mindset to develop: learning to get over mistakes and not allowing them to affect your future progress.

Similarly, I have tasked myself with finding some sort of internship/job for the summer (which, if you have ever tried applying to internships in your first year, you will know is a challenge in itself as most employers look for penultimate year students). I cannot explain the heartbreak you experience when you get rejected from a job, especially after several stages of the recruitment process because it just makes the rejection feel all the more personal. (If they reject you based on your CV that feels like a very different rejection than the one that comes after a face-to-face interview.)

The best piece of advice I got on how to deal with these kind of setbacks is to stop seeing the process as a race against other people – you are only racing yourself. If you look around, there will always be somebody smarter than you, with better grades, with (what appears to be) a more accomplished life. Instead, focus on how far YOU have come. I can guarantee that if you read one of your essays from 2-3 years ago, you would not believe the progress. Perspective is everything.

Once the dust has settled, make sure you treat failure as a learning process. Why did you not get the grade you expected? Could you benefit from some additional help? For example, LUMS offers really great MASH (Maths and Stats Help) sessions every week; I find that a lot of people struggle with the much more mathematical approach to economics at degree level (as compared to A-Level economics) and knowing where and when to get extra support is crucial. However, that’s the tough reality – at university, no one is going to be able to help you unless you ask. The step up to degree-level education is a significant one and we all need to be kinder to ourselves when we inevitably encounter setbacks. Onwards and upwards!

My First Exam in the UK

As I entered the registration hall in the first week, my heart pounded heavily. I did not know what to do, where to go. Was it too late to go back? Of course, it was. I was not only in a different country but also in a different continent. At that point in time, I was just following everyone because they seemed to know what they were doing and where they were going. We ultimately reached the final destination of the day, the Management School: The place that LUMS postgraduates absolutely worship. The Hub, the Lecture Theatres, the meeting rooms – I had never seen a place like that. I was sitting with a few of my classmates and they all were talking about Lancaster and the University as if they had known it for ages. As it turned out…they did. They had all done their undergraduates at Lancaster University and I had no idea what was happening around me anymore. I felt overwhelmed and anxious and I kept quiet, taking it all in.

As days passed by, we got busier with lectures and assignments but at the same time, we grew closer to each other. The journey had begun, and we spent the days learning and the nights exploring the University. Soon, the first module was over and so was the second and before we realised, it was exam time. With just a week left for the exam, the late-night excursions had taken a halt and the late-night coffees had replaced them to ensure that we were burning the midnight oil. There was chaos and confusion everywhere. This was a big thing. It was the first module and we all wanted to leave a mark. Being from different educational backgrounds, we all were facing challenges. Most of us had never studied business modules before and jumping right into Marketing and thinking like a Marketing Manager was difficult. The exam was case based. We were provided with a case and had to scrutinise it well before the exam. In the exam, we were asked questions based on the case and had to answer them in an essay style. This was very new, especially for someone like me. My last essay-based exam was in primary school and being from CBSE board (Central Board for Secondary Education, India), I was cut out for point to point answers. Luckily my lecturer was a sweetheart. She gave us precise directions of what she needed and also made us practice with a mini case in the class. On top of that, we were also provided with past paper questions. All these resources ensured that we were fully equipped to face the exam.

On the final day of the examination, I prayed to all the Gods and reminded myself that I would be fine because of all the group studying sessions I had with my classmates and the resources that were provided by my professor. I went for the exam and “answered the questions”, precisely as mentioned by my lecturer and as it turned out, I managed to get a distinction!