Yes, you read that right. No, the title is not catchy. No, it is not a clickbait. Yes, I did get a full 100 mark on a critical reflection essay on one of my subjects. Granted, said subject’s LMS is closed now and I can’t show you guys the prove, and the essay only amounted to a total of 5% of the overall mark for the subject, but hey, details, #amIrite?
Getting a 100 mark on anything in a campus with a ranking so far above my previous campus it is practically above the ISS, is a dream of mine come true. I had high hopes coming here, that I would be the best, the brightest, and the most diligent student ever to step foot in University of Melbourne, a university that has stood and admitted students more years than I can count. This idealistic and unrealistic notion was quickly slapped out of my head by the first day of campus, where I talked with my fellow students and realized, whoa, I am totally out of my depth here. There were people from the ministry of health, there were deans and delegates of so many different universities and firms sent here to enrich their already rich repository of knowledge, there were people that the lecturers themselves deemed more qualified to stand in front of the classroom and teach instead of them at times. In the immortal words of Radiohead’s Creep: what the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here!
Despite my initial embarrassment for being a high-handed millennial with my head so far above the clouds, I still strove to be the best; this time, I manage my expectation by adding a little subclause to my promise: I will be the best student I can be. Does this mean I have to get H1 on every subject? Heck, no. Ain’t nobody got time for that! This means showing up on every lecture, tutorial, and group projects with mindful mindset, setting aside all distractions (yes, including my phone) until it is safe for me to pick it up again (to browse 9gag, mostly. I’m a lonely nerd with nonexistent social or romantic life; there, I said it). This means setting short deadlines for small tasks leading up to the big ones (not finishing a 4000 words essay in a fortnight like everyone else, or even, God forbid, 2 nights before deadline), leaving plenty of time to consult the academic skills office in an individual tutorial. This means being proactive, hounding (well, not exactly. I do know how to set boundaries) my senior, the lecturers, and my fellow students on the best tips of how to approach a particular topic, what books to read, and what subjects to choose to get the best experience out of my short study in Melbourne. I raised my hand in class, even if my question was at times obvious, and at other times, fabricated, just to make sure that I paid attention to every little details in class, because here’s a tip: remember those sweaty palms, racing heart, and dry throat you experienced every time you had to speak in public? That’s adrenaline, folks. That little tidbit of a fight-or-flight hormone helps you become more focused, and in study setting, more retentive to details. That’s why so many people love courting death by studying the night before their exams. They remember it better because they feel anxious, because of excess adrenaline produced by their body. So here on forwards, ask away, mis compadres! You’ll pay more attention in class if your point is to stop and ask questions every few slides or so. Having done all that, I’ll be surprised if you didn’t score at least H2A on your studies in Unimelb, or D (for distinction, apparently. Not the D I had in mind) in Monash Uni.
Then, you ask, what do I do if I have done all that and still fail to reach that high bar?
Here is where we delve into our main course, the critical reflection essay. Some lecturers love it, even to the extent of making reflective blogs as the main constituent of final assignment (as high as 60%! Say what?) and some absolutely hate this metacognitive new age mumbo-jumbo to set aside only 5% of their mark allotment just to comply with university demands (see: opening paragraph). Regardless of which lecturers’ which, you can utilize critical reflection as your secret weapon to bump up your mark on those pesky, nightmare-inducing final 4000 words essay. Because let’s face it: critical reflection is something that we all underestimate. It is basically a glorified diary made formal instead of flowery. You wouldn’t say, Dear Diary, I was elated to meet this lecturer today, he’s so handsome and kind! Rather, you would modify your tone to reflect the “intellectual” you are by saying: Reflecting on today’s learning process, I realize that Geoff (said handsome lecturer) had delivered many salient points such as: blablabla. This sentence proves that instead of gushing and daydreaming about your lecturer’s baby blue eyes, you actually listened to what he said and is capable of reiterating his point in your mind, thus showing your metacognitive process in action. Not so easy now, eh?
So, how do we get the coveted 100 mark in critical reflection essay? Here’s a couple of tips that hopefully can help you reach that desirable position in your study, but bear in mind, what works for me may not work for you. You might need to take some and leave some, and quite frankly, some lecturers are just hard-markers no matter what you do. So don’t come at me waving a Valyrian steel sword if my tips doesn’t work, deal?
- During lectures, take note of what you deem is worthy of observation, and later, pour that into a critical reflection essay. Remember the salient points Geoff the handsome lecturer’s made? You being able to recall those points from so early in the start of the course will definitely impress your lecturer.
- Don’t make it so intellectual and boring; remember, this is essentially a mirror reflection of how you study during the subject. No lecturer is going to believe you studied like a robot. Write down your feelings: your anguish when your group project came apart due to scheduling inconsistencies, your irritation with the long walk you had to take between one tutorial to the next, your yawn while listening to a lecture capture due to a session you missed–all these add up to the real metacognition that took place in your study, and this is what your lecturer will be looking for. Just don’t overdo it. And don’t overcriticize. No matter how open-minded they are, nobody inherently likes to be told they suck. So only mention the bad feelings once or twice, then throw in a sprinkle of praise into the mixture. And always end every emotional tirade with your perceived solution to the problem should it ever arise in the future. E.g. Reflecting upon these conflict in scheduling group projects, I have now learned to be more vigilant and will strive to create a solid term of reference for the group schedule early in the course of any future group project to avoid similar problem.
- Always finish your work early, and well over the word limit (15% should suffice). Most assignment have 10% word limit leniency, so you will only have to cut approximately 5% of your work during revision. This part is the hardest. Any hardcore writer will know that picking and choosing which phrases to cut out of your work is like trying to choose which baby kitten will live and which will die. (Gasp! The horror!) Trust me when I say you won’t be objective enough to trust your own judgement. You need someone more qualified to lend a different lens to your own body of work. The most obvious choice is of course the academic skills office. But you only have 4 individual tutorials per semester, and you might want to save those appointments for the big assignments. So who should you turn to? Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Your senior, your H1 (or HD) friends, or even your old lecturer in your campus back home. Someone you trust who won’t sugarcoat your limitations, and won’t breach your confidence. Remember that you will be writing a reflective piece along with your fellow students from the same subject, so keep your trade secret safe, otherwise there is a possibility that you will be sending in your work with a 95% match on turnitin.
- Last but not least, befriend your tutor. Make sure that your tutor knows you are a good student, and make him/her proud of having you on their class. There is an age-old adage that teacher’s pet earn all the crumble, and that is still true today, no matter how many measures are set to ensure objectivity during marking papers. There are ways to let your tutor know that he/she is handling your work, even when your essay doesn’t bear your name on it. First, drop hints. Ask and say things in class/tutorials that will reflect what you choose to write on your essay. For example, commenting on a specific part of a lecture with a unique standpoint in tutorial, then write down what your tutor said as an answer in the reflective essay. He/She will remember your discussion when reading this part of your essay, and subconsciously shift their mark to more favorably reflect on their view of you as a person, thus no longer guaranteeing objectivity. Second, develop a certain style. Everybody has their own writing style, and this can be evident in your daily feedback session that your tutor request after each lecture. Make sure your tutor is familiar with your particular brand of written wisdom, and he/she will always know it’s your essay when confronted with this particular peculiarity.
So there you have it! Whatever happens, don’t ever let yourself forget that you have to earn your place here. Never let a day go by without a small progress, because it will always make you one step ahead of people who are busy standing still. And who knows, maybe you can put that move on your essay as one more learning process that can impress your lecturer.
Denpasar, March 9th 2017
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