To an extent, every course is difficult. They all involve understanding new concepts and learning new skills, so there’s always going to be an element of struggle. But, sometimes the learning curve feels more like Everest. Sometimes you don’t click with a lecturer’s style, or the content just goes flying over your head, or you’re stressed about competitive entry and feel like everything is piling up on you. When that happens, getting through can feel impossible.

Never fear, Captain Talia is here to tell you that NOTHING is impossible. If you put your head down and get determined, you can get through. I’ve had my fair share of rough times trying to grapple with confusing content and complex readings and exam pressures, so I’m an expert at finding your way out of the weeds. Here’s how I manage when a course just seems too hard.

Cry and Eat Ice Cream

Only for a little while. Then it’s time to get to work.

Talk To Your Tutors

Over email AND in person! When you get to university, you have lectures and tutorials. Your tutor is a postgraduate student who runs your tutorial and often marks your work. They hold what’s called “office hours”, where they will be in a specific room for a period of time. You can go to their office hours and ask them any questions about assignments, course topics, and even (if you’re REALLY lucky) read drafts of your work. A lot of the time, especially when there aren’t assessments due, you’ll be the only person at your tutor’s office hours. This is an absolutely invaluable resource that not enough students take advantage of.

Not only can tutors help with assignments and course concepts, you can also go to them if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need an extension. Their email address can be found on your Canvas homepage. If you explain your situation, they’ll likely be happy to help. Try to hand work in on time where you possibly can, but sometimes life happens, and it’s just not possible. Don’t silently watch your deadlines roll by – all you have to do is communicate. Lecturers are wonderful and hugely knowledgeable, but they have hundreds of students to care for. Tutors are able to be much more personally involved.

If You Don’t Know, ASK.

I wish I could look you in the eye through my computer while I tell you this, because it is the gospel truth – the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. It’s a cliché because it’s true. If you don’t understand something, there’s a 99.999% chance that most other people don’t understand it either, they’re just too nervous to ask. Everyone will thank you for taking one for the team.

Sitting in class feeling confused and overwhelmed helps absolutely no one. Your tutors and lecturers don’t want you to be lost – they want to help you learn! If your lecturer or tutor is talking about something, and you have no clue what they’re on about, put up your hand and ask for clarification, or approach them after class. Asking questions in lectures can be very intimidating, so if you’re not comfortable, write down what you want to ask and email it to your lecturer or tutor, or ask it in tutorial. No one will even think twice about it.

Engage With Extra Assignment Services

There are a metric ton of resources to help you with courses. You always have somewhere to turn. Each faculty offers different mentoring services for assignment help. In the Arts faculty, we have ARTS+ tutors and (for Māori or Pacific students) Tuākana mentors who are always available to help you. They run assignment sessions where you can come in to the Arts Student’s Centre and talk to them about your work. Regardless of your faculty, look out for people who come in at the start of your first lectures to advertise these services, and check your emails for notification of when they’re running their sessions. Your specific group will be there to help.

Have Study Sessions With Your Peers

Since you’ve read my previous post about how to make friends, you’ll be drowning in homies before the end of your first week. If you pool your collective knowledge, you’ll all learn something from each other. You might understand one concept, but struggle with the essay structure, while your friend might have the structure down pat and be completely lost on that concept. Often, you’ll find explaining things out loud to someone else will really help you get it straight in your mind. Together, you’re unstoppable.

Do Your Readings

Lecturers will often set required or recommended texts (such as articles, movies, novels, documentaries, book chapters, etc.) for you to go over before the lecture or tutorial. You will come across many a senior student who is proud of their ability to never do the readings set for their classes. Please don’t listen to them! Your lecturers don’t set content for no reason. If they want you to read something, then it’s important. If you’re finding a course really confusing and difficult to understand, chances are there was something in the required reading that you missed. They are full of extra (or crucial) information that can not only deepen your understanding of the subject, but will also seriously impress your marker when you include it in your assignments. If you’re finding the readings themselves difficult to understand (and believe me, academic papers can be drier than the Sahara), take them to your tutor’s office hours and ask them to help you understand.

It’s a good idea to highlight and annotate your readings – doing so makes sure you’re reading actively, and you can highlight any parts you don’t understand so you can ask for clarification.

Take Responsibility

At university, you are ultimately in charge of your own learning. You’re a grown-up now. Your lecturers and tutors are there to help you, but ultimately, whether you succeed or fail is up to you and your work ethic because the resources you need are all there. Whether or not you take advantage of them is your call. If you don’t get along with your tutor or you find the lecturer confusing or the course content is difficult, the harsh truth is that it’s your job to make it work. You have to be proactive. No one will help you if you don’t ask them to. Luckily, there are a plethora of lovely people and brilliant services right their on your doorstep. Don’t be a passenger in your own learning – get in the driver’s seat and…uh…drive to your…dreams? This metaphor got away on me a bit. Anyway, my point is that you should always ask for the help you need, because I guarantee that it’s someone’s job to provide it. If you take the reins, you’ll make that difficult course into an A+ in no time.