By Daniel Whyte
You have asked me how you could achieve a first class grade in the department of English (or any other department for that matter). Honestly, I too do not know simply because I was favoured and lucky to have had it. But I am writing this letter to share the lessons and experiences I garnered on my journey. By the end of this letter, I hope you would have found out the key actions and motivations that culminated in my graduation with a first class grade from the department of English and Literary Studies, Federal University Oye-Ekiti.
It is good that you want to graduate with a first class grade. It is fantastic that you want it so badly that you are willing to spare some minutes of your elusive, precious time to learn the secrets to bagging a first class grade – which is why you have picked up this letter to read in the very first place. But if I may ask you, must you graduate with a first class?
The simplicity of this question may have astonished you. After all, it is the dream of every student to graduate with a first class, so why must you have a meta-motivational rationale to back your desire? However, I want you to look beyond the simplicity or, if you may, the ludicrousness of the question and to search deeply into yourself for your unique answer. Why do you want a first class? Must you really graduate with a first class?
You must understand that this question, as simple as it may seem, is key and fundamental in laying the foundation to achieve a first class in your undergraduate degree or, in fact, in being the best you can be in all aspects of your life during your years on campus. Your response to the question will determine the intensity of your desire and what you are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of your dream. It will determine if you are willing to do what it takes to achieve a first class or if you will fizzle out on the way. As you must have heard it said countless times, a first class grade is not for those that are willing but those that are ready to bear the brunts and burdens that come with it.
While I didn’t make a first class CGPA until the end of my final semester, answering that question marked the turning point in my grades and kept me going while I was riding the uphill of academic excellence, most especially a path that hadn’t been trodden before. I kept reminding myself that I must, despite the challenges that I experienced. I decided I wouldn’t give up at all, even when the chance seemed slim because, as I’ve always believed, the journey is not over until it is over.
Now that you have been able to convince yourself that, despite all odds, you must graduate with a first class grade, the first thing you should do is to put God first and commit your journey into his hands. He holds the key in his hands and his delight is to see you succeed. Your only task is to collaborate with him to achieve your desired feat. How you can collaborate with him is what I will explain in the following paragraphs.
You must have heard it said countless times that to make the first class grade, the journey begins (or should begin) from the first semester of your very first year on campus. A low grade in this semester may severely hamper your chance of graduating with your dream grade. This is very true. But from experience, I have also realised that while a very high grade in the first semester of your first year is good and desirable, it doesn’t guarantee that you will graduate with a first class. Low performance in your very first semester also doesn’t irreparably mar your chance although it poses harsher conditions of succeeding. The best thing, however, is to start as early as possible but the most important is that you maintain consistency.
In all, always aim and strive to go above 4.5 GPA in every semester. My practice was to confess what I wanted to see as my results every semester. I wrote my expectation which was a 5.0 GPA on a sheet of paper and I kept it in the middle of my bible. I kept doing this and strived to achieve the goal even though I didn’t bag a 5.0 semester GPA until the final semester.
In the English department at FUOYE, all courses carry 3 units. The implication of this is that you cannot afford the luxury of a “C” or anything lower if you wish to maintain a first class GPA. Therefore, in a semester with 7 courses, for instance, you should strive to have a minimum of 5 As and 2 Bs. A “C”, as consoling as it may seem, isn’t good for your overall grade points. So, as much as you can, avoid it.
Lekan Aliu, in his essay on the journey to a first class, likened a first class hopeful to a prospective gold medalist. Just like the prospective gold medalist cannot afford to miss training and oftentimes stretch themselves thin, a first class hopeful cannot be found skipping classes, missing tests or not reading. Like Aristotle said, “we are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” You have to cultivate the habit of reading constantly, sometimes even when you don’t feel like doing so. (I recommend that you also read Lekan Aliu’s essay. It was of immense help to me on my journey.)
In terms of reading, I would urge you – the prospective first class student – to find out what works best for you. You have to be yourself and avoid copying the style of others. What works for your friend may not necessarily work for you. Throughout my entire stay on campus, I did not have a definite study plan even though I always wrote one at the beginning of the semester. The reason is that I was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities which often interfered with my reading plans. I once served as a member of the Student Representative Council at the Student Union Government level. I became an editor for a campus magazine in my second year. In my third year, I co-founded the English Writers’ Association (EWA) and served as its pioneer Managing Editor. I simultaneously served as the founding Managing Editor of the Union of Campus Journalists. In my final year, I became the President of the Union of Campus Journalists as well as the Editor-in-Chief of EWA.
However, I understood very early that I am most active early in the morning, so most times I slept by 9 pm and woke up around 2 am and read till 5 am or sometimes, daybreak. Also whenever I was not disturbed by extracurricular activities, I often stayed back at school to read the notes of the courses I had taken for that day. I found it very useful to read the notes while the topics were still fresh in my memory. This way, they stayed longer and I only needed to refresh from time to time. I also read on Saturdays and Sundays, after church service.
I would also urge you to join writing associations like EWA and UCJ FUOYE. What these associations do for you is that, above all things, they help you hone your writing skill as well as cultivate a strong writing habit. Needless to say, clear and good writing is one of your passports to success in the department of English. However, you must make a conscious decision not to let these extracurricular engagements interfere with your academic duties. To do this, you must learn effective time management skills.
As a first class hopeful, you must also be ready to go the extra mile. You should be able to do more research to further aid your understanding of your courses. You should familiarise yourself with the courses for a particular semester even before you take them. My practice was to get past course notes and exam questions ahead of every semester. With this, I understood the course early. I also found that some lecturers often repeated past questions. In the case that they don’t, the past questions (especially if the course is still being taught by the same lecturer) enlighten you on the way a lecturer asks questions and help you to prepare adequately.
You must avoid trivialising your term papers and assignments. They play an important part in your overall mark for a course. You should do them on time and do them well. Most importantly, avoid plagiarism. If caught, you would lose marks. It also doesn’t speak well about who you are.
Also, you must be willing to buy books that will influence you positively on the path to your dream and try as much as possible to read all of the recommended texts for your courses. I cannot overemphasise the importance of like-minded friends. Even when I felt down, the company of friends who were reading and working towards their goal kept me on my feet. Find and make friends with people in the department or other departments who are on a first class CGPA as well or are working towards it. Indeed, these were the crucible that changed my story from being a “B” student to an “A” student.
I will like to conclude this letter by rephrasing what my friend shared with me as I agonised over my poor performance in my second year. He had just graduated with a first class from a course in the sciences, so I called him. He told me that first class is not the grade but the quality of being the best you can be in all your endeavours. I charge you to put in your very best in all that you do. By doing so, you may have the good fortune of graduating with a first class grade, but, not only this, you will be an all-round, bright student.
I wish you good luck and Godspeed on your journey.
P.S: You can reach out to me through my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org or my Twitter account: @_DanWhyte