Finding the Fun in Formatives

With November rolling around, many students will be recovering from their post Hallowe’en hangovers, enjoying one of the many firework displays in York, and getting in a frenzied panic about just who the hell they’re going to choose to live with next year, having only known the majority of their friends for a month and a half or so. But in the midst of all this comes the first real taste of what university examinations are like. Yes, I’m referring to the dreaded formative essays.

For those of you who maybe aren’t aware what these are, a formative essay is an ungraded practice essay, which has no effect on your marks come the end of year, regardless of what year that may be. To some, being only a month or so into university when these are released, they may seem a bit daunting. So, having just finished two myself, I thought I’d share a bit of wisdom regarding these things, so that when the time comes, you can be a bit more prepared.

1. You can shape them to your own interests

The great thing about formatives is that the questions tend to be pretty damned broad, with such examples being ‘what is democracy?’ and ‘what is power?’ from first year. These style of questions mean that you can very easily pick your favourite bit of the course so far and use it to answer these questions, and when you can write about something you’re interested in, it tends to be quite enjoyable.

2. They’re short

Formatives are usually only 750-1000 words long, which can sometimes sound like a lot, but once you begin writing, you’ll find that it comes pretty quickly. This means you aren’t spending the early hours of the morning slumped in a library chair desperately trying to push out those last 1000 words. Which brings me to…

3. You get to properly use the library

To some, the library may remain a mystical place in which they are yet to set foot, however, I find that for essay writing, its probably the best place to be. This may be because its quieter and easy to focus, you can go and grab some more books if you find that ones you’ve already taken out aren’t as relevant as you thought, or maybe its just because all the other people around you will stop you from trawling through Buzzfeed looking at that article on ‘The 31 most Cat things to ever happen‘, or at the very least you’ll feel guilty about doing it. If you want to be real organised about it, you can book one of the private study rooms for a few hours, so you can guarantee you’ve got your own space.

4. They’re actually pretty helpful

Despite the dislike for essays that many students seem to have, formatives are quite helpful in distinguishing just how much work you need to do to meet standards for when the real stuff starts. It’s a free hit essentially, and it gives you the opportunity to try out some university style writing without any detriment to your final grades. There’s nothing to lose.

5. You get to properly meet your lecturers

Before formatives, many people won’t really have had too much contact with their lecturers one-to-one, however, before writing these essays, its a great idea to head into your lecturers office hours and have a chat about it with them. They aren’t like teachers at a secondary school level; there’s a much more equal feel about these kinds of engagements, and you’ll often find that they’re pretty cool people. You may even learn a thing or two as well.

So there you are. Are formatives fun as my alliterative title suggests? Well, maybe or maybe not, but they certainly aren’t something to fear or to fret over, and with the right approach, you’ll find that they can be a stress-free and helpful way to ease you into your university academic life. Besides, its best to get ready, those winter essays are coming…

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I'm Matt, I'm a 2nd year here at York, and I'm currently studying Social and Political Sciences, and I am also the departmental representative. I'm originally from Kent, I love football and I'm a big Arsenal fan, I play pool a lot, for Halifax College and individually. My main interests in politics are British and American politics, especially foreign policy, I'm interested in gender and race dynamics in sociology, and environmental policy in Social Policy. I came into York through clearing, but I love the city, and I love the course even more. Feel free to send me a message in the comments, or through Facebook and I'll be happy to chat.