NEXT month, many students will embark on their degree studies which can be both an exciting and daunting prospect.
First-semester undergraduate students have to navigate unknown territory where they learn to be independent and adapt to the new learning environment.
Their first semester’s performance is crucial to set the tone for the rest of their degree studies.
How can they cope with the new teaching and learning styles? What preparations can they make for a smooth transition from pre-university to degree?
For Nadia Nadhirah Abdul Rashid, 24, from International Medical University, being in medical school requires her to be more responsible.
“Studying medicine is more patients-oriented at the university so you really need to be independent.
“We learn by going through cases. What I usually do is take note of the patient’s medical history and conduct my own physical examination. At home, I study and reflect on the cases in order to improve.”
She shared that there is more self-study involved when studying for a degree.
“I do a lot of e-learning on my own. We are now moving into evidence-based medicine. So I have to constantly update myself with new research, protocol and clinical guidelines in the country and internationally.
“It is not enough to just study using the lecture notes given,” said Muhammad Hadzif Hisham, 22, from Universiti Putra Malaysia.
“I need to equip myself with more information to better understand the subject. Additional notes can be derived from external resources either from books or the Internet.
“For my degree, I feel I’m more in control. Before I enrolled in the Education Faculty, I looked for information to see if the field of study suits me,” he added.
Mohamad Zharif Iqbal Mohamad Azuwan, 24, from Universiti, Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Negeri Sembilan, shared: “Being in a university now has certainly taught me to be more independent.
“For example, during my schooldays, my parents used to send me to tuition to help me understand the subjects better. But now, I have to have the initiative to learn more about the subjects,” he said.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Engineering student Shaza Arissa Samsul, 22, who completed her pre-university education at Kolej Matrikulasi Negeri Sembilan, agrees with Mohamad Zharif.
Shaza Arissa said: “During matriculation, the schedule was more school-like. But now at university, I have to be more independent in managing my study time.”
Nadia Nadhirah added that being independent also means having to find a place to rent, pay bills and drive herself to district hospitals and clinics.
Diana Mahendran, 23, a University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Political Science student, said: “My teachers told us that being STPM students, we would fare well as we are usually well-prepared due to our tougher papers and coursework.
“However, upon entering UKM, I had to adjust to living in a hostel. I also had to take the initiative to know what is happening on campus. This is different from the school environment where we had teachers and friends reminding us daily,” said Diana.
Engineering student Tan Yik Hoe, 22, added: “I took some time to adjust in finding my way around a big campus, staying aware of assignment deadlines and making friends.
“To blend into a new community, I joined clubs and societies,” said the Taylor’s University student, who completed a Canadian Pre-University programme prior to starting his degree in the American Degree Programme (ADP).
For Shaza Arissa, finding her bearing in her first year of degree required a little bit of work.
She said: “During my first year in studies, I had to get used to new friends and a new learning schedule. Adapting to the university environment was challenging because it is very different from matriculation.
“The matriculation environment is more similar to a boarding school. Meanwhile at university, the environment is more flexible and the class schedule is less packed.”
ASSESSMENTS AND LECTURES
Before starting his degree, Computer Science student Muhammad Nur Hafiz Zamri, 23, assumed there would be a lot of tests and examinations.
“But I was wrong because most of our assessments come in the form of projects and assignments.
“Besides lectures, various teaching materials are used such as slides, handouts and visual aids like diagrams and videos.
“After each class, an assignment or task is given. We also have to complete a project, individually or in groups,” he said.
Highlighting the importance of self-research, he added: “At the degree level, we need to do our own research. We cannot wait to be spoon-fed by lecturers. The lecturers will give feedback if our projects need improvement or lacking in quality.
“Tutorials to use a particular software are also given so that students can utilise it in their assignments or projects.”
At university, the curriculum is more demanding and there is more competition among students.
Tan shared: “I also have to study modules outside my chosen field such as social sciences, communication and computing modules. This is different from pre-university where most subjects were directly related and the schedule was structured.
“Since there is no streaming at university, having classmates of various academic abilities can make you feel the pressure. Students who have a strong background in math may find it easy to cope whereas others may find it difficult,” said Tan.
The majority of Tan’s degree subjects follow the 70 per cent coursework and 30 per cent examination system.
“We focus on hands-on experiences rather than just paperwork assignments. This is the main difference from pre-university course. We are not just interested in solving problems. Rather, we focus on understanding the subject matter fully.
“Don’t get stressed if you fail the first few assignments. Instead, use this experience as part of the learning curve to improve your grades towards the final exams,” he advises.
The engineering student pointed out that the teaching styles now utilise online software.
“For example, my Chemistry and Physics lecturers give out assignments and quizzes online. A software is also used as an interaction platform. It took me a while to adjust to these new modes of learning,” added Tan.
Nadia Nadhirah discovered that studying for her degree was vastly different from her foundation studies at UiTM Puncak Alam.
“Before, I studied more general science subjects such as biology and chemistry. But for the first and second year of the degree programme, our curriculum is more in-depth such as the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
According to Nadia Nadhirah, her degree assessments consisted of a lot of clinical exams.
“We have the Objective Structured Clinical Examination to measure clinical competence. It consists of a circuit of eight stations. For first year students, you have to take down the history of patient with a simulated illness.
“It’s terrifying because you only have around five to seven minutes at each station. So it’s crucial for to practise a lot beforehand. For new students, it is best to practise with friends,” said Nadia Nadhirah.
For Shaza Arissa, the teaching methods and assessments employed by her degree lecturers are different from her matriculation experience.
“During my matriculation days, classes were divided into lectures and tutorials.
Now I am assigned to classes according to my course. The lectures and tutorial classes follow a flexible schedule. The small number of students in lectures has helped me to better understand the subjects.
“For every subject, tasks are evaluated by our lecturer during presentation. This is when I receive feedback from the lecturers which I find to be important for me to improve my work,” said Shaza Arissa.
Another form of assessment is an undergraduate thesis.
Diana said: “The thesis is a requirement for my bachelor’s degree. Students can prepare for this by starting early instead of waiting until the very last minute.
“We have at our disposal the university’s resources such as the library, online research bank, lecturers and online journal sites.”
Degree studies usually involve a lot of group work to complete assignments and projects.
Highlighting that proper planning is essential, Mohamad Zharif Iqbal said: “You have to assign the task fairly to all group members. If any of the members have difficulty in completing their work, offer them your help.
“I’d give those who slack off a reminder. If that fails, I inform the lecturer to exclude them from our group evaluation,” he said.
Tan shared that having a high level of maturity is vital when working in groups.
“We all have different opinions. So we should always make sure that everyone has the chance to voice out their ideas and be heard. It is important to have good communication and to be culturally sensitive to your group mates as well.”
Avanish Kumar Chengi Ramaswamy Jayakumar, 23, from Taylor’s University, said that steering clear from conflict is important.
“Choosing our own group members can avoid conflicts. Confront those in the group who are not pulling their weight and express how their poor-quality work affects the group as a whole.”
Avanish shared that he had to conduct several individual and group projects in his degree.
“There is a final year project that requires us to conduct research on a specific topic that we are interested in.
“We also organised a Psychology day. This required us to learn more about the psychology topics before we can start spreading awareness to the public about it. Other than that, we have to do practical work such as doing visitations to old folks’ homes and refugee centres to get a firsthand experience on how we can interact with them.”
Students can get the first semester off to a good start by listening to the lecturers’ advice.
UiTM Negeri Sembilan lecturer Hazlina Mohd Padil said that students who have never been away from home may face trouble initially.
“I find that students from STPM and matriculation may have difficulty in their first semester such as using English as the medium of communication in class as well as for written assignments and examinations.
“Students should read before going to lectures as it helps you when the lecturer provide the explanation in class.
“They should also prepare themselves mentally as there are many challenges at university including financial and peer pressure,” said Hazlina.
Taylor’s University ADP Physics senior lecturer Dr Loh Kah Heng said some students can adapt well to the flexibility of their programme.
“However, some have trouble adjusting because their pre-university programmes had fixed subjects and schedules.”
Loh added that empowering degree students is important.
“I adopt a blended learning pedagogy which emphasises a student-centred approach. This includes the flipped classroom method and problem-based learning techniques. I find that students who study at home can apply the concepts well and engage creatively during the discussion.
“To ensure success at university, students should also be academically and socially balanced.”
UPM Educational Studies Faculty senior lecturer Dr Mohd Mursyid Arshad said starting degree is a significant turning point in a student’s life.
“To ease this process, students can discuss with their academic adviser to get assistance. It’s important to join campus activities to step out of their comfort zone.”
“For assignments, students can consult their lecturers but they need to research the topic ahead of time,” said Mohd Mursyid.
University is the platform for students to develop their potential, according to UTM Engineering Faculty lecturer Dr Farhan Mohamed.
“Students should work with peers and explore all opportunities. Do not hesitate to ask or put forward new ideas. Plan your timetable well, be active and enjoy their new university life.
“An effective way of learning is to be active in the lecture hall. Students need to be proactive by asking questions, participating in group activities and, most importantly, have an internal desire to explore more after the lecture ends,” said Farhan.