May 6, 2019, by John

If my essay were…

I love writing essays. There is no sarcasm intended in the previous sentence. I genuinely do. I love writing it, responding to the question, and seeing it as a unique way for me to express myself.

But perhaps many of us don’t. We detest the coursework our professors set for us. We hate the pain of revising for an exam with formulae that we will never seem to use in real life. We wish for a day when essays, exams, and coursework stop.

So I thought I might introduce a way of thinking of our work that has helped me.

If my coursework were a person, he would be my best friend. I would love to see him every day, talk to him, and communicate with him. I would take him out for a meal, be kind to him, and ask, ‘What else do you need?’ I would think of him frequently.

If my coursework were a thing, it would be my barbell. I love lifting weights. The barbell is the most intimate thing I have in my life. It touches my chest during my bench press. It presses heavily on my back during my squat. I grip it to lift it off the ground during my deadlift. In much the same way, my coursework would be my most intimate object. I would caress it gently every day. I would lift it off the floor, and gently put it down again. Sometimes, I say gently to it, ‘Could you be a little lighter on my back today?’

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to caress your coursework. But sometimes, I think it can be helpful to think of our coursework as someone we enjoy being with, with emotions. Or something we love.

Who would he/she be? Give him/her a name.

What would it be?

How then would you treat it?

Yes, you might have a love-hate relationship with it. In the 2 vignettes of how I saw my coursework as a thing, and as a person, I hoped you picked up on 3 useful principles.

  1. Regular, not rapid work.

Building a relationship with your friend takes time. Similarly, building a healthy relationship with your coursework takes time and effort. You cannot expect to love it if you don’t spend time with it. Often, I’ve hated a piece of work assigned. What’s the point of this?! But as I have spent more time with it, I’ve learnt things I never thought possible.

So, put regular time and effort in. instead of saying – I will pull an all-nighter tomorrow, why not build in 1 hour each day when you will work on it?

  1. Work with it, not for it.

Your coursework is a partner in your learning, not an enemy to be defeated! Too often, we treat it like an enemy to be destroyed. Rather than seeing the essay deadline as a master of our time, why not see it as a guide for our time?

For me, I find this useful before I do any coursework, or during my revision, or when my motivation falters. I write out 3 reasons why studying this matters. Also, enlist the help of your tutors in working with your coursework. Email them. Arrange a call. Meet them. They are there to help.

  1. Take it up, and put it down.

With exams, essays, and coursework, there is so much to do! Sometimes, that might seem overwhelming. I find it helpful to revise each day with 3 clear goals, in 3 different areas. Today, it was:

  1. Finish 300 words of essay.
  2. Read 1 chapter of textbook.
  3. Finish 500-word job application essay.

Moving between different areas ensures that we are not bored by the work we do. It’s vital to realise that when something doesn’t seem to be going in, trying harder is not going to help. Switching between different goals help.

Lastly, be careful what you wish for. Sure, the working world doesn’t have essays, exams, and coursework. But they have deadlines. And when you don’t meet those, that might be the end of your job. Wherever you are in your academic career, be thankful. Yes, you didn’t read that wrong, be thankful for the essays and exams you have. For they are a blessing for us to learn from, not a curse to be destroyed.

If your coursework were a friend, who would it be? If it were a thing, what would it be? How would you want to treat it?

John writes regularly at

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