About me

Garet_blogpicMy name is Garet Quigg. I am a 23 year old Masters student from the United States. I received my undergraduate degree in International Business, and I am looking forward to the challenge of completing my MSc Strategy and International Business from Aston. I grew up in a small, close-knit community in central Missouri. When I’m not Skyping with my girlfriend, Valeria (she lives in Venezuela), I enjoy spending time with my friends and family. I go to the gym whenever I can, and I love to watch and play just about  any sport. Some of my hobbies include working with Photoshop and Wordpress, and playing FIFA with my friends. I chose the MSc Strategy and International Business program at Aston because of it’s well-rounded and diverse curriculum. The program not only teaches the fundamental principles of strategic planning, but it always students to gain firsthand experience through the consultancy based dissertation. I am really excited for everything going on in the next year! Valeria and I will be living together in City Centre, and we will hopefully have some great stories and advice to share with everyone. I cannot wait to get started and share my experiences of being a student at Aston!

My Year at Aston: A Look Back

So this is it, my last official blog post! I may still post here occasionally to provide my thoughts on dissertation writing and things, but I can’t promise anything until I know how busy I will be with it! ALSO, be sure to see the special section at the bottom of this post!!

Anyways, from meeting great people to overcoming one of the most mentally challenging experiences of my life, my MSc year at Aston has left me with some great memories.

From a personal perspective, this year was full of “firsts” for me. This was the first time I lived in a foreign country for such a long period of time; it was the first time I lived with a partner (which was a great experience that brought us closer as a couple!); and it was the first time I went to Spain!

I learned a lot about myself during this year and feel that I’ve done a lot of growing up. It’s different when you live thousands of miles away from your friends and family: you don’t have them to rely on if something goes wrong and they are more than likely not familiar with your new home so they can’t give you advice if you aren’t sure what to do. For instance, when it comes to dealing with leases for flats or knowing which fees and taxes you are meant to pay, you are completely on your own. It’s on you to seek out the answers from advisers or fellow colleagues who have been through it. For me, this was a challenge as my mom is very knowledgeable in a lot of different areas and she can usually give me this advice when I need it. While it was a big adjustment, I feel like it was  necessary one as I begin a career path abroad.

Academically, this was BY FAR the most challenging year of my life. There is literally no comparison to the amount of work – and the expectations for the quality of that work – between my MSc and my undergrad. While my undergrad was difficult at times, the MSc programme at Aston challenges you to be your best at all times. Of course, this does depend on how much you are willing to put into it, but if you striving for a Distinction, you will have to work for it. As I mentioned before, I found Term 2 much harder than Term 1, but in general, both terms require high levels of focus, commitment, and hard work. But rest assured, the hard work and time spent studying are well worth it as I feel much more prepared to begin my career than I did after finishing my undergraduate degree!

Overall, this year has been much more rewarding than I ever thought it would be. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my craft, and I feel I am ready to begin a career and see where life takes me!

One last thing:

Chris Hedderick
Chris Hedderick

This is my friend Chris Hedderick. Apart from being a really nice, intelligent guy, he also happens to have a pretty big heart. He’s currently trying to raise money for a project called Balloon Adventures. His plan is to travel to Kenya as a volunteer to help local business owners with their new ventures. It’s a really great opportunity with a great mission, and he could use your help! Below is a link to his JustGiving page, either click the link or the picture to go to his page. Any amount you can donate would be greatly appreciated as he tries to reach his goal of £800!

Click Here to Donate

Got the Job

Hi everyone!

I wrote a post a few months ago about looking for jobs. Well today, I’m happy to say I have been offered – and have accepted – a position at a London-based consulting firm!

Now this is exciting for many reasons, but there is one in particular I would like to talk about.

As an international, non-EU student, I do not possess the right to work within the UK beyond the expiration of my Tier 4 Student Visa. The only way for me to stay in the country after I graduate is to find a company or organisation that is willing to sponsor me with either a Tier 2 or Tier 5 Visa.

Visas

Before I go into too much detail, I want to point out that I am not an expert and the information within this is just what I have learned through personal research and attending uni seminars. If you want more specific and accurate information regarding your visa situation, please contact Aston directly.

Tier 5

Tier 5 Visas, while having many perks, can be bought for a fee from designated organizations as long as you find a qualified position within the UK. They do allow you to stay in the country, but the time is limited and there are certain criteria that must be met throughout the duration of the visa. It is a good option, but is just a temporary solution to remaining within the UK.

Tier 2

Tier 2 visas, on the other hand, are much more desirable as they are more permanent and provide more certainty to those who have them. As such, they are also more costly and difficult to obtain. If you are serious about living and working in the UK as a foreigner, this is the visa you want to get.

Difficult…but not impossible

The reason I bring this up is that the company that offered me the position is going to sponsor me on a Tier 2 visa. From what I’ve been told, it is pretty rare for a foreign graduate to find a company willing to invest the time and resources to sponsor them. It is a fantastic opportunity, and one for which I am very thankful. While there are some stipulations within my contract regarding my commitment to the organisation and their investment in my sponsorship, they are there to protect the company and I completely understand why they have been included.

The point I want make with this is that, while it is rare and it is difficult, it is possible for a foreign graduate to receive sponsorship here in the UK. When I came to Aston, my ultimate goal – beyond a good dissertation grade or earning a distinction – was getting a job in the UK. At first I thought it would be fairly easy, but after looking into it more and speaking with people who knew the situation here, I began to think it would be impossible.  I applied for over 12 positions (mostly graduate programmes) and never made it to even a phone interview. While there could be many reasons for not progressing through the process, I think what it came down to most often was the fact that I needed sponsorship and most companies were unwilling to invest that amount of money in a graduate position.

Given all of these rejections, hearing back from this company – even for a phone interview – felt like a huge win for me. I put everything I had into this application process. It was challenging and uncomfortable at times, but I learnt a lot about myself and the company, and I feel like this is the right place for me to start my career. It has been a difficult journey, and I’m sure there will be more obstacles to come, but achieving this goal has been one of the proudest accomplishments of my life.

So, for all of you international students looking to start your careers here in the UK, remember: It won’t be easy, people are going to tell you it’s unrealistic (you are going to tell yourself it’s unrealistic), and your opportunities to impress are going to be limited. But if you stay positive, look for positions that fit you, and impress when given the chance, there is always a possibility for something good to happen!

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions please leave a comment below.

 

Garet

Travel Time

Hi all!

So I have finally been able to travel a little during this break. My mom came to visit about a week ago and we had a great time. She came to visit me once before back in 2012 when I was studying in London and she was happy to be back.

Birmingham

The first few days she was here we spent exploring Birmingham. I showed her the Aston campus, we walked around City Centre, and  took a trip out to Edgbaston to Valeria’s campus at the Univeristy of Birmingham. We also took the wrong bus a couple of times which led us to some interesting areas of the city. Did you know there is an actual zoo not far from here!?

Val and my mom at Old Joe!
Val and my mom at Old Joe!

Paris

Notre Dame de Paris
Notre Dame de Paris

Overall, iIt was a great few days, but I knew my mom wanted to see more than Birmingham during her trip. So on Thursday, we booked three tickets to Paris! We left Saturday morning and came back Sunday afternoon. It was a quick trip but extremely fun none-the-less. We saw many of the main attractions and ate some really nice food! While my favourite spot to visit is Sacre Couer because of the amazing view, my mom absolutely loved the Eiffel Tower at night.

 

London

After returning late Sunday night, my mom and I decided to go to London. We booked a coach for early Monday morning and we were on our way. When we arrived in London, we booked our hotel around Farringdon and headed to  Buckingham Palace. While she had been there before, she really wanted to go back and see the Changing of the Guard. Unfortunately we missed the show and were unable to see it.

As it was a Bank Holiday, it made navigating the city extremely easy. I say this in the nicest way possible because I love London, but if there were about 3 million less people there, it would be PERFECT!! :p  We spent all of Monday and Tuesday walking around London seeing different sights and just enjoying the nice weather. After a horrid coach ride, we arrived back in Bham around 19:00 on Tuesday night. While both trips were short, we made the most of our time and had a lot of fun!

IMG_4688
A night shot of London

 

Sad to see you go…

After a relaxing Wednesday hanging out, and a really nice farewell dinner together, we took my mom to the airport early Thursday morning. It was great seeing her after more than 6 months, and I can’t wait to until she comes back and we do some more traveling together!

Upcoming Trips

Between now and July I have two major trips planned. First, I am going back to the US in June for my sister’s wedding! I am super excited to see her get married and get to hang out with all of my friends and family back home. After being there for two weeks, I come back to Bham for about 10 days and then Valeria and I are traveling to Spain. She has a cousin in Barcelona that is getting married so we will go to that and then maybe take a trip to Ibiza if we have time! It should be an exciting few months and I  look forward to sharing it with you all!

 

Thanks for reading,

Garet

Volunteering at Aston

Hi all!

Today I wanted to write a quick post about volunteering at Aston. In particular, I want to discuss a program I’m a part  of called Reading Buddies.

Aston offers students a lot of opportunities to get involved and volunteer both on campus and throughout Birmingham. The Student Volunteering and Outreach (SVO) office is constantly looking for students who are wanting to take advantage of the many opportunities they offer. Whether you just want to do a one-off day of helping on campus, or commit to a longer opportunity, the SVO office can help you!

The program I chose to be involved with during my time at Aston is called Aston Reading Buddies. During this 10-week program, volunteers are tasked with going into local primary schools and helping young children (typically 7-9 year-olds) improve their reading skills.

Me blending in at my primary school…

The Reading Buddies program started at the beginning of February and is now in its seventh week. So far, it has been a great experience. Having the students read to you, and helping them learn new words and seeing them improve their literacy is really fun. It took a couple of weeks for them to warm-up to me and feel comfortable, but once they did it became a really rewarding experience for everyone. They get to read to someone besides their normal teacher and I get to have fun and act like a kid for two hours per week!

The time commitment is roughly two hours per week during the 10-week program (typically just one day per week). The schools are very flexible in terms of making adjustments if you have exams or other school functions you need to attend. For example, during my exam week I was unable to make it in on my designated day, so they worked with me to find a different day to make it up. They understand you are a student and they want to make things as easy and convenient for you as possible.

Overall, this has been an awesome experience for me. I’ve learned more about myself, and it’s been fun to get away from uni for a few hours and unwind while helping these kids. They have been extremely responsive and I know I’m going to miss them when the program is over. I would highly recommend Reading Buddies to anyone looking to get involved during their time at Aston. And if this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea (British joke haha), the SVO has a million more options for you to choose from. Either way, make it a point to get involved during your stay at Aston. It’s not only a great way to build your CV, but you get to do something for others in the process.

If you have any questions feel free to ask!

 

Thanks for reading.

Garet

Goodbye, Term 2

Well that’s it! I’ve finally finished my exams and (just about) all of my assignments for Term 2. I must say that this term, while different in a few ways from Term 1, was just as challenging. In particular, I noticed three aspects of Term 2 that made it a different experience than Term 1, and I would like to discuss those with you today!

Modules

First, the modules themselves felt different in their focus and level of difficulty. This could just be me, but I honestly felt that these modules were more challenging than those in Term 1. It wasn’t that Term 1 courses were easy, it’s that those of Term 2 took a much deeper look at the subjects and theories. The “Topics in Advanced Strategy”(TAS) was particularly challenging. The module took a much more theoretical approach to understanding strategy development and implementation, which required going beyond the practical use of strategy to exploring where it comes from and what it is. It was a very interesting module, and I would highly suggest that if you are in the Strategy and International Business program, you keep up on the readings each week! While this can be said for every module you take, I speak from experience when I say that cramming for TAS is not fun or easy 😉

Coursework

The coursework was different in two aspects: 1) the focus on group work and  2) the use of case studies.

Group Work

For me, Term 2 did not have nearly the amount of group work as Term 1. In Term 1, I believe I had six different group assignments throughout the term. In Term 2, I had just three. It’s important to note, however, that this is not a blanket statement for everyone. I know some of my friends in the same course who had between four and six group assignments during Term 2, so it really just depends on which modules you take. I believe my number of group assignments was lower because 1) I made a conscious decision to seek out modules with less group work as I knew this term would be very busy for me and 2) the optional modules that most interested me just happened to not have as much group work.

The primary reason I knew I would be busier in Term 2 was because I had taken on two additional roles. First, I had received a placement through Graduate Advantage (you can learn more about them here) to work with a local garage on some marketing activities. Second, I had applied to become a student-volunteer as a Reading Buddy at a local primary school (more on that and how it works in a future blog post!). As I’ve mentioned before, when it comes to managing your time and schedule, it’s important to know your limits and not be afraid to adjust your schedule accordingly. I knew that with these additional roles, plus other projects I was working on, committing to modules with a lot of group work  wouldn’t be beneficial for me or my team members,  so I found modules that had different focuses.

Case Studies

Term 2, in general, took a much more case study-based approach to teaching. The International Business Strategy module, in particular, required analysis of four different cases throughout  the term, plus a case-based exam. I personally enjoyed this as I find it easier and more enjoyable to learn from actual examples and situations rather than theoretical concepts. However, if case study analysis is something you’ve never done or have found difficult, I would highly suggest reading The Case Study Handbook: How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively About Cases  by William Ellet. Our instructor in Management Consulting recommended the book to us. I purchased it a few weeks before exams and I can say with certainty that, on the exams and assignments that were based around cases, it taught me how to analyse and discuss the case much more effectively than I did before reading it.

Motivation

Finally, I must say it was difficult at times during Term 2 to keep the same levels of motivation I had during Term 1. As everything was new and exciting during Term 1, I found it very easy to stay focused. During Term 2, however, there were times when it was challenging to keep high levels of motivation. I know many of my colleagues shared this same sentiment, and I think it is something you might encounter during your time here. So, if I have any advice for you, it would be to use your breaks as a time to relax and recharge. I know I wrote before about using them wisely, but after seeing how I operated during Term 2, I would suggest making sure you take PLENTY of time for yourself.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Garet

Birmingham…5 months later

Hi all!

When I arrived in September I was really not sure what to expect. I had never been here before, and had only seen the city on Google Images. I was able to get some insight from Valeria as she had traveled here a before to visit her university, but that was one day and she had spent most of her time at the UofB campus.

A cool piece near Victoria Square. Photo credit: Valeria Del Castillo
A cool piece near Victoria Square. Photo credit: Valeria Del Castillo

I had spent some time in London before this, and I must say there is little comparison between the two. I’m not saying one is better than the other, just that they are different. London is much larger in terms of population, and the liveliness of the city reflects this. It seems that no matter what time of day it is in London there are always people everywhere. It can be overwhelming at times, but it also gives you the feeling that you are never really alone which can be nice.  Birmingham, while holding the title of the country’s second city,  has a much slower feel  to it. Rush hour is still fairly hectic, but during off-peak hours, the city has a relatively calm, laid back atmosphere. Considering where I grew up, this slower pace is much more in line with my comfort level.

I think it’s this slower, more manageable pace that makes me like the city so much. To me, Birmingham offers all of the perks of a city in a more accessible way than larger cities. This is, of course, my personal opinion. As Valeria grew up in Caracas and spent a few years in London, she sometimes finds the relaxed nature of Birmingham to be boring. I understand this, and when compared to London, it is definitely true. Nevertheless, I find the city to be a much better fit for my personal preferences and have thoroughly enjoyed my time here thus far!

If you have any questions about the city feel free to ask in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Garet

Term 3 at Aston

Hi all!

Today I wanted to write about the different options MSc students have during Term 3 at Aston. As I am only familiar with the information for my programme, this post will be tailored towards students planning to do a Masters in either International Business (IB) or Strategy and International Business (SIB).

If you are reading this and are not planning to attend one of these programmes, please be aware your options are most likely different and you should contact someone at the university who is familiar with your particular course. I would suggest visiting your department or course page on the Aston University website to find the proper contact details.

Please also note that this will be a brief overview of the different options, and the specifics may change before you arrive to begin your course. I just wanted to give you a quick overview of what you could expect to encounter during your time here as I think it could be helpful!

Term 3

During Term 3, MSc students in the programmes above do not attend classes as they did in Terms 1 and 2. Rather, students are given the opportunity to complete one of three different paths aimed at allowing them to tailor their learning experience to their wants and needs. Below I will explain the paths and highlight my thoughts on each.

Option 1: Integrated Study Abroad

As it sounds, this option allows students to travel abroad to one of Aston’s partner schools to attend courses and explore a new culture. Looking through the list, potential locations include China, France, Norway, and India, among others. There is an application students must complete for their desired location so be sure to know what is expected and when the deadlines are for your preferred location! (Also, please note this information may change before you begin your course at Aston.)

My Thoughts:

This sounds like a great opportunity to travel and explore a new city! The programme offers students the chance to learn about a new culture, while still allowing them to stay on track to graduate. I have a few friends who are wanting to take this route, and they are working on their applications now.

Personally, I will not be choosing this option. As I am already “abroad” I would rather stay in-country and enjoy my time here. Additionally, I feel the other routes are more suited to my current interests and needs, so this is not my best option. However, if you are interested in taking this opportunity I would highly suggest it; I am a HUGE proponent of studying abroad and the impacts it can have on your development both personally and professionally!

Option 2: Integrated Work Experience

This option requires students to partake in a work-based experience. This can come in a number of different forms such as:

  • paid internships
  • job shadowing
  • voluntary projects
  • part-time work
  • working for your family business
  • Employer or sector sponsored competitions, Summer Schools, or skills workshops
  • Work-based dissertation or consultancy project

As you can see, there are a number of different opportunities, each with their own benefits. It is important to know, however, that you will be required to seek-out these different opportunities. With the large number of students in each cohort, Aston is unable to find placements for each student individually. Do not worry, though, as you will be able to utilise resources such as Graduate Advantage and the Careers and Placements Services department to aid in your search.

My Thoughts:

This is most likely the option I will be taking, assuming I can find a placement. One of the main reasons I came to the UK was to gain work experience abroad, and this offers me exactly that. If you are interested in gaining international work experience, or if any of the opportunities above sound interesting, then this may be the route for you as well. It really depends on what you are wanting to get out of your Term 3, and your time at Aston in general. Just remember, competition for the placements (especially the paid internships) will be fierce so you should have your CV prepped and ready before the end of Term 2.

Option 3: Skills Workshops

This options allows students to participate in workshops on campus to improve certain skills and competencies. The workshops cover such areas as leadership, problem solving, negotiating, and presentation abilities, among others. Students are able to choose three of the workshops – each of which lasts one day – and should select those areas which they feel they need to improve.

Credit: TheDailyTouch.com

My Thoughts:

This will be my second option should I not find a placement. Some of these workshops sound interesting, and there are areas I have identified which I would like to improve. Additionally, the workshops are led and developed by professors and Phd students, so I can imagine the content will be great!

Again, this comes down to personal preference. I know a number of my classmates are planning to choose these workshops. I believe they are drawn to both the content, and the (perceived ) lower time commitment involved. Moreover, many of the ones I have talked to are not particularly interested in working in the UK after graduation, and are thus not as motivated to seek a placement.

Almost Done

Well those are your three options available during Term 3! Regardless of which option you choose, you will be required to complete a Skills Portfolio at the end. From my understanding, this will be a self-reflective report on what we’ve gained from the experiences and how these will help us going forward. If you haven’t done them before, these self-reflection exercises can be extremely helpful, and are a great way to really understand how you have developed during your time at Aston.

When it comes time for you to choose your route, be sure to really put some thought into it! While some may be more fun than others, each offers its own set of pros and cons. No matter which one you choose, remember it is an opportunity to grow and learn which is why (I imagine) you are doing an MSc 🙂

If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments below!

Thanks for reading.

Garet

 

My Break in Pictures

For this post I wanted to share some pictures of the things Valeria and I did throughout the holidays. Unfortunately, we were unable to travel, so if you’re looking for more location variety, take a look at Michael’s Dublin post or Lina’s great post on Christmas in Colombia!

The Holiday Market:

I believe I mentioned the market before, and I know the other bloggers have shared their experiences with it. The market really is a fun and lively place to get in the holiday spirit. We went on a number of occasions, and it seemed like we always saw or ate something new.

Some pictures from our times at the market!
Some pictures from our times at the market!

Our Christmas Tree:

We also decided to get a real tree this year. We initially wanted to get a fake one, but as we waited until December 22nd to start looking, the stores were sold out and we had no other choice. Fortunately, the outdoor Bullring Market saved the day and I was able to get this stunning specimen for a mere £10. With a little love and glitter, we were able to turn it into an almost exact replica of the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York (you can compare for yourself here).

The great transformation...
The great transformation…

 

An Ice Skating Adventure:

After the New Year, we decided to have a go at ice skating. The rink is located outside of the Library of Birmingham and makes for a beautiful backdrop for those willing to brave the cold (and possible injuries). By some miracle, neither of us fell, and we had a great time! I would highly suggest going if you have the chance during your time in Bham.

Ice skating in Birmingham
Ice skating in Birmingham

It’s been a great winter break and holiday. The city has so much to offer during the season that it’s hard to get bored. If you are able to, however, I would suggest taking a trip to really take full advantage of your time here. Hopefully we will be able to do a bit more traveling once summer comes around!

Thanks for reading!

Garet

What to do on breaks?

Hello everyone! I hope you are enjoying the holidays.

As promised, today I am going to be giving some suggestions on how you can make the most of your breaks between terms. This will be a short post, but you will hopefully find the information useful.

When are breaks?

During your MSc year at Aston, you will effectively have two breaks. The first will come after Term 1 (around the mid-December) and the second will come after Term 2 (around the end of March). I am not counting the time after Term 3 as a break because you will be done with classes and just be working towards completing your dissertation. Both of the breaks last roughly four weeks, which gives you a good amount of time to relax and recoup.

How should I spend my breaks?

As people are different and have their own goals, I am not going to tell you what you should or should not do during your breaks. Rather, I am going to offer suggestions on how to manage you time during the break.

Suggestion 1: Take a few days at the beginning of the break to calm down and disconnect.

After you have finished all of your projects and exams for the term, it is important to take some time off. More than likely, you will be mentally exhausted so do not be afraid to take a few days for yourself. After you have recharged and feel motivated, you can then begin to think about what it is you want to accomplish during your break.

Suggestion 2: Create a plan with what you want to accomplish during the break.

Once you are ready, it will be important to think of what you want to do during the break. When mapping out your plan, remember to be realistic with what you can expect to complete in 3- 3 1/2 weeks. While it might seem like a lot of time, once you factor in holidays and any traveling you my due, it tends to go by quickly.

Start by coming up with a list of goals and then choosing those that seem most important and doable. When I began my current break after Term 1 ,I decided I had two main goals: apply to graduate recruitment programmes and begin reading for my dissertation. I felt the first goal of applying to jobs was important as many of the programmes close around the end of Decemeber (if not earlier). My second goal of reading for my dissertation is important because I know that at the end of Term 2, I will have to turn in the Research Proposal for my dissertation. I want to get started on this early to ensure I have plenty of time to complete it before other coursework and projects are due in Week 8.

Suggestion 3: Stick to a balanced routine…but remember to enjoy your time off!

While it is important to get things done during the break, you should not overwork yourself. Term time can be very stressful and difficult, and the breaks are meant to give you a chance to unwind from that. I will suggest, however, that you try to maintain some sort of routine. For example, try not to get in the habit of going to bed late and waking up in the early afternoon. Of course, it may seem like good fun while you are doing it, but I speak from experience when I say  that these bad habits are hard to break once classes resume.

I would suggest waking up at a decent hour (say 9 or 9:30) and working until maybe 14:00. After that, make it a point to go outside (everyone loves Vitamin D), enjoy the city and spend time with friends. Throughout December there is a great Christmas market in City Centre, and there are always movies and pubs that could use your business ;). Whatever extracurricular activties you enjoy, be sure to take advantage of the free time you have during the break.

Well that is it for this post. I know there is a lot more I could say on this subject, but since I am currently on break and it is New Years Eve, I am going to leave it at that!

I hope you enjoy the rest of this year and have a great 2015.

Garet

 

Exams at Aston

Hello everyone!

As I’m sure many students across the country can relate to, we have just finished our Term 1 exams! I turned in my last final over a week ago (12 Dec) and I could not be more excited. The last 2-3 weeks was a real push to finish projects, revise for exams, and actually take them, so I was definitely in need of some time off.

In this post I want to discuss the exam process at the university. As it is something you will not be able to avoid, I thought it might be helpful to have an idea of what to expect. I will be writing another post within the next week talking about the importance of using breaks to be productive, so be sure to check back for that one!

Exams at Aston

For Term 1  I had four modules and I had to sit for exams in three of them. My fourth exam was two 1,500 essays that we completed throughout the final week of the term. I’m going to break this section up into two parts. Part 1 will be about what to do before the exams to prepare and Part 2 will talk about what to expect during the exams.

Part 1: Preparing for Exams

Depending on the type of exam you are given, you will need to prepare and manage your time differently. For timed exams where you have to sit in the monitored room, you will need to allot more time to revising and preparation. For exams that are given to you to complete outside of the classroom, you will need to allocate designated time around your revising to complete them. As exams are given in Week 10, the university reserves Week 9 as a a review week.

For the three exams I had to sit for, I began preparing for them in Week 9. Had I not been working to complete group assignments, I would have gladly began revising earlier. Depending on your schedule and assignments, you may be able to begin reviewing before Week 9, but do not be worried if you are working on assignments until Friday of Week 8. As I mentioned, the university allocates Week 9 to be a review time, so all of your assignments should have to be turned in by the end of Week 8.

You should expect to spend a good amount of time revising for the exams (I spent roughly 10 hours per day in the library throughout Week 9). The professors are good about telling you what to expect on the exams (the topics of the questions and major areas to cover), but as this is a MSc and we want to receive a Distinction, simply giving an answer is not enough. Rather, you will be expected to provide detailed, logical arguments that incorporate facts from the given case, theories and frameworks covered in class, and empirical evidence to support your answer. As such, it is important that in your revision you are covering only the most relevant information. With so much data and material in front of you, it is easy to become overwhelmed or distracted by meaningless information. To combat this, I made it a point to routinely look over the potential questions and topics given by the professors and compare what I was reviewing to what may be asked in the exam. If I was not able to use the information in a meaningful way, I would rethink my approach and change topics.

One last tidbit I can give to you is that, while Week 9 is dedicated to revision, your exam preparation will continue into Week 10. For example, after completing an exam that ran from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm on Monday, I spent the next 9 hours in the library preparing for an exam on Wednesday. I then worked all of Tuesday on my essays, and after completing the exam on Wednesday at 12:30 pm, I spent the rest of the day revising for my Thursday exam. While it can seem a bit overwhelming, once you realise you have this additional time during Week 10 to revise, yuo become oddly thankful you get to spend the entire day studying (It’s weird, I know).

Part 2: Taking Exams

The exams I sat for were held in the Sports Hall on campus. There are different time slots, but mine were all from 9:30 am onward. The Sports Hall itself can be a bit intimidating the first time you go in to take an exam. Basically, it’s a massive room with rows of desks for test-takers, and approximately five test monitors observing to ensure all rules and regulations are followed. Your name is printed on a sheet of paper outside the hall, and next to your name is a number which indicates your assigned seat. There are very strict rules and guidelines for exams which can be found here.  I won’t go into detail about them here, but be sure you abide by them to avoid any issues with your results.

The three exams that I had to sit for lasted between 2-3 hours each, depending on the number of questions and the case study. In one of my modules, the professor gave us the case two weeks before the exam, so we had a chance to read over it and prepare. In that particular exam, we were given just two hours to complete three questions. While that may seem like a lot of time, the professors usually expect your responses to cover a minimum of two pages each.

For the two exams where the case study was not given beforehand, one was 2.5 hours and the other was 3 hours. Each had us answer two questions, and reading the case usually took approximately 30 minutes. In these exams, it was very important to thoroughly read the case study and highlight any important parts. My strategy was to read the questions first to have an idea of what information I would need, and then read the case study to find the answers and supporting info.

No matter which of the formats you find yourself in, the most important thing to remember is to manage your time wisely! I cannot stress enough how important it is to work decisively on the questions. There is not enough time to work halfway through a question and decide you would rather answer a different one. After speaking with many of my colleagues, nearly all of them said managing their time was the most difficult aspect of the exams.

So how do you do this? Well, as I said earlier, my strategy was to read the questions first and then go through the case study with them in mind. From listening to what others had to say, they may have spent too much time reading the case studies. This can be a difficult task, and I’m going to leave it to you to decide how thoroughly you want to read them. However, I will say that if English is not your native language, it may be worth spending a few extra minutes reading through them to ensure you are comfortable with the content.

The next piece of advice I will give is to allocate a proportionate amount of time to each question. If one question is worth 75% of the total mark, it is in your best interest to reserve more time to answering that question. If all questions are weighted equally, I would suggest completing the ones you are most confident with first to ensure you get as many points as possible on those. Regardless of how you choose to answer the questions, it is important to stay aware of the time and work accordingly.

Well I have made this post long enough! If you have made it this far I would like to thank you for reading. I know exams can be a stressful time for all students, but I want to assure you Aston and its professors go to great lengths to prepare you for them. From the dedicated revision week to the outstanding lectures given throughout the term, the university gives you the tools and time you need to do well on your exams. If you are willing to put the time in to review, I am positive you will be ready for anything they throw at you!

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions leave a comment below.

Garet