Catching up on Missed Work
Although I’d never recommend missing any of your contact hours, illness or extenuating circumstances often get in the way of our learning. Unlike mainstream secondary education, lecturers are under no obligation to provide you with notes, handouts or other learning materials from classes that you miss. This can make life difficult, as whole topics can be covered in a two hour session which could end up being crucial to your coursework or exams. In this blog, I’ve put together a list of practical ways to get you back on track.
1. Identify why you’re missing out
If you’ve been ill or away from campus due to personal circumstances, try not to be too hard on yourself. In light of the current pandemic, there are lots of people isolating or staying away from activities to protect others. Unfortunately there will always be a few sessions missed here and there, so don’t worry too much.
However, if you’re missing classes due to them clashing with employment, social activities or just because you’re not getting up on time (hello 9am lectures), then it’s worth sitting down with yourself and sorting out the root of the problem. I understand the need to work probably more than most, but I always scheduled my job outside of my contact hours, and you should definitely do the same. Early classes are also a big reason why attendance is often low, but timetabling will be out of your lecturer’s control, and they have to turn up to teach!
Finally, hating a module or disliking a lecturer may be another core reason that you’re missing important contact time, so see if you can swap to another module. You’ll need to do this pretty early in the term, so it’s important that you’re proactive about this if the first few sessions don’t hook you in. Later in the term this won’t be possible as there will be too much to catch up on, and compulsory modules are just that: compulsory! Core content will be taught during compulsory modules, so it’s even more important that you attend these. To motivate you, plan something nice for after the class, or treat yourself to a nice coffee; whatever gets you to that class is worth it.
2. Be proactive
Whether you’ve been ill for a week or have decided to turn over a new leaf, getting in touch with your course tutor is a great way to find out what you’ve missed. Virtual learning environments will contain details of what will be covered week on week, and there may be enough from PowerPoints provided there to give you the general idea. However, some lecturers don’t use slides at all, or their seminars involve a lot of collaborative work which won’t have been recorded for you. I find that in the humanities, slides are used mainly to display picture sources or key recap elements, so they won’t be useful unless you actually attend the session. Learning materials are meant to be used in collaboration with the lecturer teaching the session!
Common courtesy should be exercised throughout university, and it’s important to give tutors the respect that they deserve. It may seem like you’re just another body in the room, but I’ve found that most staff will make an effort to get to know people’s names at the very least, and lots are very invested in you as a student. Giving them the heads up that you won’t be attending a session is just being polite, but it may lead to them providing you with a transcript of their notes or an invitation to drop by during their office hours to recap anything major that was missed. This is not a guarantee, and I’ve had staff who have never acknowledged my email or my absence, but it’s still worth doing. Some lecturers will outline some ground rules about absence when you first join their module, while others won’t be as proactive.
If you’ve missed a few classes in a row, please arrange a quick meeting with them to see how you can catch up. Especially in the later years of your degree, the content will move very quickly and you might struggle to make sense of what you’ve missed. A lot of absence is unavoidable and lecturers understand this! Here’s an example of what to send:
I’m sorry that I have missed a few of your classes this semester. Unfortunately I have ******* so I haven’t been able to get onto campus. I’m worried that I’ve missed quite a lot, so I’d like to book an appoint to see you/come during your open hours.”
I wouldn’t expect a private tutorial, but tutors will often cover the main ground that you’ve missed, and some may point to some helpful resources and advise you to come back if you’re struggling. Lots of tutors will actively email students if they notice persistent absence, but don’t rely on them to contact you first.
3. Ask your friends
Having some friends in a class is always a blessing, especially if they take good notes, record lectures or have a great memory for what was covered. In a friend group, there’s usually one or two people who will attend pretty much everything, and they can help you out if you’re stuck. I took comprehensive notes in undergrad as I quickly learnt to touch-type, meaning I typed down shorthand of what the lecturer was saying, rather than what was on the PowerPoint or handouts. This meant that I often picked up on hints and tips for assessment, as well as extra reading or things to look up. Friends like me will save you!
One thing I will say is that your friends should be used sparingly, otherwise they might not want to share their content with you. If you’ve been sick, it’s more likely that people will share, especially if you’ve missed a few sessions in a row. However, if your friends know you’re just being lazy or have skipped out because you can ask for their notes, they might not want to help you anymore! Personally, I had a couple of friends in my outer circle consistently ask for my notes for a module but barely attended. I wanted to be nice but also fair, so I would remove the most interesting and useful elements from my notes and send them a basic copy of what I had. This might sound mean, but I wanted to maintain my friendship without being a doormat, so this could be a solution if you’re in the same situation as I was in.
Overall, be nice to your friends and promise to return the favour someday!
4. Do the preparatory work anyway
This might seem pointless if you’re not attending the seminar, but doing the reading or having a go at the task set will make up for some of the time you missed. If you can’t attend a tutorial, completing the work and then attending the lecturer’s office hour will give you the chance to ask about anything you didn’t understand and get some feedback there and then.
In the humanities, keeping up with reading is always a good idea, as set reading can often be fed into coursework, so it saves you having to read it later on. Lots of books and articles can be accessed online, so read the texts and make useful notes for later on. This can be done in bed in short bursts if you’re feeling under the weather, and it will lessen the stress that can build up later in the semester when work is due. If a text is only available in hard-copy, ask a friend to grab it from the library and drop it off for you, or email your tutor and ask for some advice. I once scanned in a chapter of a book and sent it to a friend, it cost me nothing and only took about 10 minutes, so don’t be afraid to ask.
5. Prioritise assessments
Missing seminars close to an essay deadline isn’t ideal, but it’s likely that by then you would have picked a question or research area and done a lot of the reading. Be sure to follow the steps above, but it’s more important that you submit work than complete classwork that you’ve missed.
If you can see an illness or extenuating circumstance affecting your ability to hand in a piece of work you’ll be happy with, speak with your course tutor as soon as possible. Sorting out an extenuating circumstances form to extend a deadline can take a while to process; evidence is needed and your request will need to be approved by your tutor, so speak to them first. Springing requests like this on staff when they haven’t heard from you in ages is rude, and they may not be sympathetic to your circumstances if you haven’t made the effort to be honest with them. On this note, do not try to apply for extenuating circumstances with fake evidence or by just lying. Staff approve these requests on a case by case basis, so don’t take them for a fool by expecting them to give you an extension just because you are paying for your degree. Staff have deadlines and procedures they have to follow too, and they deserve some respect. Also, faking an excuse will make it harder for other people to get approvals in the long run, so don’t try and cheat the system.
That’s it! I hope this is useful for you when considering how to mitigate absences. Being organised in the first place can eliminate a lot of casual absences, but make sure that you check out your university’s policy on absence if you are having an extended issue. A personal tutor is a great person to chat to if you think your circumstances may have a long term impact in your studies.