By Saleh Babayo
Saleh Babayo is a promising Abusite. He graduated with a first class degree and emerge as the best graduating student of the Civil Engineering Department, ABU Zaria in 2018. Today he shares his “secrets” of graduating with a “first-class” honors degree to encourage and inspire other students especially the new ones matriculating today.
At least a dozen students—mostly university new intakes—have asked me to explain to them the “secrets” of graduating with a “first-class” honors degree. This appeal may not be unconnected with my recent graduation with the aforementioned class of degree.
Honestly, I had previously resisted the temptation and pressure to write on the subject matter for many reasons. The most obvious of them being that there are no universally agreed standard guidelines in this regard. For instance, what simply worked for Mr. A might be—what we fondly called in college—academic suicide for Mr. B.
Hence, the essence of this article is to inspire and encourage university newcomers or prospective students, or anyone else who may find it helpful, to utilize their talents to the fullest. I hope to instill confidence in them and to prove to them that if yours can make it despite lacking the widely-agreed credentials, they too can make it.
Therefore, since there is no universal procedure that leads to graduating with a first class honors degree, what I will be doing later in this article is to highlight some of the integral factors that I believe worked for me and I hope the reader will find handy in his or her journey to first class. In essence, this article is more or less my memoirs.
Before then, it’s paramount that you dismiss the false presumption among many university newcomers that first class is reserved to only “natural gurus”; whose source of knowledge is divine.
Although I unreservedly acknowledge individual differences—since all fingers are not equal—yet if I had believed in the above fallacy wholesale, I wouldn’t have graduated with first class.
As my mentor, Nasir Jajere, once remarked: “First class is the only class of degree that requires above-average talent and deliberate effort. It just doesn’t happen by chance. While it is true that some people’s default setting is 2:1, which they may acquire effortlessly, first class is just the opposite.” I found this proposition very profound and apt.
What follows are some of the vital ingredients of the first class presented in no specified order.
1) GET A MENTOR
The importance of getting a suitable mentor (usually a predecessor) who successfully trod the path you want to traverse cannot be overemphasized. This will simply cut your work short for you. Most of us learned these clues in a hard way. That’s why I take it upon myself to mentor younger ones to learn them in the simplest way possible.
Therefore, I strongly advise you to start by finding a suitable mentor within your reach. I can give you this blanket assurance without any reservation: All responsible mentors find pleasure in helping their mentees. Nonetheless, make sure you do your homework diligently before approaching one.
2) PARTICIPATE IN TUTORIALS
If I have to recommend one factor above the others, then that factor is tutorial. You can benefit from tutorials in two broadways: Either by learning from tutors as a listener or by teaching others.
Many a times concepts explained in tutorial classes are easier to understand compared to those taught in normal lectures. Similarly, your understanding of some concepts becomes solid when you teach others.
Please don’t ever attempt to hoard knowledge on the pretext of maintaining your position in class. There’s no first, second, or third position in higher institutions. Unlike commodity, the more you give out knowledge, the more it becomes part of you. Needless to say, teaching comes with prestige and commands respect.
3) BE PUNCTUAL TO CLASSES
Attend ALL your lectures regardless of whether you find them interesting or not. Even if you don’t understand, attend and also jot down all the important information said or written by the lecturers.
Unknown to many, sometimes you understand lessons easily when you read the jottings that you couldn’t follow during the class hours. If possible, get separate notebooks for all the courses you are undertaking.
Apart from meeting the requisite 75% attendance, being punctual to classes will help you learn things beyond the content of your course. Many digressions by lecturers result in expensive knowledge that may not be acquired so cheaply elsewhere.
4) HAVE A GOOD COMPANY
To use Biology terms in the context of friendship, never engage yourself in parasitism (+/-). It should be at best mutualism (+/+) or at worst commensalism (+/0). It should be preferably a win-win friendship. Your close associates define you as a person. Therefore, always surround yourself with the best brains around.
Admittedly, you may not be able to figure out all the good guys in your class ab initio. Therefore, maintain a distant appearance until after your first exam. Because after the first result is released all the who-is-who in the class will be unveiled. Once you discover them don’t hesitate to befriend them.
5) LOVE WHAT YOU STUDY
Passion is the most effective driving force in any journey to first class. Unfortunately, not everyone gets placement to their preferred course of study. Hence, this may not be to their advantage. Nonetheless, the good news is that you can still love what you are studying. This will help you endure all the rigors involved along the way.
6) DREAM BIG
Be always determined to get the best for yourself. Your target GPA every semester should be 5.00. The likely outcomes are two: Either you attain your target at the end of the semester or you get something closer, either ways you are a winner. It’s usually dangerous to lower the bar; it works exactly opposite.
At the beginning of every semester, you can forecast your CGPA by simply using any credible MS Excel CGPA analyzer (I have designed a template that’s user-friendly) and assuming all your grades to be “A’s” as the best-case scenario.
You can then vary the grades and observe their impact on your CGPA accordingly and also to obtain an objective worst-case-scenario.
7) BE SOCIO-ECONOMICALLY STABLE
This aspect is very central to your success. This factor means having decent accommodation, a steady flow of pocket money, etc. This will give you both the social and mental stability necessary for the attainment of your goal.
There are many scholarships that can help you in this regard. Many state governments pay annual bursary, others include oil companies, federal government, foundations, private individuals, etc.
By always staying alert, information on these scholarships usually go viral on campuses and social media.
8) MANAGE YOUR TIME EFFICIENTLY
There is this popular engineering slogan: No time to check time. Manage your time effectively. Especially if you are in departments with huge work load, there is usually not enough time. Therefore, you should apportion time to your schedules according to priority.
Most often, when exam time approaches, students seldom find enough time to digest their books. In order to avoid “crash program,” prepare early enough; before the semester gets hot.
9) SOCIALIZE RESPONSIBLY
As the saying goes: No man is an island. You can’t live in a vacuum. Socialize and mingle with your friends, however, do that responsibly. Engage yourself in various extracurricular activities that you believe are healthy to your personality, because there are a lot of social activities on campus that are counterproductive.
Declare some days reading-free days, as the saying goes: You can’t come and kill yourself. Socialize with your friends and acquaintances but make sure you apportion time to it appropriately.
10) GET FREQUENT REST
The brain works just the same way as mechanical engine. It needs rest. Don’t ever overstress yourself. You mustn’t kill yourself before you could graduate with first class. Don’t joke with enough sleeping. Sleep for at least 6 hours daily.
Many students collapse on campus due to excessive reading and zero rest. Some even become mentally affected due to excessive stress. Please get enough rest and sleeping. This two work magic.
11) IMBIBE SELF-LEARNING ATTITUDE
Although not everybody is endowed with this rare wisdom. Not everyone could read a concept from a textbook or any material and understand it, especially if it involves calculations, without the help of an instructor.
I don’t know for sure if this attitude is learnable, but I will strongly encourage you to put extra effort in this regard. It will help you in many ways, for instance you’ll become versatile and always one step ahead of the average student in your class; it gives you comparative advantage. You will have a field day when exam questions come outside class note.
12) OVERCOME TEMPORARY SETBACKS
Challenges are part and parcel of life, learn to live them. Move on, don’t ever allow temporary setbacks to hold you back. Trials can come in many ways.
Sometimes results could come out far below your expectation. Especially if you are at lower levels, know that doing more can easily improve your CGPA. Just put the past behind you and move on.
13) PREPARE ADEQUATELY FOR EXAMS
You need to be extra careful here. Success in an exam isn’t guaranteed only by the level of your reading. Reading is just one of the many factors. You need to be smart. Past questions can always serve as a guide if you know how to use them properly.
Many people that cram PQs mostly end up disappointed as a result of slight changes. Their main purpose is to give you some hints on the format of the exam and the pattern of the lecturer. But relying completely on it is dangerous.
Don’t be selective in your reading. Read everything given to you including things that everybody thinks aren’t examinable. If you adhere to this hardly would you be carried by surprise in the exam hall? Always do your homework. Prepare adequately before the exam.
Lest you forget, your final grade in any course constitutes of the exam (60%) and continuous assessment (CA) (40%). The CA further comprises of tests, attendance, and lab work in some cases. Therefore, “A” students are distinguished from “B” students right from their CA scores.
As a rule of thumb, consider all your courses important. Because a single low grade can damage your result. You can’t see yourself getting five A’s and two Ds in a semester. The damage this will inflict on your CGPA can best be imagined.
Timing in an exam is very important. It’s not malpractice to enter the exam hall with your ordinary wristwatch so that you can optimize your time and also apportion time to each question appropriately. Please always spare little time for final review before submission.
The art of writing exams well is equally important. Your answers to exam questions should be to standard. Write an exam with calmness. Your handwriting should very legible. Clarity of expression is extremely important.
Lastly, make sure you understand any question you intend to answer properly before responding. Your response should be strictly according to how the examiner wants it to be.
14) RESIST CHEAP PRAISES
It’s common for your fellow students to start praising you by calling you all sorts of names like guru, gifted, extraordinary, etc., whenever you have a good result.
Learn to manage success else it leads you astray. I always tell students this phrase in this context: It is not over until it is over. Unless they release your final result, your journey isn’t yet over.
15) STAY FOCUSED
Staying focused helps you remain on track. Students in departments with more opposite sexes tend to be more distracted compared to their counterparts in departments with less.
Resist the temptation of engaging in purposeless relationships. They lead nowhere. They usually terminate at “the main gate.”
16) ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITIES
Some responsibilities can help you concentrate more on your studies. For example, you can be a class rep, a deputy class rep, etc.; responsibilities that have everything to do with your academics.
No doubt they’ll take more time from your limited time, but they will help you build yourself in the long run.
17) BE DISCIPLINED, CONSISTENT, AND RESILIENT
The journey is usually tedious full of obstacles and disappointments. As I made mentioned in item 12 above, just put the past behind you. All these pieces of advice do not apply only to a single semester. They are meant to adhere to every semester. Hence it requires patience and perseverance.
18) RESPECT YOUR TEACHERS
Never disrespect your teachers. I am not saying you should be too close to them, but maintain a cordial relationship with them. Being classified among the serious folks in your class means a lot to you. You will always be listened to or offered any help whenever in need of your teachers.
19) USE YOUR SMARTPHONE SMARTLY
Your smartphone can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you use it. In this digital age, information is at your fingertips. With a single click on your phone, you can retrieve information on the internet that could take days to be found 30 years ago.
However, your smartphone can be a source of distraction especially if you are addicted to social media. Just the same way I advised you to socialize responsibly, I will advise you to use your smartphone with extra caution.
20) BE SPIRITUALLY BALANCED
Last but not the least, be close to your creator. As a people of faith, we always believe in divine intervention in our successes. If you are a Muslim, pray the 5 daily prayers in congregation. Needless to say, congregational prayers always hold at the stipulated time in mosques.
It’s glaringly clear that each of these factors can be a topic of discussion in its own right. I had wanted to be as elaborate as I could, however, due to time and space constraints, and also not to bore my readers with a lengthy article, I decided to make it this brief.