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Published On: Wed, Nov 11th, 2020

Why most students fail at their first year in the university

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By Emmanuel Onyekwere

Fear of failure is one tendency that is innate and predominant in every human being irrespective of how influential or powerful, and no matter how much a person has achieved there is this inevitable “failure-phobia” in him/her, people avoid failure even to the most ignoble degree of it. Failure however does not mean the same to everybody, to every person it has a meaning which is peculiar to him/her, but instantaneously it instigates a negative feeling in everybody. No definition would be given to failure to make it appealing to the ear. It is something every sane person is afraid of and tries in different capacities to avert. No one wants to be known as a failure hence no one dreams or plans to fail. The aspiration of every student is the opposite of failure, which means graduating with a good grade (first class).
So many factors are responsible for the failure of students at their first year (in the University) but the contributions of the students are apparent and massive (thereby speeding up the rate at which they fail). The new students (freshers) fertilize the factors that pull them down and prevent them from doing well in their first year in the University. The factors that militate against the success of first year students are numerous that I cannot dare mention all in this piece otherwise it would become voluminous, indecipherable and uninteresting hence the most common factors are as follows;
I intend not to restrict Peer pressure to just pressure from your mates and colleagues but it extends to the pressure coming from your seniors in the department and faculty. As a fresher, they will tell you a lot about the department, the lecturers and the courses; how wicked and parsimonious some lecturers are. The misleading part of it is that they would tell you a course you can never pass or even if you pass, it would be with a very poor grade (does it mean you must fail because they failed). A fresher under such pressure otherwise called orientation may never do well.
A second aspect of it is the pressure that comes from peers, your fellow fresheners (claiming to know the school system even better than those that have spent couple of years in the University). They know everything about academics and almost everything you do is wrong. As a result of this many fresheners begin to doubt themselves; you are no longer convinced about yourself, they make you feel amateur, your ‘wonderful’ ideas are no longer celebrated. You’ve totally lost confidence in your abilities. At this point you’d start keeping malice with yourself, condemning yourself and the good things God endowed you with. This is when you begin to chase shadows.
Impressive reading is the type of reading you do knowing for sure that you are not really reading anything but reluctantly continued because you want to impress someone; you want to be called the ‘Guru’, book warm’, ‘bookish’ and so on. You forfeit your night rest reading when you know you don’t understand when you read at night. The level and time of understanding differs, some read and understand at night while some do so during the day, some read for longer period of time while some can read for shorter period of time and still grab everything. Not everybody can read throughout the night (otherwise called TDB; i.e. Till Day Break); my former roommate tried it and after the TDB he slept and missed the Exam for which he did the TDB, funny right?
Irrelevant reading on the other hand is the habit of reading outside the scope of the study in hand. Because you want to be called ‘Prof.’ you’d carry heavy textbooks that are voluminous and irrelevant to your present course of study, you end up learning nothing and asking unconstructed and extraneous questions in class.
Freedom they say intoxicates even more than strong wine. First year students abuse the freedom they have; freedom to go to any place of their choice and come back at wish and do whatever they want; this freedom however poses a huge threat to their level of concentration in school. Away from home, just you and your independence, boyfriends and girlfriends, making new friends, sleeping whenever and wherever you want to, parties and drinks; all of these distract freshers and their inability to manage them appropriately has a negative impact on their first year result. It is disgraceful that a first year student who is yet to see his/her result already has girlfriend/boyfriend, go to parties and clubs and drink out their senses; what would be your excuse if you fail?
Secondly, it would either be because the fresheners are frenzied with been independent, the university party life and all the new exposures, they then slack off in school and in studying they lose focus. Also it could be that they are not ready to take University seriously or they are too immature to manage life away from home. They find it difficult to balance social life, freedom, and responsibilities of the school. They are either mentally or emotionally unprepared, but many of them are just lazy and take the university as one big party and don’t like the lecture side of it (as many would say “school sweet but na exam spoil am”).
It is among freshers that you find the ‘serious students’ who have no time for God: they are always in class trusting so much in their intellect which then makes serving God an extra burden and mere waste of time; “the school should be bookish and not religious” while your colleagues are in class reading you are in church; “what a waste of time” many would say. Anything you do without God is just same as going to farm without cutlass trusting your bare hands to cut down those giant trees in the farm. Some believe their success to be dependent upon the amount of time they spend in class rather than with God; you need God as much as you need to read.
In most cases, it is not just that the freshers are irresponsible or easily distracted by everything going on around them, it may as well be as a result of the new lifestyle and educational change that many of them find very difficult to adapt to. Many of them fail to understand that University classes are different from secondary school classes. I have come across intelligent students who could not learn how to learn. You have to learn from lectures, talk to lecturers and ask questions where necessary and relevant, if you are not prepared, you have to adapt and learn how to be prepared (pretty quick) or you will be left behind. Higher education is more than just what you learn in the classroom, it’s about maturity and learning how to learn.
After 2 to 3 weeks in school many freshers lose confidence having seen fashion, the beautiful faces, the so called intelligent ones and the big boys and girls, they start denigrating themselves, having seen those who cat-walk better than they do, those high-class ladies with eye-catching make-ups, guys with better swag; expensive clothes and shoes. This new feeling drives them crazy, they start chasing shadows and desiring to be like a certain individual and behave like a certain person. Some even forget why they are where they are; aspiring to obtain a degree in the science of imitation at the detriment of their academics, they lose their self-esteem and sacrifice their modesty at the shrine of immorality and their vision and mission at the altar of lust just because they want to ‘belong’.
Many of the freshers are intimidated by the saucy words and remarks of the old cargos in the university. The freshers are often called Jambites, JJC, village boys or girls and many other comments meant to cage their spirits and limit their potentials as new students. All of the above have no effect except we decide to work by them or regard them as important, when you disregard any saucy comment, trust me it will never come back to hurt you but when you allow them they will incapacitate your potential and affect your personality even when you claim to have forgotten them they keep re-echoing, constantly reminding you that: you are in part one oo, you are Jambite ooo, you are JJC and so on, and by that you compromise and desist from doing the needful.
According to statistics, only an infinitesimal 20% of first year students do well. This is not peculiar to Nigeria; it is same in Africa, Europe and even many developed countries. A French Psychologist said, “in my first year in the University, we were over 500 students but in the second year, we were just a bit more than 100, what happened to the other 400?” He categorized the reasons into two;
The external factors (they are beyond the will of the student) and
The internal factors (which the students can definitely act on).
These are also factors that can make you fail in your first year, the first is not knowing why you are in that particular department. This write-up is not for those who enroll into the first course they can think of just to get pocket money from parents or those who enroll to benefit from the “student” status (registering for almost all the scholarship schemes available just to get grant) or those who have accepted the fate of being “failures” or those who enroll while waiting for ‘something better’; these categories of students are sure to fail, my advice is not for them but rather for those who sincerely want to succeed but don’t manage to pass their first year well because they are missing something. Your ability to decide on leaving secondary school, the course you want to study at the University is imperative but accepting any course you were offered as if it were the best and work towards it as you would if offered your desired course is paramount.
Do not ‘manage’ any course lest it manage your success, once you accept it, do so wholeheartedly and channel all your effort towards it. On the other hand, if you want to reject it also do same out rightly, do not say ‘let me manage it’, if you accept it, then it deserves your total commitment. For instance you applied Law and were offered Sociology, it is not an avenue for you to handle your academics with kid gloves deceiving yourself ‘after all I didn’t apply for it’ but you accepted it! So why won’t you take it serious? Where there’s a will there’s always a way especially when you know what your will is. Whether the field you find yourself in is giving you satisfaction or not, just try and learn as much as you can because everything you learn now will come handy someday, sometime, somewhere; knowing what you want is the first step on the ladder of success.
Another factor is that freshers do not know how to take notes being used in classes that resembled dictation, until the end of secondary school, we may have great difficulty as we arrive University, to adapt to the new system of learning in which courses take the form of lectures (some lecturers continue to dictate even up to master level courses). A typical error is trying to write down every word (you’ll end up writing what you cannot understand); it is not feasible unless you have herculean arms. When you want to write everything, your brain remains focused on writing and looses enormously in terms of understanding and analysis. I suggest that you jot facts effectively and if possible invest in a digital voice recorder (you can also use your phone) to record lectures and ease yourself the constraint of writing notes and thus allow your brain to focus on listening and understanding. At your own time, you can transcribe your audio into written format and this process will even afford you a second chance of memorization.
Also, be reminded that a lecture given at the University lecture hall is an open door to research; the lectures are not just enough. Another error is thinking that by revising your note/handouts alone you would succeed, you may pass an examination but that does not make you an intelligent student, make out time weekly for ‘extra’ reading suggested by the lecturer and the ones you deem necessary, also partake in course-discussions with your course mates and even your seniors in the department; do not deprive yourself of any knowledge acquirable.
Many students struggle throughout the term of study just trying to graduate with a first class degree which would only be written on a paper with nothing in their brain. It is expected that the output should be better than the input but that does not connote restricting your knowledge just to graduating with a first class certificate while the real output (“the brain”) is actually 3rd class or even a pass. I therefore implore you to work hard enough to ensure you graduate with a uniform and balanced certificate i.e a first class (paper) certificate and a first class brain.
Remember to avoid bad friends, be focused and overcome all the pressure irrespective of who or where they are coming from: that a particular person or even the entire class failed any course is no reason for you to fail it. Do not be driven by the pleasures, liberty and waywardness which characterize the University environment, always be yourself and not a copycat. Bear your name and not “impressionist”, impress yourself, avoid boyfriend or girlfriend for now, make God your all; entrust Him your education and I can assure you that it is in safe hands and so will never suffer, learn proper management of time. Wasting time is when you lavish your time on an activity that will in no way help you achieve your goals as a student and above all, improve your prayer life. This may also be of help to every student not just freshers.
Thank you.

Emmanuel Onyekwere is a Public Policy Analyst.

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