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Transkills: supporting transition to University


We would recommend spending about 40 hours a week minimum on your work, including reading, attending lectures and supervisions, planning essays and writing.

Why this much time?

  • You have a lot to read and understand in your time here. Being immersed in your work makes this much easier - far easier than dipping in and out of it.
  • At Cambridge University, terms are very short. In fact, in three years, you only have 500 days of time to learn your subject and become familiar with it (and that is including weekends). If you spend a week doing no work, that is more than 1% of your entire University degree. It is very hard to catch up, even by working solidly over the holidays. 

And although it may initially sound like a lot of hours to work in a week:

  • 40 hours a week is less than what most professionals work in a week.
  • 40 hours a week is only about 1/3 of your waking life, even if it sounds a lot.

How do I divide up 40 hours a week?

A good template for your working week might be as follows (but use this as a loose guide and discuss it with your teachers and friends):

  • 24 hours a week for reading
  • 8 hours (plus or minus) a week for attending lectures, supervisions and other 'contact time'
  • 8 hours a week (plus or minus) a week for planning and writing essays

You will notice the emphasis on reading in this template. History is a very reading-intensive subject. There is a huge wealth of literature in books and journals and you need to become accomplished at mastering it.

Following reading, you will also see that - despite only having one essay a week to work on - planning and writing your essays are listed as core activities requiring at least as much time as lectures and supervisions. It is vital to devote plenty of time to reading for your essay and to plan it well before you start to write. History is a literary discipline and professional historians care a lot about the way we express and communicate history.

Despite this, you will probably spend a great deal of your time feeling under-read and under-studied. This is entirely normal - your supervisors have moments like this too. However, providing that you are keeping on top of your reading and adequately scheduling your time to fit in reading, planning, writing and thinking, then you are probably not doing as badly as you think. In fact, part of the art of being a professional is coping with meeting deadlines in a state of imperfect knowledge, because there is always limited time and infinite information.

Maintaining your own schedule and managing your time are vital skills to learn not just for your time at Cambridge; they will also stand you in good stead for later life.