How to excel in your ESL masters degree


Time passes by quickly, before I knew it, I’ve completed my first semester in my 2 years pursuit of a masters degree.  I managed to score a 3.91 distinction for 2 core papers and 1 core programme paper.  At the age of 38, I do have my concern on how good I can remember things, how fast I can comprehend and make sense and how sound can my arguments be.

One thing I’ve noticed is that my results get better as I age;  I’ve always been a slightly better than average student in my secondary schools, never an excellent scorer.  I graduated with a 3.29 for my Diploma, 3.56 for my degree and now 3.91 for my first semester masters degree.  As I taught in different secondary schools, some of my students just amazed me with the amount of “A+” they can bag in their senior high.  I feel they are all full of potentials and could really shine and do great stuffs.  Then, I have had the experience of studying in the tertiary level with all the young ones, those distinct performers fresh from schools.  What I’ve noticed is that while they are really excellent, they dim when it comes to put forth a noteworthy argument or defend a solid opinion.  Our society termed them “not thinking“, which in a way correctly illustrate how they are lacking in originality and creativity.

My point here is that, being a good student in school may not help to define how much knowledge one has acquired.  As one moves up the academic ladder, it is crucial that one becomes more and more expert in what one is talking about.  The researches and studies one conduct help to form ideas that are derived from meticulous analysis and careful thoughts.  In my case, I’ve enhanced what I can do academically with my experiences.  One good example is that as an examiner marker myself, I can write my answer in a systematic and organised manner, one that the examiner will appreciate.  Or, when I argue on how recent research findings can help in better language learning practices, I can easily provide the limitation of such practices based on real examples that I’ve encountered throughout my years of service.

I’ve seen both extreme where the younger learners lack in realistic arguments and those that are so experienced thought their experiences are everything.  What we must remember is that our experiences are shaped from some form of theory or ideology.  And we must have thorough understanding of the initial ideology which serves as a base for us to construct new knowledge.  It is very much empty talk if we continue to argue within our own perspectives, because our experience is only unique to ourselves and they are very much context bound.

I obtained a 3.91 not because I score high in every assignment, quiz, or test.  But I have been consistent.  I remembered I chose a less popular theory to work on in one of the core course papers.  It had been tough for me to talk about it’s feasibility and practicality.  And that was how I presented my paper.  As a result of the limited possibilities of the theory, it becomes less popular.  I do have a hard time in justifying why did I choose it in the first place.  I’m very tempted to say I wish to do something different and shot the stars, but it’s not a fact that my professor will be interested in.

My mini projects did not excel, as in scoring the highest mark in my class, but they are good written projects that wander between 15-18 over 20.  The awarded marks give me an idea where I stand in my class, but it is not a label that I did a bad research.  What is more important here is that I probably hadn’t explored the case enough, or in research term, the projects are not significant enough for the academias.

Consider this analogy.

You wanted to post “Charles is a jerk.” to your FB status.  As an excellent student, you probably will add on to the definition of “jerk”, to the dot.  However, if you are a “good thinking student”, you will probably gather more evidences on situations where Charles had proven himself to be a jerk, a picture maybe, and post the declarative, with definition paraphrased for the context and attach a picture as evidence.  As a result, you expect all “likes” and comments that agree with what you’ve said because you have made it a fact that “Charles, indeed, is a jerk”.  On the contrary, your one line post “Charles is a jerk” may spark off arguments, attacks and queries from Charles’s supporters or maybe just some activists that think that you’ve violated human rights.

If we can dig through the internet for information, we can definitely conduct a research.  The only difference is that switch over to Google Scholar and limit your digging to only journals and articles.  The secret lies in how much information have you gathered, read and analysed.  To become truly an expert in your own field, you need to read a lot as in tapping into what others’ have said about an issue.  If you prefer not to read, you can listen.  Just remember to quote (cite) where have you encountered such idea.  The same concept is applied to how you would write your dissertation or even thesis.  Research is not something exclusive.  It is a summarised result of our observation.  Your report, dissertation or even thesis details and documents it.

Hence, as we age and have bad memories should not interfere and hamper our presentation of an observed case (research).  In fact, we should be able to present a much more organised and well thought idea.  On the other hand, if you are lacking in experience, you can still do well by reading other people’s researches.  Since almost every research is context bound, when you read other people’s research, you encounter different settings, contexts and situations.