The GDL & PGCE Survival Guide


In the past 10 years, I’ve undertaken some fairly rigorous academic courses, and certainly two of the most challenging have been the GDL and PGCE. Having graduated university with no clue as to what I wanted to do, it’s not really a huge surprise that I ended up working my way through two post-graduate qualifications: the Graduate Diploma in Law (the equivalent of a 3 year law degree, taught in 1 year) and the PGCE (also the equivalent of an undergraduate education degree, taught in a year). I wound up realising law wasn’t for me, which is why I went into teaching, but both years of study were similarly intense, and I realised the same principles could be applied to both to ensure getting good grades and completing the year successfully. Both years also taught me a lot about myself and the kind of life I want to lead, as well as developing different skills, so I can honestly say that neither were a waste of my time.

These are my best tips for triumphing over an academically challenging year.

Plan Ahead.
Before embarking on such an intensive year, it’s a good idea to reach out to other people who have been through it and ask for advice. Also, try to get as much as experience as possible of the profession you’re hoping to enter. I went into the GDL straight after my undergrad degree (which was in Linguistics), without any experience of the legal profession, and it was frustrating to discover that I in fact didn’t want to be a solicitor. Reach out to any connections you have to gain work experience (or apply for internships) within your chosen field before you commit a year of your life.

Have a Buddy Group.
This is an intense year, and you’re going to be spending hours everyday in a tutorial group with the same people. Absolutely vital is getting your own crowd within that circle. Obviously, be friendly towards everyone, but having a core group of 4-6 of you to exchange notes, study, rant and drink an insane amount of coffee/tea/hot chocolate together will be a crucial factor in getting through the year.

Do the Reading.
There will be a lot of reading material to do each week, and sadly you’ve got to do it. As both courses are made to distill 3 years’ worth of information into a single year, then what you need to know has already been pared down to the essentials, so it’s important to get a firm grip on it.

Be Organised.
If you’ve got to the point of doing a postgraduate qualification, then you are likely capable of organising yourself enough to make it to lectures on time and to meet deadlines. What may come as a shock, though, is the amount of paperwork you’re handed on a daily basis. On my first day of the GDL, my course provider gave out these huge wheelie suitcases to everybody for their textbooks and notes, which I thought was pretty funny, but it turned out to be no joke. I was soon inundated with lecture slides, case studies, tutorial group presentations, as well as my own personal notes, and I had a similar experience during the PGCE. I think a key point to realise about these courses is that, although the actual content may not be hugely challenging (and certainly won’t be as in-depth as your undergrad degree), the real challenge is keeping up with the sheer volume of information and work. One of my very best pieces of advice is to stay on top of your filing! Trust me, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches.

Keep Your Eye on the Bigger Picture (And Get a Job).
During the year, it can be easy to fall into a let-me-just-get-through-one-day-at-a-time type of mentality, but as both these qualifications are intended to lead straight to a job, it’s important to stay focused on the bigger picture and make sure you’ve got a job lined up by the end of the course. I would absolutely recommend before you start the GDL that you have a training contract. I didn’t do this – I didn’t even think about applying for one – and, in a way, for me that turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I wound up really disliking law and would have hated to be tied to doing the LPC followed by 2 years in a law firm. If a training contract is your end goal, though, then definitely try to snag one before commencing the GDL, not only as it will likely fund you through both the GDL and LPC, but also because trying to fill out the (incredibly lengthy) applications for various law firms, let alone attending the (often all day) interviews will take up a lot of time you don’t have during that year. My experience on the GDL meant that I prioritised getting a job during my PGCE, and it was great to know I had one lined up for the following September.

Take Care of Your Health.
However busy you get, make sure you keep eating properly and sleeping adequately. It’s no use at all if you break down during exams or a block placement. So make sure you set aside time for some proper R&R every week.

Remember: This Too Will End.
Even if you hate the year, or if you’re having a particularly rough day, it’s important to keep in mind that it is only for a year, and, like all things, will end.

Oh and by the way, out of the two, I found the PGCE a lot harder than the GDL, but I’ll share my experiences of that another time. Are any of you starting year-long postgrad qualifications this month, or have you completed one in the past? What would be your top survival tips? If you are starting the GDL or PGCE – good luck!! You’ll be great 🙂

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