I learned to love exams

It might seem unusual to make my first post about exams.  Exams were a month ago; a whole new year is ahead. But I love the exam process in the External Programs. I enjoy exams perhaps more than any other aspect of the program. Exams are a way to engage with the texts and my learning process, to evaluate my strategies and gain insights vital to success in a self-directed program.

Maybe I should say I learned to love the exam process.  When I applied to the program three years ago I had no English studies experience and no meaningful basis to organize my study approach. I chose Renaissance Comedy as my first exam because it had the fewest texts and I thought it would be the easiest course in terms of time management.  The morning I sat for that exam was nerve-wracking, but I answered the required questions and earned a second class mark for my efforts.

In 2009 I enrolled for the Explorations 1 exam.  My mark in year two was twelve points higher than in year one. I worked differently, but how did I manage to achieve this improvement?  After each exam I analyze things like what questions I attempt, what texts and critical arguments I use, what I do well and what could I do better.  I take notice of time management in the exam room, the quality of my essay plans and if my work is produced under pressure or with purpose.  My goal is to discover how I can improve essay content and time management. Ultimately I will decide how my study process can be organized to achieve my goals.

Everyone has different goals when enrolling in the External program. I enrolled to learn about creative writing. Now I also want to earn a first class degree.  2010 is my third year writing exams and my first writing more than one exam paper. The two papers I attempted in May complete the Foundation courses. If I pass the papers I can go on to more in-depth work. This is a momentous academic year. Advancing in the program and earning a first class degree can only be accomplished through my performance in three precious exam hours each year. It’s vital to utilize them wisely. I treasure them and analyze them carefully.

There are some re-occurring exam issues that I want to master this year.  I realized for me English studies are about writing. This surprised me even with my reason for enrollment.  I am also surprised that producing better essay plans is still the technique needed to most improve my exam performance and study skills.  I should write essay plans all year and train myself to write in the way that will be most effective in exams. This one thing presents the greatest challenge and offers the greatest reward. I’ve learned to love exams so much because really understanding my performance makes achieving my goals possible. This year I am going to fully engage with the writing aspects of the exam process. I’ll keep you posted.

5 thoughts on “I learned to love exams

  1. Thanks for you inspiring take on Exams! And I was thinking an Exam would be like a dentist appointment for an aching tooth. I know I have to sit for it, but I look forwaed to the feeling after its done.

    I just enrolled in the LLM programme. My undergraduate days were in the mid 70’s but I have been able to rack up a fair number of professional designations (eight) and an MBA since then. These were all done without a classroom.

    As a senior financial planner for the Ministry of the Attorney General’s office, I thought having an advanced law degree in financial services would match my 20 plus years on the investment, tax and financial planning side. I could be retired before I finish.

    Hope the LLM and UOL study materials can be mastered so that I am also excited, in a good way, when the October exams come around. So far the textbooks and the clear study guides have been great. I set my schedule and do the reading and the various testing challenges to suit my way.

    The LLM programme raised the bar as far as making me feel connected. Along with my body weight in books, case law and reading updates, they also gave me a wonderful welcome package consisting of a really hiqh quality brief case with the UOL Graduate of Laws logo prominently displayed. I received a nice mug with UCL and Queen Mary’s on it. But best of all was a silk tie with the law school emblem and a silk scarf again with a very pretty print on it displaying the law school emblem. I sent the scarf to my 85 year old mom in Halifax N.S. as a mother’s day present and will keep the tie for special events.

    Now I just need to stick to the programme and make it through to the other end. Good luck to all


  2. Not sure I actually get a kick from the exam process. However, it is the difficulty of actually being able to produce an essay that is worthy of all the effort put into the learning process, in such a short time, that perhaps makes the exam stressful and disappointing. I therefore think you are totally right about fast and efficient essay planning being one of the main keys to getting good results. Unfortunately, this is one area where being a solitary distant learner with no feedback can be a definite disadvantage. In the French BA we have the possibility of sending in essays for marking but unfortunately I’m on a tight budget. How are you actually going to go about improving your essay planning/writing and judge whether you are making progress?


  3. Hej

    This is good…and very well written, what talents you have! I also want to enjoy exams more too…but I am not as enthusiastic…however, you have shown me another way of looking at a bigger picture.



  4. I have some exams which I enjoy, and some which I don’t. Today’s Democracy and Democratisation one was the former. I was nervous – it’s the first paper I’ve written with three essays in 3 hours instead of four essays. And I felt hopelessly under-prepared, having run short of both studying and revision time this year for all manner of reasons.

    But, there were two questions on topics I’d expected (you can’t and shouldn’t question spot, but you can usually topic spot: in this unit there will be something on comparative historical sociology, and something on “what is democracy” because they’re huge chunks of the syllabus) and I had a choice of two or three questions for my final essay.

    I picked one focussing on 9/11 and a contemporary writer, because I could see an interesting angle on it and I could really come up with something original as a take. It was fun! I don’t usually pick “current affairs” questions, and my in last attempt in 2008 I confidently argued that North Korea would shortly return to the Six Party Talks, having extracted further concessions from the international community. Two weeks after the exam, NK test-fired another nuclear-capable missile and the talks are still suspended. Ooops! But I still for a First for that paper, so I’m quietly confident that my argument was sound in theory.


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