It’s been thirty-four days since my exams. It takes about a month to clear my head after the intensity of the effort. I didn’t touch or think about this year’s study materials for the entire month. As I started to put away my year’s work I thought about the comments posted in response to last week’s blog. How are we to produce first class essays in the three short hours allotted at exam time? I imagine a triangle with ‘Reading’ assigned to one corner, ‘Notes’ to the second corner and ‘Essays’ to the third. Tug one corner and you alter the other two; change one aspect of study and maybe some unexpected results occur in the other two aspects. As I review three years of notes and materials that I’ve produced some interesting relationships and patterns emerge.
This review has given me some interesting perspectives on the evolution of my study habits and their effectiveness. The sheer volume of notes is staggering. Did I really write all of those notes? Are they of any real use to me? Did they contribute to my success at exam time? I now have three years of notes. An interesting pattern has emerged. The common thread to real learning is multiple readings of primary texts and my original writing. Both have increased over time.
My notes from twelve Renaissance comedies fill six very large binders. Only a few pages are in something like essay form. I read the texts one time albeit very slowly. When I read the essay – like pages I recognize material I was able to incorporate successfully into the exams. I also have seven four-inch binders dedicated to Explorations in Literature 1. About twenty pages are essays. They aren’t really essays at all; only elaborate answers to study guide questions on several texts. I read these primary texts more and could write about them more easily.
This year I read nine primary texts at least three times each. The 2010 notes are all summaries of my original ideas about them. My notes on secondary texts are also summaries and are cross referenced with the primary texts. Everything is written in essay form. While revising for the Approaches to Text exam I found a twenty page essay on Post Colonial theory that I could not even believe I wrote. It was so thorough and complete I thought I forgot to cite the author. It was written on texts I read repeatedly over the past three years. This very different preparation made it possible to the exams with precious minutes to spare instead of with the buzzer.
Tugging the ‘Reading’ corner of my triangle over the past two years changed ‘Notes’ and ‘Essays’ almost without realizing it happened. This is the year to tug the ‘Notes’ and ‘Essay’ corners of my triangle. I’m sure it will affect how I read. Ideally I want my notes to extract arguments and my writing to construct them. It isn’t easy; but just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean we’re not good at it.