There is a lot of talk in the on-line student community about how to manage time, the volume of information and new materials. I thought I would share my perspective about what doesn’t work and what works very well.
What did not work well last year was ‘under-reading’ and ‘under-writing.’ For me, six or seven texts in-depth is not enough, especially for theory courses. While studying Approaches to Text I revised three theoretical disciplines in detail; unfortunately there was not a single question I could answer with one particular theoretical focus. Consequently I was under prepared in the exam room.
For me, preparing in-depth means multiple readings, research and writing. In 2009 I used advice from Joyce MacAllister’s book ‘Writing About Literature: Aims and Processes.’ My exam mark improved by ten points. MacAllister outlines writing exercises she calls ‘pre-writing.’ They specifically focus on topics like theme, character and plot. Last year I did not use pre-writing strategies and my marks stayed the same.
Revising was more difficult and my marks stayed the same because of ‘under-reading’ and ‘under-writing.’ I had to incorporate more texts at revision time. This was possible because of my reading strategy. I read all the texts on a syllabus at least one time before selecting several for closer study. Success in exams for me depends on being very flexible with texts and not pre selecting which texts I will use for certain questions. Despite completing too few texts in-depth my strategy of reading widely on the syllabus allowed me to pass the exam successfully.
For me what works, what does not work, and how to organize my study plan can only be measured if my goals are clear. Deciding how I will manage course work has a lot to do with what I expect to get out of the exercise. Do I want to improve my marks? Do I want to manage two courses, or three or four? What are my strengths at the beginning and how can I best use them? What are my weaknesses as a student? Can I compensate for my weaker skills or do they need to be directly addressed? How will that choice affect my outcome? How do my study habits affect exam performance?
To manage these performance and organization issues I need to assess what I want to accomplish then establish steps and practices to reach my goal. That might seem obvious but guessing at it for a year does not work. Thinking about the process works as well for me as thinking about the literature. For me, the excellent Study Guides, Student Handbook and Support Schemes provide the very best advice about course work content and study process. The support materials and tutors help to develop and improve skills and exam performance; but I have to manage how I learn. Everyone has different goals, strengths and weaknesses. For me, establishing process and content goals, setting key performance indicators and monitoring them closely all year works very well.