The exam timetable is published and the deadline for essay submission is very near. This sudden intrusion of measurement and evaluation can be unnerving. There is much concern about time management and exam preparation in the online student community. I should like to add the pressing need to move from a general understanding of texts and skills to specific knowledge. This year I started advanced unit study, launched a business and began to work as a professional writer. These projects have steep learning curves; I quickly learned that ‘you either know it or you don’t’ is an important question and a very motivating concept.
‘You either know it or you don’t’ might seem stark but for me it is an extremely helpful phrase. It keeps me focused on details. Instead of assuming I know something I begin every project by vetting processes and information. To ‘vet’ means to make careful and critical examination; this is enormously important for effective time management and ultimate success. Learning by trial and error is not the most efficient method in a competitive business market or a study program. Professionally, I write a lot of copy and scripts; both genres are highly structured and are written to provoke specific outcomes so success is very easy to measure. I get instant feed back, just like with essays and exams.
Competition and outcomes are part of business; if you want to make a good fist of it embracing both concepts is very important. My greatest ‘competition’ is often my own ability to analyze a question – I must understand what I am being asked to do and the most effective way to execute the task. Competition teaches me what I know and what I do not know. As a student, exams, essays, and summarizing are a kind of competition that shows me where my skills and knowledge fall in a range; and it moves my thinking out of the sheltered world of my own perception. It helps me refine time management and skill development. As a student my measurable knowledge is pegged to specific skills.
The specific skills taught in the English and Comparative Literature program have helped me enormously this year. I was delighted to find the great advice our tutors have repeated over the years helps me to analyze problems and gives me a competitive advantage. The Darwinian experience of starting a business taught me something about studying: know exactly what academic essays require, apply the 50/50 rule – spend 50 percent of your time analyzing the question, writing the thesis and developing the argument; know terms – make them part of your working vocabulary, read theory and apply it, summarize ideas about theme, character, etc. in four sentences, textual examples are evidence of applied knowledge, study the mechanics of language, and write.
Writing, competition and measurement are enlightening processes. I test myself all year on small sections of text just like my business tests me daily; this helps me to make better decisions and produce better outcomes. For me, ‘you either know it or you don’t’ is a litmus test that evaluates how prepared I am for exams. And that is a great question.