Exams: Output vs. Outcomes

Several colleagues contacted me with questions regarding our fast approaching exams.  I am frequently asked how many texts we should read and which texts should be studied for each section of exams.  To answer questions about exams for myself I use a logic model and work backwards from my goal. Another year wiser, here are some of my thoughts about the process.

In our exam process both students and examiners scrutinize and weigh arguments.   Examiners scrutinize student essays like students search texts and carefully note details to understand arguments and to construct their own. I like to think about exams from the Examiner’s point of view. For me, exams are about my year-long process and my ability to weigh and scrutinize how my knowledge of texts and writing has progressed. That is not a simple process and it is not easy to articulate the experience. It includes how I analyze and evaluate an authors’ work, how I produce my own writing and how I weigh my progress in both areas.

Making this kind of progress is very empowering; this exam process is like nothing else. I have benefited in ways far beyond the personal enrichment which attracted me to study English and Comparative Literature with the University of London International Programmes. One important point I realized this year while studying advanced units is success in this process is incremental; no matter what your skill level when you start progress is cumulative. It comes in steps built upon specific skills, the ability to evaluate information and the application knowledge.

Skills, judgment and knowledge come from meeting goals; for me, my goals help me produce the desired outcomes. My goal is to write a story about a complex topic. How does an author use language across the text to tell a tale?  A complex story cannot really be written in a strictly linear way and still include all the necessary points which make comprehension possible, and make the story affecting and memorable. So, what are the options for storytelling? For me, this is the point where figurative elements invade language and literature.  To understand it I read everything I can get my hands on and write about how topics of interest to me are presented in many different texts.  I have never felt comfortable reading only a few texts or assigning texts to a certain section of exams. For me, our exam process and my goals are best served by reading both widely and closely and developing strong reading and writing skills.

I could not name any skills I expected to acquire in this course of study when I started. When I enrolled in this program I decided the best way to learn how to write is to immerse myself in the work of other authors. Now when I begin new courses each year I determine what I want to understand about writing and which skills I want to develop.  This is fun and a great challenge. English language and literature is quite a topic; I learned to approach it with curiosity and pleasure while enjoying the learning process exams are part of. While revising for exams it helps me to remember that out put is not the same thing as outcomes. For the next few weeks focus on outcomes; trust and enjoy the process.

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