It is time to start writing for the Marking Scheme*. The Marking Scheme is a great way to assess how my work is progressing and what my exam experience will be like. Writing is a skill, like reading, or note taking. Writing under exam conditions, writing research papers, or creative writing are very different things, just like reading critically and reading for pleasure require a different perspective. Learning to read and write in different ways is quite an education, if you will pardon the pun.
I really did not understand what very different skills are required, how applying different skills changes my experience of reading and writing and allows me to achieve different things. These skills are under my control to develop and use effectively. Writing for exams in the format used at the University of London English and Comparative literature program is one of the most productive experiences I have ever had. The Marking Scheme process requires disciplined writing and can help considerably with managing writing in exams. It also contributes to enjoyment of this program. This year I learned that I cannot possibly write too much, and that thinking carefully about what I am going to write is just as important as actually writing.
Writing this blog each week put a lot of exam writing frustrations in perspective. Comprehensive knowledge, writing time, organization, and choosing and analyzing questions can all contribute to the frustration experienced when writing under exam conditions. (In exams you must choose and analyze three questions then write three comprehensive answers in three hours with no notes or books.) For me, managing the requirements of exams and reducing the associated frustrations are best accomplished by writing and thinking. It might sound simplistic, but thinking and writing is an incredibly effective combination. Submitting papers for the Marking Scheme in February is how I prepare for the exam process in May.
Effective preparation for the exam process begins with the discipline, and pleasure, of writing. When I first started writing this blog one 500 word post required nearly nine hours to write. That is not exactly efficient, and certainly is not a skill level that would be helpful in exams. Writing weekly taught me to think through each point that I want to make. Thinking through several points of an argument from thesis to conclusion actually speeds up the writing process and keeps me focused on the question.
Thinking carefully and focusing on the question improves my writing speed, and helps me produce a comprehensive, detailed answer that gives evidence of my knowledge of the texts. Without the process of thinking, focus, and writing, my answers are inadequate no matter how much I read and study. Things like reading, studying, note taking, or organization can become magnified during the term, but for me, the discipline of weekly thinking and writing exercises, and the opportunity to write several papers for the marking scheme is a key component of the study year. I look forward to tutors’ comments on my writing this year, and plan to submit several papers for the Marking Scheme.
Writing is hard work, and it is challenging, but the challenge is part of the pleasure. In fact the challenges of this process also provide the greatest engagement with the texts. It takes some effort to become comfortable writing under exam conditions and writing research papers. The more I write the more productive and fulfilling it becomes. In the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne, ‘Easy reading is damn hard writing.’
*The Marking Scheme refers to an essay marking scheme available to BA English students for an additional fee. The scheme enables students to have their essays marked by a member of academic staff from Goldsmiths, University of London.