Jelly Bean and I are curled up together on a chaise lounge in our garden this afternoon while I think about how and what material I will revise for exams in May. We love to study in the garden, despite the distractions. She is fascinated by our neighbor’s cats and I am fascinated by the contrast between the riot of spring flowers and the still dormant trees, like the giant maple tree that will shade our porch this summer. It is as if nature is going full speed ahead with the brakes on. That is an apt metaphor for how the revising process can feel as exams draw near…full speed ahead with the brakes on. My excitement and confidence about exams is to the exuberant spring flowers as my pre-exam anxiety is to my dormant maple tree. Hmm. Maybe I have been too focused on the symbolism of gardens in the Medieval literature I am enjoying so much.
Focus is extremely important now that exams are just a few weeks away. Last week I indulged in my customary first-week-of-revising whine then moved a few pieces of furniture to manage my annual pre-exam panic. Exam-Panic is a term used a lot in our student chat rooms this week as everyone settles down to manage the task at had. Mange we must, because, despite pre-exam panic attacks, revising time means that acting decisively is imperative, at least for me. I have learned it is not the best thing to plunge into revising without a very detailed and specific plan. It is better to manage it closely.
My exam experience is mine to manage, and it is a very personal experience. I will reap what I sow, to extend the garden metaphor. The decision about how and what to revise from a year of work can be nerve-wracking. Judging by the tone of conversations in the chat rooms, many of my colleagues are also experiencing the pre-exam paradox of excitement, enthusiasm, dread and a good case of nerves. Exams are coming full speed ahead no matter how hard we try to apply the brakes. It usually takes me several days to get over the nerves and settle into a productive revising routine. This year I realized early on how much my annual study strategy affects how I revise for exams, and what I will need to accomplish in the weeks before my date at my local examination center. Over the last few years I tried to plan my revising weeks carefully, but did not fully appreciate how effective revising can actually be.
In these few weeks my focus will be on depth of knowledge with a limited selection of texts. This year my study strategy included writing detailed research papers on my selected texts. When I started revising last week, I stumbled upon a helpful bit of benchmarking: writing research papers was the step I needed to boost my confidence and increase my ability to recall both points of criticism, and primary texts as well. For whatever it is worth, cultivating depth of knowledge is a great source of confidence and reassurance this year. After several exam experiences, I realized it does not matter how much time I have to write in exams – one hour, three hours, or thirty hours – my work will expand to fill the time if I do not have detailed mastery of the texts and current critical arguments.
Revising is really about mastery of material. This year I feel confident and am actually starting to enjoy the process. My research papers nicely summarize my notes and are a new, improved and welcome degree of organization. Taking stock is always soothing for me. It is a great first step to an effective plan of action. Now I can look forward to relaxing with Jelly Bean this holiday weekend and really think about how I can best use the next few weeks to get the exam results I aspire to…full speed ahead!