For me, there is nothing like a plan, especially for a project like approaching exams. And for me, the whys come before the hows. Knowing my goal and what I need to do to get there is important, but I also like to answer the question ‘why am I studying this particular way, and what result can I expect from this process in the end.’ It also helps me to assess my strengths and weaknesses, and evaluate how they might benefit or inhibit my success. Having a clear idea of my end goal, and what kind of challenge it presents, in the beginning informs how I proceed with my study plan. Since there are roughly seventy-seven days left for me to study before exams it is precisely the time to become as detailed and focused as I possibly can with my plan.
After thinking about my end goals, my options for approaching the work, and what results I am likely to get from various approaches I made a plan that plays to my strengths and helps to improve weak areas. I narrowed my bibliography to 49 primary texts and selected 25 of them for focused study. Our assessment in English and Comparative Literature is based on successful argumentation in 3 timed essays for each of my 4 courses. This week I worked on understanding my strengths and weaknesses in close reading, argumentation, and the exam structure.
Feedback in our essay marking scheme tells me close reading is one of my strengths. I think close reading helps me remember a text, and draws attention to many different aspects of a writer’s work. It facilitates comparisons and provides a lot of useful insights. It also helps me to look at texts from different perspectives. One close reading exercise I am enjoying now is examining structure in Shakespeare’s plays. I am doing this exercise with 10 of his plays, and with 8 by other authors. Another close reading exercise is comparing several acts in 5 plays by women authors of the Restoration. It’s fun to do and makes the work very productive and exciting. That’s definitely a strength, but my weak areas need to be addressed.
Argumentation has often been a weak point, particularly in exams. For me the biggest reason argumentation can be weak is because I do not have enough detailed knowledge at hand in exams. It is very difficult to produce a high quality exam essay in response to a topic I have not considered before opening the question book. At best the kind of writing that comes as a result of limited detailed knowledge of texts and contemplation of topics is expository writing, not argument. The ‘Examiners’ Reports’ annually reiterate that many candidates write what amounts to descriptive responses to questions rather than arguments. This week I used some time to study the different kinds of composition, and how and why my essays might fall into the descriptive or ‘naive narrative’ trap in our exams.
Producing a high quality essay in exams begs some questions about writing. During the close reading process I like to incorporate something called ‘pre-writing.’ This process allows me to explore things like theme, character, structure and other topics before writing an essay, or even attempting an essay plan. It is another way fun and productive way to learn details of a text, and it helps with writing skills. And it is definitely a strength to have an idea of what I want to say before starting to write in the exam room. That is the why and how of my study plan for the next 77 days. That’s 3.2 days per text, with 2 weeks to revise. I am confident that my why and how questions are successfully answered, and I have a good, effective study plan. That feels fantastic, especially with exams right around the corner.
caowrites is studying the BA English through the University of London International Programmes.