This week I am a road warrior, not in the Mad Max or professional wrestling tag team sense of the phrase, but as a business traveler. I doff my hat to business travelers, their stamina and sheer determination. As Edith Wharton wrote in ‘The Age of Innocence,’ ‘…all travel has its hardships,’ like those we all know well: delays, altered routines and schedules, interesting dining choices, and time zones. Traveling for business presents some interesting challenges for students, because of the very nature and purpose of the business trip. Time is compressed on a business journey.
For example, I traveled to Florida this week to accomplish specific things in a limited amount of time. Colleagues have arrived from all points of the compass with the same sense of urgency. We have a shared agenda, but everyone also brings a unique set of, well, distractions, that might be family, other projects, or inconveniences like lost luggage. I bring the need to study this week. Since exams are now only thirty days away, I am not willing to give up 7 days of preparation time. The trick is how to study effectively while accomplishing all of my professional obligations and making the best use of time with my colleagues.
I have some unique challenges this week, like alligators in the road for speed bumps, wild boar roaming the grounds, and absolutely no outdoor lighting after sundown. This week I am writing to you once again from a reserve that shelters some of the most endangered species in the world. It is absolutely, smack-bang in the middle of nowhere, where high-speed internet connections are non-existent and cell phone connections can be dodgy. What is a student to do? I made a business travel study plan, which is working out really, really well. This adapted methodology is working out so well it is sure to influence my regime at home, with all my comforts and conveniences.
First, let me say that, having been an overnight guest in the reserve before, this time I opted for a hotel a fair distance away. It means at least an extra 2 hours a day just for driving, but I have a reliable internet connection and a place to go for a walk without tripping over rather large reptiles or amphibians. It also means that I can easily and reliably access University of London International Programmes resources like the Athens Library, JSTOR, ‘Study Guides’, and ‘Examiners’ Reports.’ Since most primary texts are available online, I just brought 1 or 2 with me and no readers, like my Kindle, since I my computer and electronic equipment are just about enough to tote.
Having digital tools is all well and good, and not really anything new. The biggest challenge is extracting quality learning and keeping to my revising schedule in the midst of competing demands. This week I decided to approach that in a fairly aggressive manner. If time is compressed, I will compress my study strategy. If I am distracted with other projects, I will narrow and limit my study agenda.
Before leaving home it occurred to me that my time would be used best by responding to Section A text analysis and close reading questions. I decided to answer every one of the text analysis questions in our Study Guide sample examination papers Section A questions. I wanted to evaluate my overall knowledge of texts and literary periods. There are 5 or 6 text extracts, allowing fifteen minutes for each one means a fairly short but intense study session. Great. What I did not realize is how great this kind of engagement is. It allowed me to engage with a variety of texts across the literary period, which is something the examiner’s frequently say is a weakness on candidates’ papers. By checking the accompanying ‘Examiners’ Report’ for each text I was able to determine how my essays need to be adjusted and what areas of study need my attention. Referencing the ‘Study Guides’ usually provided the missing details, if not, then a quick look online did. I also learned to love the people who index ‘Cambridge Companions’ this week. It is so useful when traveling to focus on very specific, small, bits of information than to try to read and make notes on journal articles.
I was worried that this intense week of meetings, travel and immersion in some challenging topics would negatively impact my study schedule. Instead I have found a wonderful, resourceful set of skills and tools that just might make studying much easier and more effective when I get home. Now, if I could find a way to bring the 24 hour room service home with me, just until exams are over…