Finding Focus For The New Term

venn diagram showing how study practises affect exam resultsThe conversation in our online student communities is all about getting a head start on the new term.  I have been thinking what worked well and what could have gone better in my study process last year. Ideally, this exercise will help me make a plan, set goals and identify the tools and resources that will be most helpful to achieve them.

This year I will complete my degree, assuming I pass my new courses. I want to do really, really well on my last set of exams. Every year I keep a journal noting how I studied, my note taking strategies, writing exercises, how I revised, and my approach to essays at exam time.  If you love analysis like I do, you will appreciate the thrill of plotting this information alongside exam results year to year.

I am looking for the relationship between improvement in my exam results and my study practices.  To do this I listed the details of my study plan from my yearly journals, duly weighted for the frequency of occurrence year to year, and then listed my exam results.  This really helped me identify what study practice is linked to increased performance and my highest exam results. I also learned my assumptions about which study strategies are most effective were completely wrong. This is how I did it:

In year one my focus was on reading primary texts with limited essay writing, close reading, and secondary reading. My revision plan was re-reading primary texts and a brief review of secondary reading. In year two my focus shifted to secondary reading with much more critical reading of primary texts and writing exercises. My revision plan was more structured.  For year three my focus was on reading primary texts and writing exercises. Revision time was like the previous year. This year I had a very structured revision plan, significant secondary reading, and a lot of close reading throughout the year.

Of the eight exams I have entered my highest two exam results were achieved this term. They are 24 and 14 points higher than my results in the first exam I entered for this degree, and 10 to 15 points higher than my results in the other five exams I have entered.   Those five exam scores are all clustered within four points. My lowest result came on the first exam I entered. Year two showed a 12 point improvement over year one. Year three results were about the same as year two, and was also the first time I attempted more than one course.

I am very happy to see the consistent improvement. A 24 and 14 point increase has my attention. It would be absolutely fantastic to raise my exam results another 10 to 15 points or more this year.  I did it twice so there is every reason to think I can do it again. Looking for cause and effect between my study strategies and my results should show me how to focus this year.

The pattern of increased results focuses on structured revision, close reading and critical analysis. This year in courses where my exam results were consistent with year two and three I had significant difficulty finding critical reading materials for specific texts and would have definitely benefited from more revision time.

Here is the 2013/2014 plan:

1.     Identify courses and texts that interest me and locate critical reading before deciding on my reading list.

2.   Plan on a 10 week revision cycle; two weeks for each course and two more weeks to refresh my memory.

3.   Find tools to organize my research and make more ‘user friendly’ documents, and produce a significant research paper, ideally for each course.

Happy Studies!

Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes.

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