Do you have the beginning of term blues? It is October, one month into the new term, and time for the first assessment of progress in my study plan. A busy schedule and limited time for study provided the first inspiration for monthly progress checks. The biggest motivation comes from the need to ensure I am achieving learning outcomes for each of my four courses. At the beginning of each month I review the goals set for the next 30 days and evaluate the work just completed. That might sound a little obsessive but organizing the big project of studying four courses into manageable pieces has been an effective strategy. My ‘October Review’ is perhaps a little more involved than at other times because it is the first of the term.
I divided the term into three parts: September through December for general study and primary reading, January through 15 March for writing research papers, and 16 March through exams for revision. For me, it is very important to stay on my plan, for organization and stress management purposes in equal proportion. It might seem soon for a review, but I especially like to review at the beginning of term when my direction is less clear and it is easy to lose time by straying off topic.
This ’one-month-into-the-term’ period can be an anxious time when looking at the calendar. Studying still feels a bit nebulous with direction only partially determined as we begin the process in earnest. Soon it will feel like time is flying past and study progress is standing still. I want to proceed with absolute certainty that my attention is focused on what is required to be successful in exams, and choose a sufficient number of texts for my research. Many colleagues in our student chat rooms are expressing similar concerns about what to read and how to focus. Last year I decided to focus on key issues first and then critically read primary texts that will help me grasp those issues. It worked really well. This year I will expand on that success. For example if topography of the American landscape is an issue to explore in 19th Century American Literature I will read about that topic first and then make my reading list by identifying several texts and authors where this is a significant theme.
This is a bit of a reversal for me. In the past I have completed my primary reading before beginning research. It is very easy to read generally, but last year, while reading four courses for the first time, I noticed there was not sufficient time to properly research texts with that strategy. This year I am reading primary texts in conjunction with research. For example, in September I started reading a selection of general secondary background in each of my courses. That reading will continue in October but I will also add a strategy to focus on selected primary texts and establish a baseline understanding of key issues on the syllabus for each of my four courses. Our study guides will help me accomplish this and will also provide the criteria for my first review.
In October I will focus on our study guides. I have already read them several times, but this time I will be very narrowly focused. Each guide has four or five chapters along with a sample exam. It usually takes about an hour to read one chapter. Even if I have not read the texts referred to I can skim them and consider what other authors and texts I have read which illustrate that chapter’s particular points. One week should be ample time to complete each study guide with an hour a day dedicated to each chapter while other daily study proceeds as usual.
At the end of October I will be able to identify and discuss significant points in each of my four courses. I will also have selected primary texts to research with respect to those points and availability of relevant criticism. For me, focus on details is the best way to beat the ‘beginning of term blues.’
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes.