Beginning-of-term Blues…

Meme: Look at all this work I have not done yetDo 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.

7 thoughts on “Beginning-of-term Blues…

  1. Hi Caori,
    I am doing four courses at Level 5 this year. So you did all four simultaneously including the primary and secondary reading, or did you complete all the reading for one course at a time then progressing to the next one?
    I calculated that I have seven weeks of study per course between September 2013 and March 2014, then April for revision of all four.
    Yes, I am feeling a bit snowed under presently.

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  2. Hi Madelief, I am actually done the reading several ways. For me, your question asks about 2 things: the order of primary and secondary reading and if I read for multiple courses simultaneously or read for one course at a time.

    My practice early in the degree study was to read all the primary texts first, then work on secondary reading. It was very difficult to understand what the secondary criticism was referring to with limited experience of the literature of various periods, and limited knowledge of criticism too, if that makes any sense. In my early courses I read a lot of primary texts – (everything on the syllabus, usually about 22 to 25 primary texts per course; but I was only taking 1 course at a time to facilitate that reading schedule) and a fair amount of secondary reading though more focused on particular texts.

    When reading multiple courses I have tried it both ways – reading for one at a time and mixing the reading for several courses at once. For me, it is hard to retain much productive information from the first course over two or three months of study dedicated to other courses.

    This year I am reading primary texts and secondary reading at the same time. It’s a chicken and the egg riddle for me, and while it might be a wrong assumption, I think all that primary reading in the earlier courses has really helped me today. This year I find reading secondary work along with primary texts is the most productive, least confusing, and highly reassuring!

    Some of my courses over lap in certain areas which makes it a bit easier. I can read about post modern productively in 2 courses, for example. Over the summer I read a lot of primary texts in quite a leisurely way. Now my weekly reading schedule includes a day for each course, where I focus on secondary reading, with 3 days of wiggle room! I always have 2 or 3 primary texts in progress, some I have never read before and some I have read several times.

    Does that help?

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