It is a truth universally acknowledged that things do not always progress the way we intend them to. My exam registration is formally complete and a good case of nerves is setting in right now. On certain days, it feels like I have let a splinter swerve my academic project from its groove, especially if I do not review my progress in each course regularly. Several strategies that I thought were going to be quite useful have turned out to be less helpful than planned. Sometimes they seem more like impediments than aids to effective study. Two things are certain: 1. if a portion of my study plan is not working then it needs to be changed and 2. I have to manage the pre-exam nerves to optimize my study time.
My four courses are big reading units. One covers a broad and difficult range of material, and another covers material that was quite unfamiliar to me at the start of the term. It has taken more time that I thought to feel competent with the topics, or at least that is how it feels. This week’s little crisis was prompted by this realization, along with a few others that happened all at once.
For example, the switch to digital note taking has not been a Damascene conversion for me. It is tiresome and awkward to lug a laptop to the library and it is inconvenient when revising. Three years of my notes are in binders, so I am working with two different sets of files, which is annoying.
Much of the scholarship I engage with refers to texts covered in at least three of my courses. This makes cross-referencing very important and a little challenging. I still needed more than two weeks to research just two study guide questions for one course. My research is thorough, and the material can apply to three of my courses, but it still required more time than originally budgeted. I must adjust my time management expectations accordingly.
The last realization is that no matter how interesting the material is to me, I have to set limits to how and what I study to be successful in exams. I can return to reading for personal interest after successfully passing my exams.
One truism, a small world is a safe world, is appropriate to apply here. In the fourteen weeks before exams, I want to mitigate both the risk of not using my time to best advantage, and the risk of not mastering the material required to be successful on exams in each unit. My revised plan at this date looks like this:
1. Stop note taking in the digital format. Print all my current notes and file appropriately in my binders for each course. I will write my research papers digitally, but will not take notes on my computer.
2. Use my ‘master binder’ to make sure I can access my notes for each course quickly, recognize how they overlap, and that I am on track with research and writing.
3. Limit my author, text, and theme study for each course to three authors and six texts in each course.
4. Select three sets of two questions from each of my four study guides that I feel best prepared to research and focus on those, scheduling two weeks for each set.
5. Structure my time and make sure I am focusing on positive outcomes. My study guides remind me that depth of study is rewarded more than breadth of study in these courses.
6. Set small daily goals and manageable weekly goals to increase my confidence in my mastery of the material.
These alterations should help me put the current back in my study regimen. It is important to be able to change my study plan along the way if something is not working well, and to put exams into perspective with my long-term goals. Exams are one more step toward my long-term goals, and they are the step that requires my entire focus for the next several weeks, whatever I have to do to achieve it.
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.