It turns out that this was not the week to begin any DIY projects or move the furniture, especially since I am planning a nice big project right after my last exam on 14 May. This week, my project was limited to a cleaning fit in my office. Sometimes a task that lets me lose myself and my thoughts in something other than my major preoccupation is very helpful. Cleaning my office always feels productive, and does not really affect any other area of the house, like where I study. Cleaning and letting go of my thoughts helped me put my revising in perspective and make an inventory of my ‘Reviser’s Best Friends,’ including a day to clear my head and refocus my attention and efforts.
My very best revising friend is the Examiners’ Reports available online as both past exam papers and the examiner’s summary of answers to each question. Examiners’ Reports summarize most of the questions on each exam with points about what makes good answers. They also point out problems with answers and things I can avoid when writing my essays at exam time. Right now, there is a lot of conversation in our student chat rooms about how to prepare for exams. Nota Bene: use the Examiners’ Reports.
Last week I spent a day reviewing Examiners’ Reports for all four of my courses. It helped me to assess my understanding of each course. It provides a very good review of the most relevant points it is necessary to communicate in my essays. Carefully reviewing some Examiners’ Reports helped me summarize what I have revised for each course so far, and identify what work will strengthen my exam efforts in May. Besides reminding me that my Examiners’ Reports are a revisers best friend, my cleaning fit also helped me to gain some perspective on Victorian Literature, what I accomplished so far revising the course, and how to move forward with my other three courses.
One reason Victorian Literature is so challenging to revise is I enjoy it so much – I never want to stop reading primary texts and secondary material! Another reason is that there are so many primary texts, and so much scholarship to work with. It is not easy to cover important aspects of such a broad range of work and long period. My cleaning day, the long walk that followed, and my work with our Examiners’ Reports helped me become satisfied with my areas of focus and engage with another best friend, writing essays. This week I rather spontaneously wrote my third essay on Victorian Literature even though I moved on to revising for another course.
Writing this essay was very enjoyable because of the unusual texts I chose to compare, and the way the essay helped me develop a better grasp of the period. Sometimes you just have to write when it hits you. This essay formed during my cleaning session and the four-mile walk that followed it. And it brings up another reviser’s best friend: summarizing. For me, outlining an essay mentally from beginning to end is wonderful practice for reviewing texts and for putting an argument together before committing it to paper, which is what we have to do in exams. Organizing it mentally allows me to examine the primary texts in detail, review what critical arguments apply to various aspects, and link the texts and criticism in a way that makes it all easy to remember.
My cleaning day also helped me identify a great way to transition from one course to the next in a productive way. It is not easy to revise four courses, and it is not easy to switch from one course to another, at least for me. My last best friend is scholarship that helps to make that shift, like engaging with a great article by Deirdre David called ‘Writing about America’. In this article she analyzes how Victorian authors expressed their experience of nineteenth-century America. It gave me a wonderful perspective to approach my next course on, you guessed it, Nineteenth Century American Literature.
That is a lot of ‘Reviser’s Best Friends’: Examiner’s Reports, summarizing, essay writing, identifying scholarship that links one set of course material to the next course in my study progression. It is also fair to say that another one of this reviser’s best friends is setting aside time to engage with something outside of my usual routine. It invigorates my study plan in unexpected ways. Today I feel confident in all four of my courses and objective about what efforts will help me get the best results in exams.
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.