Harnessing the hashtag – how this helped me devise my own method for preparing for exams

Since my last post about my trip to London last summer, a year has passed by with the jolly Indian winters filled with music and preparation for the upcoming May examinations which will be crucial for me.  A lot has happened in the world in the last four and a half months that is relevant to my studies, which I will write about in my next blog (hopefully really soon!).  Similarly to some of my co-bloggers, it was a Writingpersonal feeling that sharing some study techniques and addressing some study dilemmas may be of some assistance to me and may also help some of my fellow students.  Sitting for a 100 course module, Contemporary Sociology in a Global Age, two 200 course modules, International Organisations and Foreign Policy Analysis, and a 300 course module, Security in International Relations, has turned out to be quite a challenge. A syllabus spanning 48 chapters where every line counts, exhaustive readings and a lot of writing has been no docile pet to tame and will certainly not be one when I take two consecutive exams on the 11th and 12th of May.

In this period, I have had numerous dilemmas on my mind such as:

i) Whether to start from the Study Guide or the Essential Readings list first?                         ii) Should I make a general overview of the subject or go through one chapter at a time? iii) What happens if I trail behind my set routine?                                                                                       iv) Should I prepare each and every answer after the completion of a chapter?                     v) Should I write more or less in the exams?                                                                                              vi) Is it necessary for my answers to abide by the Study Guide or will writing from external resources help?                                                                                                                                     vii) Should I settle for a printed book or an e-book?                                                                                viii) Would it help concentrating on a few parts or should I become a master of all?

Study books

Now that the most crucial examinations for completing my studies are a mere three months away, it is high time to not focus on these dilemmas and bury them forever instead. Regarding all the eight problems mentioned, the main thing that these boil down to is preparation for the exam. Having gained an overall idea of the modules, written a few structures of answers and completed reading a portion of the essential readings, it is time to floor the accelerator and give it a final go. For me, with whatever experience I have gathered with the UOL and the LSE, I find it much more appealing to emulate a hawk-eyed eagle rather than a cat. To zoom into the prey from a height is much easier i.e. to identify the strength areas for the exam becomes a lot less stressful by reading the Study Guide and then concentrating on key areas. To make this intricate process of preparation for the exam clearer, I have been using a rather unusual tool – the hashtag! In explaining this use of the hashtag, I will answer the other dilemmas I have had.

HashtagFirst used in information technology to highlight a special meaning and then social media, as all now know, I have decided to use the hashtag to highlight areas of importance and stress a particular concept. Whether it be after reading an essential reading or analysing samples of examination questions, applying hashtags to highlight important ideas and capturing the main essence of the content seems a  much neater process. Otherwise, I am resisting the inner urge to highlight everything and finally ending with something close to that.  Taking an example from the second chapter of International Organisations from the Study Guide:

Realist approaches to international relations come in a variety of guises.What all of them have in common is the belief that international politics revolves in important ways around the acquisition and exercise of power. In what follows, I compare and contrast what the two major strands of the realist paradigm – classical realism and structural realism (more frequently known as neo-realism) – have to say about the nature and role of international organisations in the international system,

The above information can be simplified as #Realist, #commonBelief, #acquisition, #exerciseofPower and #Classical_Structural. Quoting a sample question from the Study Guide,  ‘How relevant is the realist paradigm for making sense of international organisations?’, this can be simplified as #Realist, which captures the main sense and the most important idea in that question to be written about. All this might lead to hashtagging of the whole syllabus if used like maniacs as we do in social media.

The idea behind this is to identify personal hotspots. Sticking to International Organisations, some of the hotspots/themes I identified are: UN and League of Nations (#UN_League), African Union and Organisation of African States (#AU&OAS), bringing theories in perspective like realism (#Realist). This has reaped some notable benefits: staying miles away from question spotting, practising to write a lot and creating a firmer impression on my mind, compared to using bullet points or other signs which are not as conspicuous as the hashtag.  Concentrating on these themes helps me to build a 360º perspective and vision. Thinking on the correlation among the ideas within each theme, the varied nature of questioning that the matter can be subjected to, and relevant statistics (if needed), transcends the compartments of chapters. This is what each question demands us to do and helps us get adept in preparing for whatever question may be asked in relation to that theme in the exams. This means zooming into details from a wide angle and then building on the details to step up the clarity of the whole picture.

With a method devised to tackle the hefty challenge, the human factor still counts a lot. Studying at the LSE last summer with the professors, especially Professor Matthew Engelke, helps to solve a lot of confusion. Focusing on the ‘depth’ instead of the visual ‘breadth’ of the answer, following the basic pattern of the study content and including original ideas with relevant extra information and emphasis on the structure of an essay, are a few of the lessons that are to be kept in mind. Giving importance to the structure of any essay means developing a general ability to give a solid structure to an essay.

After solving all the rest of the said dilemmas, the choice between a book and an e-book (dilemma vii) is a totally personal one depending upon travel and ease of use, but for me it’s the first one. However until May, this is the path that needs to be followed by me without being distracted whatever may come!

Budhaditya is studying the BSc International Relations by distance learning in Kolkata, India.

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