I’m sitting behind a mountain of study materials trying to work out an effective revision plan. For me, revising is not the same as studying. It requires a very different attitude and awareness about what I want to accomplish. When I have a good understanding of those goals, I can then develop a plan to approach my materials.
My study materials include primary texts and essential reading, recommended reading, study guides for each module, and my notes. That’s a lot of material to collate and use together effectively. You can see why a clear goal about outcomes is very helpful. So how do I start?
Hmmmm. First, you should know about my obsession with outlines. There’s nothing more satisfying than a good outline. I’ve got notebooks and software that are full of them – can’t get enough of them, use them for everything from work to creative writing. They help me organize concepts and content for notes, undertake research and produce my final exam paper.
Typically, I start with a topic outline then progress to a sentence outline. A topic outline allows me to organize my ideas. A sentence outline forces me to summarize. One wonderful thing about this organization method is that I start with bare bones points – a hierarchy of ideas in a topic outline. My sentence outline comes next, which is how I prepare my argument. The sentence outline lets me consider my thesis and the information assembled to argue it point by point and record it in detail. Outlining also helps me write faster, which is incredibly important in timed, blind exams.
Now that you know how I organize, here’s how I approach my mountain of study materials while preparing to sit exams. Starting with sample exam questions is my favorite way to begin. I like to read a good selection of sample questions (10 to 12 per module). Jotting down a brief topic outline lets me do a little SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of where I stand. After writing my topic outlines, I check all of them against my exam reports and study guide for accuracy and how comprehensive my answers are. This process shows me where I am confident and where I need remedial work.
Now that my strengths and weaknesses are identified, I can assess what I need to do to reach the level of proficiency required to succeed in exams. There is definitely going to be a great deal of personal growth in my revision process.
That said, at this point, I begin working on the set of questions from sample exam papers I used for my SWOT analysis. My corrected topic outlines are my starting point for in-depth sentence outlines. I like to use my primary sources at this stage and only rely on notes from materials I read at the library. I don’t want any mistakes – just clear, concise thinking with references and citations. My library days give me a chance to double-check any ideas or notes that need more research.
During this process, I might be working on a dozen questions at a time from three or four different modules. One tip I learned revising for undergrad exams is to work on multiple courses at a time. I might work on questions and outlines from all of my modules over a day or two. For me, it helps to engage with a variety of materials and courses. I also learned not to try to write timed exam papers until I have demonstrated mastery of the course material. It doesn’t help to write timed papers if I cannot produce accurate, thoughtful, and compelling arguments.
It’s time to go on the record and say that I really, really, really, really like the assessment method in this program – blind, timed essays. I want to be ready with the mountain of material on my study desk. For now, my goal is to engage with the content of my courses in a methodical, thorough and organized way. It boosts my confidence and helps solidify the knowledge gained as I studied away all year. It’s a mountain of work, so let’s get to it.