Study tools I find useful – Time to shift gears and nail the exams!

Study tools-books and pens2017 has been an extremely eventful year and the first three months have flickered by in no time, but more about the eventful things later! The onset of April means, for most of us students, exams are around the corner. This is by no means my intention to set in ‘testophobia’ amongst all of us taking the University of London examinations. On the contrary, this serves as a perfect occasion for me to share some tools that have proved beneficial!

This is not mentioning the fact that what may have helped with taking subjective modules might not work in quite the same way with objective modules. To keep this blog post concise and crisp, here are my top six picks:

Google Scholar: This is a product that has proved quite helpful to me over the years to keep abreast of the more recent scholarly work on a topic. Though, in most instances, the syllabus remains updated and we can get hold of the latest edition of the prescribed textbooks, this is a good tool to collate it all. The concept of ‘groupthink’ was developed by Irving Janis in 1972 and is one of the many important concepts studied in my other module SP2079- Elements of Applied and Social Psychology. Groupthink is a concept which appears to involve a group having a false sense of invulnerability and optimism that leads them to make a decision they perhaps would not have taken, if the given information was more free-flowing or leadership styles were more appropriate. A search on groupthink yields several recent works, of which a 2017 article providing a good critique “Tell It Like It Is” interests me.

Having read the essential reading, it is not a bad idea to look up Google Scholar to find out whether any literature has developed on the topic more recently, giving the opportunity to show the examiner one’s interest in latest developments. And why not discuss the exciting discoveries with your classmates on the VLE forums!

Web page imageAcrobat reader search window: A feature, confessedly not unknown to most people, that allows us to locate a word or a phrase in a document, that has helped me immensely in studying the study guides more effectively. An example would perhaps help in making my point clearer. DV3162- Complex emergencies and humanitarian responses, one of my final two modules is one of those subjects which requires a holistic approach to study. To have a better grasp of the important concepts and the inter-linkage among them (which is still very much a work in progress in my case), I have found help in the search window. ‘Violence’, a term used so often in daily life features with noticeable nuance in this module.  A whole chapter ‘Behind the violence’ is dedicated to observing the finer details of the role ‘violence’ plays in ‘complex emergencies’ and how it can be varied in its form. Searching for the term gives me a better view of how it is applied in other chapters.

This is keeping in tandem with my personal style of studying that I blogged about in the post Harnessing the hashtag. Talking about this tool, it isn’t particularly the Acrobat reader search window but the search window available in all document readers in general.

Examiners’ commentaries: Perhaps the most important of all, I have tended to give more importance to the examiners’ commentaries for BSc International Relations as time has progressed. On a personal level, merely reading the questions that have been asked in past exams has undoubtedly helped me in gauging the pulse of the subject. This is not only talking from the point of faring in exams, but also from the aspect of what kinds of questions the subject asks and what ought to be asked. However, overdoing this exercise might stop us from asking questions of our own. Given that all of us study to take the exam at some point, it might lure us to take the path of ‘question-spotting’. This is one of the scariest things to do and I do take considerable care to avoid this approach.

Regarding answers, the comments of the examiners are a great guide to write excellent answers. Paying heed to them, one does get an idea about one’s performance after taking the exams, which to me is a good thing as it reduces anxiety during the notification of results.

Textbook index: The old-school index present in the texts serves a purpose similar to what I mentioned in the Acrobat search window tool, which allows me to connect important concepts and develop a good idea about the concept a little faster. 

Department websites: The posts on the latest research, blogs on presently relevant topics and news posted by the departments of educational institutions have helped me significantly. The website of the Department of Social Psychology at the LSE has helped me in keeping track of the progress made in the field. Besides the LSE, I have also checked other institutions like SOAS to draw on their expertise in geographies facing complex emergencies, mostly in the Middle East and Africa.

In context of keeping up to date, Google News has allowed me to customise news for me and focus more on the topics I am interested in from all possible sources. The alert setting facility is suitable for getting automatic updates. On the downside, the alerts may clutter your mailbox and may include a few irrelevant articles.

iTunesU: Last, but not least, this has helped me, as an independent student, to compensate for the absence of face-face teaching to some extent. Podcasts and lectures posted on this platform by universities are a good source worth checking out. However, I have not used it very regularly as materials posted are not tailor-made for our modules. Still, they are good for developing a basic idea. Platforms like YouTube also serve the same purpose, albeit I prefer iTunesU as it concentrates on academic content and posting content is not as easy as on YouTube, making it more reliable generally.

These are my top six picks which I wanted to share with my fellow mates, in case it might be of any help. With just over a month left, it is time to shift gears and nail the exams!

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

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