I love planning, it makes everything seem right in a highly topsy-turvy world where surprises are always lurking around the corner.
Here are a couple of things I like to do when I am studying my politics modules. Take a look, I hope that they help you too!
Understanding what’s expected of me
When I started this degree my first step was to sit down and read all those lovely resources that UOL offer, explaining how the degree worked and what was expected of us as students. Understanding this helped me to understand what I had to do and when I had to do it; the Strategies of Success book gives a really nice overview of the different kinds of plans students should make.
Understanding how the modules I chose work
Once I had an overview of my degree, it was time to understand the individual modules. In my first year I had two compulsory modules: Introduction to international Relations and Introduction to Political Science. Then I opted for World History since 1945 and Introduction to International Development. Each course came with a:
- Subject guide
- Course overview
I found each one of these to be important in their own way. Subject guides told me what I had to study, Course overviews helped me to focus on what was expected and Booklists, well they told me which books I had to read.
Then, I sit down and flesh out a plan
In the beginning, in my first year, this was the hardest. So before I move on, I’d like to stress the fact that your preliminary plan will change; you’ll adjust where needed, find ways to adapt when needed and learn the difference between what’s crucial and what’s beneficial as you move along.
So, my first plan usually involves:
1) Deciding when I want to have done the syllabus by.
This means deciding when I want to have completed reading the course guide and doing all the ‘essential reading’. Usually, I try to be done by December, January latest. I then divide the chapters for each module with the months that I have.
So, if I have to complete, say, 10 chapters in 5 months that’s about 2 chapters per month. At this point I have to take holidays and breaks into account, as well. So, I usually adjust accordingly.
2) Choosing my topics
In the first year, it was hard to do this as I was still learning what the courses were all about and so on. As such, I didn’t actually pick my focus areas until around February. However, as I have moved into my 2nd and 3rd year this became easier. Although, like my plan, I do have to make little tweaks along the way as I work out what my strengths and weaknesses, in terms of that particular module, are.
Anyway, to help me decide on these topics I have a look at the past examination questions and the angles which the course focuses us on. I don’t pick a question and learn that. Rather, I use it as a guide to focus and then work out how I’d argue the different angles and so on but that’s a discussion for another time. Basically, past papers are your friend but they need to be treated with caution. You never know when the examiner will decide to change the angle of the questions or focus on a specific aspect of the topics (it’s happened quite a few times!).
I then look through the further reading and pick what is relevant to my topics. Some are easier to read than others. Some will focus on theory and others on case studies. I try to read a bit of both. A study partner of mine gave me a great tip: open the book and look at the contents. The chapter titles usually give you an idea of whether you need to read the book and, more importantly, whether you need to read all of it!
3) Leave time for exam revision
I try to keep an allotted time specifically for exam revision. This means making mind maps, making sure I know my chosen topic inside and out and practicing as many past papers as possible to get myself into ‘exam mode’. I’ll admit it’s not always as smooth as it sounds- things will always pop up last minute but that’s why I find having a plan helps so much, it helps to keep me focused.
If you’d like to watch a really great video on the importance of using your pre exam time wisely, check out this TED Talk. It really helped me!
In the end…
You really have to sit down and get on with it. It’s easy to plan, harder to do. But the latter is what gets me through.
Iman is studying the BSc Politics and international Relations in Pakistan.