So, 3 years into this degree and the thing that still drives me nuts is essay writing. It takes me months to start writing answers that I am halfway happy with. Anyway, I hope this resonates with you all. If it does, keep reading ‘my roadmap to essay writing’, the steps I usually go through to write a Politics/International Relations Essay.
Step number 1: Getting my head around the material.
Before I can even think about an essay, I have to study the material. Usually this involves going through the Study guide and the Essential Reading. Whether I write the essays as I go along or wait till I finish the syllabus, it depends on the module and how well I understand it. Continue reading
I remember having one of those books of Choose your Own Adventure when I was a little girl. If you also like reading, these books offered an exciting new possibility over the universe of just one closed end. As I was uploading the formative assessment essays of Renaissance and Restoration, it just occurred to me that formative assessments are a bit like these books. As the date for uploading essays for level 4 draws near, I thought I might share with you my thoughts and try to give you an insight in this crucial process of our studies.
Doing a master’s course is a great learning process. The four core modules form a great theoretical basis which Moodle and all the readings turn into a practical discovery and global exploration. The subsequent elective modules are more demanding as academic writing comes in! If, like me, you have not done such serious assignment writing before, it is really tough to write six essays in two years and not get desperate because of fear for wrong referencing, paraphrasing, quoting or not fitting within the strict word limits. Still, it is an ideal learning process for the project report of 10,000 words that I am about to start as soon as I get ethical approval locally and from LSHTM.
Questions about study habits and practices are very personal questions. They’re not personal in the impolite sense that to raise them evinces a bit of social ineptitude on the part of the enquirer. Rather, they’re personal in the sense that what ‘works’ for each of us will be determined by largely subjective or person-relative factors: What are our goals? What resources do we have access to? What sort of preparation have we undergone? What learning-strategies have we found to be most effective? What extra-academic obligations do we have? And so on.
Given that studying is so deeply personal in that latter sense, this post will only be about how I approach studying. Specifically, it will be about how I approach the study of philosophy as a University of London (UoL) student. My aim in sharing my approach to studying philosophy is threefold: first, I hope that it will provide those who may be interested in studying philosophy both with an idea of what it’s like to study it at the university level, and what it’s like to study it as a UoL student; second, I hope that others who are studying philosophy, or other essay-based humanities subjects, will glean some ideas from my approach that might help them with their studies; and third, I hope that others will share their ideas on studying with me (perhaps in the comments section of this post!) so that I might learn from them.
I told myself that, when the first day of April arrived, a significant increase in what I call my ‘study application’ will need to occur. My focus is now entirely on 2 areas of concern. The first is in-depth research on specific topics. The second is disciplining myself to develop a complete argument before beginning to write an essay. You cannot imagine how challenging the second point is for me. To be successful at it sometimes I cannot even pick up a pen until I completely think through my argument and its structure.
Over the years I have been studying and writing in this program I have often wondered why this is so challenging for me. I have wondered why an outline, essay plan, or argument, or whatever you want to call it, is even necessary. A paper or story can certainly be written without one, but it will surely be as haphazard an affair for the reader as it was for the writer. If you stop to think about what an essay plan or outline does, for example, provide focus, notes specific details, engages with the topic in a spirited way, makes the writing process more efficient, and aides concentration, it seems quite impossible to write a text of any kind without a clear plan or outline.
Urban literary legend has it that, over lunch one day, Ernest Hemingway boasted to colleagues he could write a short story in six words. His colleagues doubted very much that even the great Hemingway could write a story in six words. They each wagered $10, betting a $60 pot against him. Hemingway scribbled these six words on a napkin, ‘For Sale: Baby Shoes, never worn.’ According to legend Hemingway won the pot. The phrase is often misquoted, and whether or not there is any truth to the story does not matter. It makes a vivid point about writing that is helpful as we prepare for exams.
Right now our online gathering places are buzzing with conversations about the sudden need to write in a very specific way. In the English Department our examination consists of three timed essays with no support materials allowed. You must have read, thought, and decided, and then in the exam room, respond with an argument to three out of 15 questions within the three hour time limit. Most of our anxiety about the process focuses on the amount of time available and the challenge of saying everything we want to in just one hour. Exams do feel like a puzzle sometimes and writing our first timed essays at home before exams can increase anxiety rather than abate it. Continue reading