I heard a story on NPR (National Public Radio) today that called April a transition month. I have decided to find it charming, despite the fact that, in the last seven days, we have enjoyed a bit of spring, summer, and winter weather. It is a study transition month too, shifting from regular study to exam preparation. While wistfully remembering the 88-degree, sunny day we enjoyed last Sunday and contemplating the snow squalls we are enjoying today it occurred to me it could be useful to contemplate the things that helped me succeed in our programs and on previous exams.
Nostalgia is not my motivation though it is comforting and motivating to travel that road for a few minutes today. My motivation is trying to get into the revision, study, and exam routine. I feel prepared for my courses now and that I can pass the exams if they were tomorrow, which I almost wish they were. Once in a while, a real panic sets in, especially when I have to focus on other things. After intensely concentrating on other projects, it can feel as if I never read a book for my courses. That is one reason why I like to have study time every day. Since exams are a week closer, it seems like a good idea to perform a study skills and process inventory to back best use of my time. I started by listing the things that helped me succeed during degree study and noting if they can work for me now. I have a top four: repetitive study during the year, intense immersion right before exams, using the resources our programs provide for student support, and summarizing.
One helpful aspect of my study process is working on my courses incrementally and repeating sections over the year. For me, it is helpful to consider the same topic several times because my perspective changes as I read more primary texts and secondary criticism. It also helps to deepen and internalize my understanding of different points can be applied and interpreted.
The second most helpful thing is intense revision leading up to exams, even right up to the minute I walk into the room. My friend calls it cramming, but I call it immersion and for me it is a very good practice. To me cramming is doing nothing all year then, well, cramming it into your head in a short time. My immersion process keeps me focused and engaged with relevant material when I most need it, especially managing four courses.
Another thing that helped me succeed in degree study is using the support resources our program offers, like online seminars, practice essays, engaging with other students in our chat rooms, and the Study Guides, Examiners Reports and other University of London publications like the ‘Guide To Section A Questions’.
Over the years, I participated in many seminars and submitted quite a few papers for critique. I saved everything, and edited the seminar transcripts into ‘Study Packets’. They work like case studies for applying literary analysis to various texts. My papers with tutor comments are very valuable to me this year, particularly three of them. The tutors’ comments help me keep my writing focused regardless of the point I am arguing.
I always study with the Examiners’ Reports and Study Guides at hand. It is very easy to go off on a fascinating tangent. These resources keep me focused on the issues of importance to the course I am studying. Those issues are the ones I enrolled in the course to learn about and engage with and the ones upon which my papers will be evaluated so that is where I want my attention.
The aspect of my study process that helped me most over the years is summarizing my notes and ideas as I work. An essay is really a summary of what I have learned including my original thinking and ideas. For me, it is the most useful tool and one I use daily.
For the next five weeks, my tools will be summarizing, immersion, and engagement with texts. It is very comforting and inspiring to know these strategies have been a reliable part of my studies over the years, and I can depend on them to help manage exams this year.
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.