Jelly Bean, my collie dog, and I just returned from a good long walk. After romping through what we hope is the last winter storm of the season we brushed off the snow, hung up our coats, and my frozen mittens, and went straight for the books. March signals our official count-down to spring, and our official count-down to exams. We are settling in for several hours of uninterrupted study as she snuggles up on her pillow with a blanket, a treat, and a toy and I curl up in my reading chair with a stack of texts and steaming pot of ginger tea. Right now it feels urgently important to make sure I am covering relevant points and retaining the information. While the English Department at Goldsmiths provides us with many resources for the BA English, the ‘Study Guides’ are particularly useful for my current needs. This weekend my mini-revision will focus on the guides provided by the University of London International Programmes for each of my courses.
Sitting down with a course’s ‘Study Guide’ is a comforting and productive way to review my progress in each unit. It keeps me focused on what our faculty identifies as the most pertinent points for study and keeps my efforts directed at material that will most benefit me in exams. My ‘Study Guide’ review is also a very efficient way to revise several months of reading many primary texts across 4 courses. Reviewing each guide refreshes my memory of texts and authors that might have been on the back shelf, so to speak. A chapter by chapter review of each one helps me re-engage with multiple texts and key topics in criticism. They also put structure around my studies, a project that requires an appropriately narrow focus to be successful. And they offer important prompts and reminders about what exams require in my program.
One important reminder is the unique requirements in particular units, like the importance of close reading and analysis skills that count for thirty-three percent of the mark I can earn. For example, the ‘Literature of the Later Middle Ages Study Guide’ reiterates that the two ‘Section A’ close reading essays required in the exam present a significant challenge to candidates every year. It gives good advice about how to approach the task successfully and contains sample exam questions and comments to help me develop skills and an exam strategy.
My ‘Study Guides’ also prompt me to engage with a range of points and texts from each unit, and to make the best use of multiple texts in my advanced courses. Because there is rarely time to read a sufficient number of secondary text completely I can use the guides as a kind of outline for my secondary research. They direct me to scholars, points of criticism, and authors, make suggestions about texts it would be useful to compare, and direct me to sections of primary texts which might illustrate specific critical points. It saves a lot of time, but mostly it helps me to think across texts in my courses, accomplish concrete learning objectives, and produce focused research.
This might sound like basic study skills, but for me, prompting from my course’s ‘Study Guide’ is like having a virtual coach at my desk. When my days are hectic, and the count-down to exams means I need to accomplish more academically, the study guides’ constructive, focused ‘coaching’ and prompting are very welcome assets.
During the month of March my study plan is to devote one week to the ‘Study Guide’ for each of my courses. This weekend, starting tonight, I will devote several hours to reviewing each guide. Our faculty writes the guides for each course, and they also write our exams. When preparing for exams, or working through each course, common sense requires that I take all of the advice they offer in these treasured books, especially when I am managing a high volume of academic material and juggling competing responsibilities. I am going to rely on my ‘Study Guide’ collection this month starting with these precious, uninterrupted hours that I have looked forward to all week. Happy studies from cold and snowy Pittsburgh.
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes.