Exams are usually memorable experiences for me. They are sometimes terrifying and unfamiliar, like my first year, and sometimes a bit funny, familiar and tinged with chagrin, like this year. All of the experiences seem to center around time. In my first exam year, time to study, time to revise, and time in the exam room was frightening to contemplate. The material, process, and experience were all unfamiliar. Somehow in the first year I managed the time constraints surrounding all three challenges while reading Renaissance Comedy. This year, once again, the controlling theme is time. Yesterday, exam day, it felt like a fairly humorous conspiracy was all centered on time. With four courses, and three exams next week, there really is no wiggle room with respect to time.
Mostly yesterday’s ‘time’ episodes are funny and even familiar. The funny ones, like accidentally setting the time on my alarm clock one hour ahead, worked in my favor. I was up at 4 instead of 5 and no worse for wear. There was a moment of confusion while making espresso and the revealing glance at the kitchen clock. Confusion dissolved into joy at the prospect of an extra hour to prepare. Jelly Bean, my Collie dog, was in on the morning conspiracy too. She is definitely not a ‘morning dog.’ At 9:30 my little sleepy head flatly refused a second walk in favor of snoring on the sofa, which meant an extra forty-five minutes. Fabulous!
It was absolutely fabulous because it meant extra time to engage with texts. High engagement with texts immediately before exams is part of my revising strategy this year. But I cannot say that I used this gift of an extra hour or two to my best advantage. My big, familiar, concern, even a mild panic, was having enough texts prepared. I decided to revise two additional texts on Wednesday night and Thursday morning instead of following my tactical plan. My tactical plan was to use that time to turn summaries of text analysis, notes, and outlined arguments into thesis and argument support statements on my selected areas of focus. It felt like time started to work against me. On a mundane level, while traveling to the exam center my watch battery suddenly stopped working as I was trying to catch my train. I arrived a little later than expected with only forty minutes and no place or time to concentrate on those precious thesis, transition, and concluding statements.
Changing my revising plan effected time management and the quality of my work in the exam room in a very familiar way. I had enough time to answer all three questions. But, to my chagrin, without the specific statements on topics I worked so hard to research in advance, my arguments were not as precise as they could and should have been. In the advanced courses exam questions are not as structured as they are in the foundation courses. Using the question as a structure for argument is not really an option. Spending my time developing strong statements for different arguments in advance of exams would have been much more useful than revising texts. The result was that while my knowledge of texts definitely improved this term my essays do not properly reflect it. Working hard in the exam room and using precious time trying to end my essays effectively felt very frustrating and familiar.
When I got home it was time to debrief my exam experience. It was a relief to review my answers and feel satisfied that the questions were fully answered and I did not make any factual errors or critical omissions. But precision was lacking because those precious structure and concluding statements were not there. Structuring and controlling the argument process is the means of controlling time and quality of work in the exam room. It is that simple. Next week I have three exams on three consecutive days with four days to revise until they begin. This time, with no time for even a mild panic attack, I am sticking to my original plan.
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes.