Do you have a favorite author?

October 2, 2013

Stephen King quote - 'If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write.' Stephen King wrote: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”  Thanks Mr King, that is incredibly validating because I enrolled in my degree program to learn how to write.  Reading great fiction seemed like the logical first step to learning how to write properly.

In my work I write all the time, and I write for fun too. Mr King’s remark feels very true to me today.  For the last several days I have been immersed in work projects that kept me away from reading imaginative texts and writing for school and for fun.  My ability to write creatively, and to write about creative texts, certainly feels impaired after its absence from my routine. Today it feels so very good to settle down for some quality reading time.

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Exam Diary: The Ups and Downs of Sitting Four Exams

May 21, 2013

It has been an absolutely fabulous exam year. Sitting exams for four courses is challenging, but the changes to my study procedures over the year, my revising plan and the reality of multiple exams really helped me improve study outcomes and, hopefully, exam results.  What I noticed about my exam experience this year, despite doubling my course load, is a much more focused process with better results, at least from my process point of view.  This week I thought it might be helpful to others considering enrolling, or wondering what managing four courses is like, to see my Exam Diary.  The schedule for my (BA English) papers started with one exam on 9 May and then three consecutive days, 14, 15 and 16 May. That’s eight interesting days, and a sixteen day revising process. Here’s what it was like:

1 May: My meta-exam revising strategy begins! At first I thought two days for each course would work but immediately realized that engaging with each course every day is more productive.  The schedule that worked best for me was four sessions, one for each course, ideally of two to four hours each spaced throughout the day.  This helped me maintain engagement with all the material I had to revise in an incremental process.

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Managing Exam ‘Time’

May 10, 2013

clocksExams 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.

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Getting Through Exam Week

May 3, 2013

Fred and Ginger

The dance of exams…

It’s time to dance as they say in America. I like that expression because it’s such an uplifting metaphor even though it means that, ready or not, we have reached the time for action.  For me, there are always the inevitable situations that seem to cluster around exam week. It has entered the realm of the comic after several consecutive years. Since stress works for me this year I decided to embrace it. For example, in the most endearing way, the CEO of the organization I work for wondered out loud if I can research and write our annual report before my exams begin on 8 May, and if I will be able to work on exams days.  The answers are it cannot, and no.  But, it does continue the dance metaphor, one colleague shared the highly descriptive phrase ‘Andaba del Tingo al Tango,’ or in other words, one can go a little crazy with plenty to do and a lot of places to be.

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The Rhetoric of Exams

April 29, 2013

Cicero statue

My favorite rhetorician: Marcus Tullius Cicero. This year in my courses I am studying the use of classic themes in English literature, and the importance of classical theories of rhetoric in the education of Early Modern, Restoration, Augustan, and Romantic writers.

The ‘Rhetoric of Exams’ might sound odd to you, but I think there is a definite discourse of exams that merits some investigation, analysis and understanding. This year my goal is to embrace it. During my BA English study I have worked with tutors and coaches in a variety of ways that have all proved to be very useful and productive. This year I have a rhetoric coach. Considering exams and my participation in them from this point of view is very enlightening.

My current interest in rhetoric all started in both predictable and serendipitous ways. Predictable because, like my colleagues, I am preoccupied with getting the most productive results from available study time, really learning and applying knowledge, and getting good marks in exams.  There is a real relationship between those three points which should be articulated in order to achieve those goals, and which brings me to the very fortunate serendipity which occasioned my meeting and beginning to work with a rhetoric coach.

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Studying Road Warrior

April 22, 2013

Alligator in Florida

Alligator encounter: A rather unusual challenge faced Caowrites on her business trip to Florida.

This week I am a road warrior, not in the Mad Max or professional wrestling tag team sense of the phrase, but as a business traveler.  I doff my hat to business travelers, their stamina and sheer determination.  As Edith Wharton wrote in ‘The Age of Innocence,’ ‘…all travel has its hardships,’ like those we all know well: delays, altered routines and schedules, interesting dining choices, and time zones.  Traveling for business presents some interesting challenges for students, because of the very nature and purpose of the business trip.  Time is compressed on a business journey.

For example, I traveled to Florida this week to accomplish specific things in a limited amount of time. Colleagues have arrived from all points of the compass with the same sense of urgency.  We have a shared agenda, but everyone also brings a unique set of, well, distractions, that might be family, other projects, or inconveniences like lost luggage.  I bring the need to study this week. Since exams are now only thirty days away, I am not willing to give up 7 days of preparation time. The trick is how to study effectively while accomplishing all of my professional obligations and making the best use of time with my colleagues.

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What Revising For Exams Really Looks Like At My House

April 16, 2013

Caowrites's deskHere’s what I hope you will think is a humorous and helpful account of what revision 25 days before  my exams begin looks like at my house.  My study room and office look like something of a omnishambles right now. Books, bundles of legal size writing pads, pens and highlighters are everywhere.  They cover my desk, which is really an 87 inch dining table seconded for my higher purpose. I made a special shelf for each course in my book-case, just in reach of my ‘desk,’ where work for each course that will be needed in the days prior to exams is organized.  There is another area dedicated to three-hole punching and binding in notebooks. Lamps for reading and table trays are fitted in near every chair, except my collie dog, Jelly Bean’s. Her pink pillow and super comfy purple chair are sacrosanct, though the same cannot be said for my husband’s.

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Argumentation Boggarts and Brollachans

April 4, 2013

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.

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Worried About Writing For Exams: Can You Tell A Story In Six Words?

March 25, 2013

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. Read the rest of this entry »

My Study Plan Is Working Just As It Should

March 15, 2013

It’s one of those wonderful weeks when everything is going exactly as it should.  All the various threads of a year-long study plan for 4 modules have come together as planned, hoped, and worked for. For me, it is important to have a trusted study plan to produce specific results when I need them, like an athlete trains for peak performance at a specific time to be at their best in competition. While studying 4 modules over 9 or 10 months it is sometimes easy to wonder if learning is on target for this complex project with a goal so far in the future.  There are a lot of primary texts to read, even more secondary reading, and then there are the writing tasks that must be addressed.  I jokingly refer to the process as ‘my personal hermeneutic circle.’

To share the joke, in a nutshell, the hermeneutic circle refers to the idea that our understanding of an entire text depends on our understanding of its individual parts, while understanding the individual parts of a text is based upon our understanding of the whole. Neither the whole nor the parts can be understood without reference to one another, and so the circle as metaphor.  My circle revolves around primary and secondary texts. Read the rest of this entry »


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