Do you recognize the butterflies in the stomach that come with realizing exam time will be here sooner than you think? Maybe it is really a cold panic. Instead of feeling like a far off five and a half months away, the month of May, darling buds and all, instead feels more like it is about five weeks away. Moreover, exam registration time is a mere sixty days or so away. Glancing between the growing stacks of books on my study desk and the mountain of work on the desk in my home office intensifies the feeling. There is positively no time for procrastination. Here are some words of wisdom from an author I am reading this week, Louisa May Alcott: ‘Whatever we can do and do well we have a right to, and I don’t think anyone will deny us.’
We do a lot of cooking and entertaining at our house, mainly because I just cannot help myself. Cooking is fun and relaxing for me and always has been. I went to culinary school to help manage that particular problem, though the experience and all the years as a restaurateur only reinforced my habit. There is a lot to learn from the daily challenge that comes with facing one hundred or so people all wanting something different to eat at just about the same time. Let’s sum it up by saying it is an intense and quickly changing few hours that demand concentration. Besides the sybaritic pleasure intermezzos offer, you quickly learn to appreciate how a little intermezzo can go a long way for the chef as well as the diners. Once a foodie always a foodie I think, so, for me, it is quite natural to think of my daily tasks in the metaphor of a multicourse meal. As my responsibilities and academic work become more demanding, I started looking for an ‘intermezzo’ to help me move from task to task.
‘Screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail’ might be the most famous piece of advice given to someone with chilly feet in the face of an overwhelming task. While Lady Macbeth might not be everyone’s first choice for a motivational speaker or life coach her famous line is a great rallying cry for digging into our studies, even if you are not an English major.
It is a little daunting to start our new courses from scratch. The big questions on everybody’s mind right now in our VLE and social forums are how to begin the study process, how to locate answers to the questions in the study guides’ learning outcomes, how to find the balance between working with primary and secondary texts, and how to apply critical theory to primary material we read. Studying at degree level is not as easy as looking up answers. We need some special skills to read and analyze the material we are studying and to begin developing our responses. While none of those big questions has a simple answer, for me, it comes down to focus on study methods and resources. We have to start where we are and make the most of our unique perspective, experience, and the tools at our command. Read the rest of this entry »
Does study sometimes become boring? It is a long process from the beginning of the term until exams. It sometimes feels like running a marathon. In both preparation and running the actual race we come face to face with the intellectual boredom of repetitive activity. Sometimes the intensity of the activity and sense of accomplishment will balance the need to just keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter how tired or distracted you feel. When I am feeling tired finding a refreshing way to effectively engage with so much material is very necessary.
To me an ‘effective’ studying means mastering targeted learning outcomes, using the material in flexible and articulate ways, and engaging in a way that helps me internalize content and remember it. After all, I must be at my command eight months from now. Those points can be stumpers individually or taken all together. A few weeks ago mustering my resources for a study session after a long day filled with other demands presented a challenge. I decided to apply creative writing techniques to study. My hope was to overcome the sense of exhaustion from a busy schedule and the tedium of habit in my day in and day out reading and research. Using creative writing exercises and techniques helped me remember details about authors and literary periods, work out arguments, and perform text analysis.
Do you have the beginning of term blues? It is October, one month into the new term, and time for the first assessment of progress in my study plan. A busy schedule and limited time for study provided the first inspiration for monthly progress checks. The biggest motivation comes from the need to ensure I am achieving learning outcomes for each of my four courses. At the beginning of each month I review the goals set for the next 30 days and evaluate the work just completed. That might sound a little obsessive but organizing the big project of studying four courses into manageable pieces has been an effective strategy. My ‘October Review’ is perhaps a little more involved than at other times because it is the first of the term.
During the last few weeks my route has triangulated the United States from the Everglades to Anchorage and now to New York City. This is one of those weeks where reading, never mind really studying, seems to be out of the question. I am traveling for business again, and marvel once more at my colleagues who are consistent business travelers. Not studying this week is not an option. Even though there is a time pinch and a full schedule, let me see how squeezing study into five days of meetings might be practical.
How have I benefited from studying in our program? That’s an open ended question that begs some nostalgic reflection as well as understanding how various skills have changed over the course my studies. When I noticed that my personal and professional projects are completed more efficiently and it is much easier for me to pick out isolate points and arguments in my study efforts and professional projects, I decided to compare my earliest notebooks with my current ones. It might hold the answer to how I have benefited from studying English and Comparative Literature.
My reading this week is Wayne Booth’s ‘Rhetoric of Fiction’. It’s a very interesting book and really helped me think through the question, ‘What do I enjoy about studying?’ The first chapter of Booth’s text discusses the difference between what he calls showing and telling, which is essentially a choice about how information is presented. It occurred to me that how information is presented in my program is one of the things I enjoy most about studying the BA English with Goldsmith’s College and the University of London International Programmes. As I mentioned before, this program and pedagogy is one of the key reasons for my academic success. It is also one of the things I enjoy most about studying.
How information is presented is a powerfully influential thing. When searching for a degree program I found that many presented information and structured study in a way that seemed very limiting. For me there is inevitably an autodidactic quality to learning. Our English and Comparative Literature program strikes just the right balance between what information is provided, how it is presented and my responsibility for engaging and effectively expressing what I have learned.
While reviewing our Examiners’ Reports and Study Guides, and settling down to work I could not help comparing my initial impressions of the courses I studied last year with the texts on my desk for 2014. How do we choose the courses we want to study? What happens if the material is significantly different from what we expect it to be? It is a bit worrying, because last year the course I most looked forward to, Augustans and Romantics, turned out to be the most difficult for me and the one where my exam results were the lowest. Renaissance and Restoration, the course I thought would be the most challenging and uninteresting to read was the most stimulating. It was also the course with my best exam results. As my reading begins in earnest I find myself on the horns of a reading dilemma. I feel confident about my reading in three courses, but the fourth, Modern American Literature, just might be the most challenging to study.
What makes authors, genres, or literary periods challenging to study? What do you do if you just do not enjoy an author’s work or the entire literary period?