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.’
How invigorating! Lucky for me I have been reading ‘Little Women,’ perhaps Alcott’s best-known work and doing some author research in the process. The March sisters, the little women whose story she tells, each in their own personal way finds a unique path to meet their goals. Throughout the book, the sisters are motivated to ‘carry their burden,’ as Alcott phrases it in her quaint, often humorous way. It is comforting and inspiring to read such a motivating story while working away on my courses. I know Alcott was referring to ‘the woman question’ that bothered her time with this quote and perhaps even with her carefully written characters, but that wonderful sentence resonates with me today. While working away at our jobs and studies, pursuing our interests and caring for friends and family we are really working towards a way to settle the question she raises so eloquently.
This week I had a little dilemma that left me feeling a little like Alcott’s women at the start of her novel. She uses ‘The Pilgrims Progress’ as a literary device effectively enough to strike at the heart of my little crisis, like it does for Jo March and her sisters. Thanks to a math error, I was completely convinced of the need to finish four courses last term and this term to complete my degree on time. Imagine my surprise when an email arrived in my inbox from the university notifying me that, while it is possible to complete my degree this year, I can also complete my courses in the 2015 exams. Honestly, it is a little tempting to consider, but then Alcott’s characterization of ‘Marme’ Marsh, the March sister’s mother, reminded me just how satisfying it is to work diligently and cheerfully.
Being able to spread my work over another year is a positively intoxicating idea sometimes, and at other times, it is really quite terrifying. Extending my studies over another year and focusing on two courses at a time does not necessarily mean my results will be better than they will if I find a way to power through four courses as planned. My exam results were the very best ever in all four courses when sitting four exams. I covered more material in each course and learned more effectively when working on four courses than when focusing on one or two. Imagine that. To me, as I thought about my choices and read Little Women, I felt a little like the Marsh sisters working away at their unique challenges. Judging by the quote, it seems she might have written to inspire.
It is nice to read a text for my courses that is so relevant and inspiring. This week I reviewed the work I have done so far, and recommitted to completing all four courses and my degree in 2014. I do want to repeat the success I enjoyed in the 2013 exams. I have tried to recreate the most effective elements of my 2013 study schedule, incorporate the best tools, and use proven strategies again this term. Maybe I can also iron out the wrinkles, like how to be more proficient with critical readings and literary theory. Last term was a powerful amount of work, but also a lot of fun. So far this term my study process and outcomes are satisfying. I have even produced several short essays and done significant secondary reading early in year. Like the March girls example, if I am smart about the process and keep an open mind, I can improve my study practices and my exam results, and complete my degree this year.
It seems very reasonable that improved exam outcomes and improved study skills are reciprocals, just like there is reciprocity between improved study skills and an improved ability to manage a large volume of material. Alcott drew a great picture of Jo Marsh, writing away in her little garret, wearing her black, ink stained smock. She describes Jo when she is working her hardest, with the bow on her special ‘writing bonnet’ askew from the force of her concentration. Little Women is one of those charming, well-told stories that make you want to keep reading it, even when the book is done. Maybe I will get a writing cap to wear in my own little writing garret as I settle in for a long winter’s study, to keep the inspiration of Alcott’s lovely book close to hand.
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.