Monday, 30 March 2009

Revision & Exam Technique

I wrote this several years ago... for my brother, lol. For most of us who (like me) are past all this now, sorry for dredging up bad memories. But at least we can count our blessings and think how lucky we are that it's all over. Hopefully...I guess there'll still be interviews though, and trials of other kinds, and also that driving test I might get round to doing one day. I mean if Mr. Bean can get a driving license, can't we all? So for those of us for whom this isn't remotely useful, we can just laugh and enjoy the video of Mr. Bean and his exam. 

  Obviously it helps if you know your stuff, so the first key thing is ORGANIZATION. You have a separate file for each subject, you have a course syllabus for each subject and if possible a few past exam papers to get an idea of the kind of questions they usually ask so you know what to concentrate on and what words to look out for when preparing. You take a quick skim at these past questions and all that needs to be done before you even begin.

        Now, you've got this mass of material, papers and books for each subject, the next problem is UNDERSTANDING. In order not to be overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff, you look through the syllabus and understand the structure of the course, like the chapter headings. One chapter at a time, you read through all the information and your lecture notes and if you've got time take your own brief notes or reminders on the material. Your own notes should never be more than a page per lecture and they should be relatively neat. There are other things you know which you do not write down, but might come in useful in the exams - this is only the things which you have to remember which will trigger the rest. They are your notes so they only need to be detailed enough to trigger stuff off in your mind. They might even be completely useless for someone else.

        The previous stage should be quite fun; it's just learning about stuff. The next requires concentration and best with absolutely no music! It is MEMORIZATION. The great danger is to leave this too late; you have to absolutely force yourself to set aside some time and do it (and if possible you should try to come back to stuff you've memorized a week, a month, then three months and then a year later to make it stick in your memory, but this requires great discipline and I never manage to do this). Ok, you understand the subject, now go through your notes sub-chapter by sub-chapter, read and try to repeat as much of the information as you remember, not word-for-word (only the medieval scholars could do that because they were memory gurus!) but all the information and do also bring to mind examples and detailed stuff which were in the books but which you didn't bother writing notes on; check back if you've forgotten anything important in the notes and try again until you have it down pat. Then move onto the next subsection etc.. It's very important to remember (i)  what the sections and subsections are, and (ii) how each-subsection starts, so the rest is triggered. In the exam, you might be asked "Write an essay on Chapter 3", so you just write out a version of your notes with a few other things thrown in that you happen to remember.

        Having finished memorization, if you've still got time before the exams, then you turn to PAST PAPERS which will just cement what you have learnt in your mind and is a way of testing you and finding cracks in your knowledge.

        On the night before or morning of the exam, you just do a quick RECAP of all your mini-notes.

In summary,

The first three are the most important!!

        If you've done all this, you go to the exam knowing you're going to do ok, so you arrive on time, you're relaxed and you just want to do as well as possible. Many exams are based on mark schemes, so the key is to give as many points of information and facts as possible because each fact is rewarded with marks. For any exam question, you think "what parts of the course is this testing me on?" and this will help you to answer their question even if it requires a lot of thinking, e.g. you know it's a question related to Ch.4 but you don't see exactly how it's related, so you go through Ch.4 in your mind and suddenly see what might possibly be useful.

        For the exam itself, the first thing is TIMING. Read instructions, work out which questions you want to answer and estimate how long you want to spend on each question, e.g. 4 questions in 2 hours means half an hour each, or if some questions are worth more you alter accordingly. Inevitably you might be taking longer than half an hour on the first question, but you notice that this is happening and you turn up the pressure inside you to get a move on to the next question so you definitely won't take more than 40-45 minutes and you'll really make sure you make back some of that lost time on the next question. At least you can be flexible like "just a couple more paragraphs please and I'll be done" but the stop-clock to finish at the end is not so kind. Start with the questions that you're best at, but if a question will require you to sit down and think and prepare e.g. "the long essay question", don't leave
this to right at the end because that is the most pressured time and this time is best used for writing "everything you know" in a hurry.

        The second thing is HANDWRITING and STRUCTURE. Write legibly and in clearly marked paragraphs so the examiner can take one look at a paragraph, read the first sentence, skim through the paragraph and see you've used that key word or phrase he's looking for and give it a tick without even bothering to read it. Illegible handwriting puts the examiner in a bad mood because even if he could make out what you're saying, the effort is hurting his head. So, when you're in a rush at the end, just scribbling down extra things that might earn extra marks, it might not be a bad idea to write in bullet points, and underline important words. Structure is of course easy if you're just writing out a version of your notes, or when writing an essay if you've taken out a couple of minutes to prepare the form of the essay.

        The final thing is CONTENT. Don't go off on tangents, but stick to the parts of the notes or books which directly answer the question (unless you run out of things to say). Remember you're trying to "get" the question, i.e. get what is on the examiner's mark scheme, so it's very predictable stuff most of the time.

In summary,

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Harness of Transmutation

Suspended helpless, wrapped in gauzy thread
She stretches, pulls a strand above her head,
Resistance, firm, it binds her naked will,
Relenting, she surrenders and holds still,
Love's potion drunk, she climbs the narrow stairs
And by the garden pool forgets all cares,
The Universe and consciousness in One,
Together as the sun sets, let us run!


Thursday, 12 March 2009

Yeke Yeke (Mory Kanté)

I wish I knew what the lyrics were saying in English, but maybe it's best to just enjoy...


Reader, let me recall a tale, 
A tale you'll think you've heard before
Of joy and sadness, love and loss,
The ever-changing whims of fate,
How the thread that binds can set us free
And love be rapt in its reflection.

I think of princess Ariadne
And how she helped young Theseus
To slay the Minotaur and flee
With her from the shores of Knossos,
Where youths and maidens both alike
Lost their lives in the labyrinth.

But stopping at Naxos she slept
And there he left her and went home,
Confused and weary, sad and lost,
The black sail bore a tale of grief.
Aegeus jumped into the sea
And Athens thronged to crown him king.

But how had love's sweet grapes turned sour?
And what of stranded Ariadne?
Could one forget a girl so fair?
We can but trace back through the maze
And smell the vines of ancient Crete
And dream of how it might have been.


J. W. Waterhouse, "Ariadne" (1898)

I think a dolphin long ago
Swam into Amnissos Cave
When the seas swept higher than now
(but gently like the beat of women dancing),
Swinging him to the hidden place
Where Ariadne kept her secret snake.

Libation from that ancient intercourse
Seeped from the island cave
Throughout the labyrinth of time and space
Threading the rigid world of Then and Now

So that whenever we may live or where,
A pathway may be dimly sensed
Or followed in the lightning flash of dream
Back to that source and spring of certainty,
Giving unspoken knowledge of each other
    And ourselves.

—Mary Reid (1953-2003)