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Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Revision/Exam tips.

EXAM TIME rolls around again: Just a few exam/revision tips from this old academic here which some of you young’uns might find helpful in this time of need.


1. BREAK IT DOWN. Your memory is a pretty good thing - it's just the bit where you have to train it to recall the relevant information that a lot of people struggle with it's fine getting it in there, it's the getting it back out that is the problem - you need to familiarise yourself with the text as much as you can and take your notes and keep breaking them down into key themes and motifs.

2. CONDENSE Break these into smaller and smaller chunks and then to single words, it trains your brain to work like a spider diagram. The info will be in there and the key word will automatically trigger the rest of the info you need to fire off in your head.


1. SLEEP. Good night's sleep works wonders.

2. HYDRATE. Brain is mostly water, so if it's dried out it won't work properly. Don't drink so much you spend the entire exam hopping up and down bursting for the loo though. Caffeine may be good for the initial burst, but it also dehydrates you, so water is best.

3. BRAINSTORM: You're allowed to scribble on the exam papers. When you've chosen your question, quickly bulletpoint everything you can remember - with your key words. With English, the first thing I always did was write down the names of the characters because knowing what i'm like I'd be making a really good point and then have a complete brainfart when it came to remembering the name of the person who said it. it's also good because the one-word triggers you've got from condensing all that info and scribbled down can really help when you're a little stuck because you've been focussing so much on what you're saying that you've forgotten what else to say.

4.PLAN: your teacher has probably already drilled this into your head, but when you get in, look at the time you have, look at how many words roughly are expected of you / the percentage, and allocate time accordingly, AND STICK TO IT. Doing this also makes you much stricter with yourself about what you have to say, because it's easy to waffle on for ages about something you know, but while waffling means you're getting a lot of words done, it doesn't necessarily mean you're answering the question. So basically just:

  • Keep it timed
  • Keep it relevent
  • Keep it concise

  (I just had to teach my ex's mum all this because she's doing a course at uni now and didn't know ANY of this stuff, so just thought I'd cover my bases here)

5.  QUOTES: The thing most people at school panicked most about when it came to our English exams was remembering the quotes. The thing is, it doesn't matter if you can't remember the exact quote. You don't have to write it - in fact, if you know you can't remember it, don't even bother trying to write it down.. AS a quote. You can work around it. Instead of:

Austen introduces Pride and Prejudice by saying 'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in the possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife'

you can say

Austen introduces Pride and Prejudice by putting forth the assumption that all single men with good fortunes are looking for wives.

It's always a good idea to have at least a couple of quotes memorised, but often, providing you remember the general gist of the quote you can usually get around it by rephrasing your sentence a little bit like I did above so you're saying what you want to say but without having to use the precise quote. it just takes some of the stress out of pressuring yourself to remember everything.

6. ENJOY. I know it sounds insane, but have fun with it. I know exams are important, but the more you stress about it, the more pressure you put on yourself and the more likely you are to stuff up and forget things. You don't HAVE to agree with the question - if the question is 'to what extent do you agree that..' you CAN say 'I DON'T agree..' as long as you can make your argument and back up your points, you'll be fine.

In school, I'll never forget one of my a-level exam questions:

"To what extent do you agree that Brian Friel's 'Translations' is a direct attack on the British Colonialisation of Ireland?'

I was like ...w...t...f. Instead of going 'oh my god!?!?' I just thought screw it - I'll write what I want! I basically wrote:

I don't agree that 'Translations' is an attack the colonialisation of Ireland - the entire  play is about the destruction of language and the loss of identity with Ireland serving as a backdrop. It's not such an attack on the colonialisation itself (although there are references to violence between the Irish and English), but rather a reflection of the power which language has to unite or destroy a nation, and 'Translations' demonstrates how rapidly a nation can disintegrate when its language is taken away.

I finished half an hour early, only wrote about 3 sides of A4 whereas everyone else had written 9 and I came out thinking 'well... better put the money aside for the retake of that when I get home'. Turns out I was one of only 3 people to get full marks. Guess I argued my case pretty well.

Hopefully some of this stuff helped and you can apply it to some of your  exams :)



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