Exams and Revision – Don’t Be a Sheep
It’s that time of year again… the lengthy period of pre-exam revision which I imagine a lot of final year students out there, for one, are quite fed up of now, if they’re anything like I was. It’s obviously important to wheel out the age-old and basic advice regarding putting the hours in and delaying your life, effectively, until the pen goes down at the end of the final paper, but there are also other handy tips that perhaps aren’t quite so well-publicised.
We all study, learn and revise in different and unique ways, and like so many other things about the university experience in general, this period of your life is the time to start feeling properly confident in being yourself, in this case in terms of expressing your own ways of learning and thinking (if you haven’t already during school). Some students may prefer to work in groups or pairs as they revise, sharing information and helping each other, and that of course is recommended as much as any other more solitary technique would be. However, even if this is how you prefer to revise, I feel it is also important to be just that little bit selfish and ignorant of other students’ learning too; to a certain degree, it is every student for themselves.
A lot of university courses have minimal contact time with lecturers and other academic staff, placing the emphasis on you as the student to learn for yourself most of the time, utilising the manpower available to guide you in your learning, rather than having them simply spoon-feeding you with basic and standardised resources and information. If your course is one of these kinds, then as you have progressed through you are almost certain to have picked up little snippets of information that other students haven’t, or to have learned about certain topics or ideas in more depth than any of your fellow students. You may also have unique experiences from your own life that you can relate to your study and put to good use. It’s very important to retain some of this for yourself and not share it.
I’m sure we’ve all been nervously loitering outside the exam hall in the seemingly endless minutes before we are called in, trying desperately to retain a level head and to remember what we have learned, only to deal with the irritating student who wants you to tell them all about this theory or that concept; or, worse, who goes to extraordinary lengths to tell the whole world what they think it means, or about the unique things they have learned in some kind of peculiar academic bicep-flexing. The kind of person who can make you doubt what you’ve learned and risk frazzling your mind into blankness. Remain in your own zone and ignore them.
What’s far more important in a university exam, whether before or during, is to explain something in your own unique way (unless you are doing a degree that requires indisputable answers of course). There is no such thing as a ‘stock’ answer, particularly in essay-based subjects. No such thing as peer pressure either. A lot of exam questions are open-ended enough that they can be tackled from several different angles or approaches without ever being the ‘wrong’ answer. As long as your arguments are based on sound logic that relates to the question, you can say pretty much anything. What your mate sat at the desk next to you is writing is irrelevant – they may know different things to you or have a different approach to answering the same question, but it doesn’t mean their answer is better than yours.
To get top marks it’s very important to show evidence of unique wider reading and further learning, and to demonstrate a high level of critical thinking by taking the time and effort to come at a question from a slightly unconventional theoretical angle. It makes a marker who’s read through tens of scripts which all pretty much say the same generic thing wake up and pay attention; if you can make that person think “well that’s a different and interesting way of looking at it”, then so long as you’ve actually answered the question and based your arguments on solid reasoning, then chances are you’re quids in for a good grade.