Being Over-Prepared

(and I’m still number one on Google!)

I am aware that the concept suggested in that title will be largely irrelevant to the youth out there, whose idea of a ‘productive’ day likely consists of waking up before four in the afternoon on weekends (at least it is for me), but I am concerned that I’m preparing too much for exams this summer.

I’ve done all of my revision notes, an exercise I usually leave for the last month because the act of writing them helps me remember concepts, and there’s still three months to go; I’m running out of History essay questions already, to the extent that I’ve had to ask my bewildered teacher for more, and I have (relatively) so much free time in the evenings that I can write blog posts about (relatively) how much free time I have in the evenings.

This, of course, leads to the fear that I’m not doing enough, that at the final hurdle of my secondary education, before I go on to do nothing but eat wallpaper and discuss Chaucer with other borderline-homeless young people for three years, I’m gonna come up just short.

But then I realise that my own experiences of ‘revision’ have never been the same: in year ten, I didn’t take my eleven subjects seriously; in year eleven, I worked to make up for the previous year’s youthful negligence; last year my life was dominated by the need to revise of an ill-taken French AS, that reduced my English revision time down to a quick skim-read of a Yeats poem an hour before the exam; as a result, I’ve never before experienced specifically revising for three difficult subjects, all of which I enjoy.

In fact, I’ve probably done more work for English this year already than I did at all last year, because of those damn French exams; but regardless of how much time I’ve actually spent on my various subjects, it never seems to be enough, perhaps because, out of desperation and a lack of tangible exams, I compare my work habits to an idealised figure who learns the formation of a Tropical Revolving Storm with all the intensity and focus of a Hitler speech.

But I didn’t write this to guilt you into doing some revision, nor to brag about my ‘excessive’ working habits (they’re excessive almost to the point of practical disadvantage, as loads of people have done less than me and got better grades), I want to determine to what extent the fear of excessive over-preparation can undermine that very preparation; basically, if I do too much work, would the resulting feeling of confidence bordering on complacency actually result in a lower grade than if I had done less work?

I feel a lot of this is dependent on how important ‘confidence’ is to my exams which, for me, is a great deal; I reckon that a confident person with a limited base of knowledge will get a better grade than a genius with the self-belief of Eeyor. Ultimately, exams test how well you can do exams, not how well you know a subject, and I feel that confidence going into an exam will have a great bearing on the final outcome.

To be honest, this is why I make as many revision notes as I do; I don’t actually know every concept in my 10,000-word Lear study guide, but the completing that damn thing made me feel like an expert on the text, a feeling which will greatly influence my exam performance: suddenly, that point that’s pushing it a bit doesn’t seem so risky, because I think I know this text inside out, and so can more effectively convince myself that no, that point is totally justified.

But confidence alone can’t get a decent grade; the example I gave there, and indeed all examples I can think of, consist of confidence being used to spin a point or idea – the writing down of revised content – into a justifiable one; if I have no knowledge of the text, I won’t have any points full stop, that my confidence can justify and help me develop.

This is made even more confusing by the fact that I’m predicted an A* in English; I’ve been taught to take for granted that all of my points will make logical and textual sense, and so I should only really be focusing on the complex development bit, the part that is determined by my confidence. However, in last year’s English exam, due to a lack of revision hours, I had no point for the Dorian Gray paper, coming up with a crappy topic sentence that ran like ‘Dorian, himself, is ironic’, a series of words more devoid of meaning and intelligence than this piece of garbage.

Essentially, in theory I should be focusing on boosting my confidence to get an A*, but based on past experience, I need to put hours into revision to ensure I can make valid enough points to get a B.

But I’m reaching the same solution to this problem as I reach for all work-related questions: do more work. Extra revision guides and papers will give me the theoretical confidence to get that UCL place I probably deserve, and they will give me the raw ideas needed to construct the coherent and logical arguments that, by themselves, should get me decent, if unspectacular, marks at the end of it.

And, with that, I’m going to do an English essay.

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