Know Your Limits

(sorry, another exam post. They’re kinda on my mind at the moment)

I spend my time revising these days; and as much as I’d like to plough through fourteen hours of work a day, every day for the sake of grades, I know that this is both impossible, and probably won’t help my results too much.

It’s impossible because we, like Alfa Romeos, are not machines. The best part of our brains is that they can adapt to new and different things, which has the annoying side-effect that we become distracted almost by nature, because when you have a mind capable of thinking of more than Old English vocab, it’s hard to put blinkers on it and make it think only of Old English vocab. And trying to stick to a stupidly ambitious schedule just results in failure, and a lingering sense of defeat and unpreparedness is the last thing you want in an exam.

This is the first reason why you should probably ease up a little the night before a test, for the sake of your mark. The other is that, because the very concept of an ‘exam’ is designed by Satan himself, exams spend a few hours to test your knowledge of years’ worth of work. As a result, you can’t hope to display all of that knowledge in those hours – so don’t kill yourself over learning it all – and it’s those three hours that are the most important individual period of time in determining your grade. I see your performance in those three hours of equal, and perhaps even greater, importance to your final grade, because exams test how well you can do exams with a few bits of contextual knowledge thrown in, and are a fundamentally poor way of measuring long-term memory and actual comprehension.

As a result, I’ve been focussing more on the exam itself than the prior knowledge in the last few years, spending more time staying relaxed, well-fed and with plenty of sleep, than dismissing two meals a day for the sake of some extra notes. In year 11, I got eight A*s and three As, but two of the As were in my two strongest subjects; by year 13, I got an A* and As, with the A* being in my beset subject English. Obviously this is a small sample size, and there are a million other variables involved, but a greater emphasis on calmness in an exam than a mind full of useless shite would appear to be more effective at maximising the things I’m good at. And considering there’s no part of this degree that I actively dislike (Tristram Shandy‘s annoying, but not without charm), I’m going to use this method of preparation, and see how it goes.

But I’m aware of the need for balance; I can’t just play Frozen Cortex, be totally relaxed the night before and be in a position to write lots, but have nothing to write about. I’ve revised quotes, because they’re the bases of arguments, but not whole essays because that’s too much brainpower for ideas I should be smart enough to construct on the spot; I’ve learned Old English vocab because there’s no way of doing an Old English translation without it, but I’ve not learned all 115 lines of The Wanderer because we’ll only be tested on 25.

I know my limits for studying, both in terms of what I can do – learn 200 words of Old English – and what I can’t – learn an entire poem and period of literary history. I’m not underprepared, nor am I swamped in quotes and ideas to the point that they’re tangling into a single incoherent argument, rather than the separate, more nuanced ideas I should really be operating with. The only problem with the great experiment that is the end-of-year exam is that we have to wait a bit for our results; I’m genuinely quite interested to see if this balance of preparation works.

And there’s the other bitch that comes with examsperiments; the results can technically be a “failure”, and you’ll have to repeat your methodology.


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