Diary Of A Third Year: 'I haven't picked up a pen since I last did an exam'
Thursday 13 May 2010
The return of sunshine and summer brings sadness for third years. It means final exams are only a few weeks away and every waking hour is spent in the library. This wouldn't be so bad if Sheffield University's library didn't overlook a park filled with first and second years enjoying picnics and drinking cider. Revision is often interrupted by whoops of joy, or a Frisbee crashing into the library's windows.
The library changes during revision time. It's normally a catwalk, as students do their best to pull off study-chic – managing the fine line between looking attractive and intelligent, without appearing nerdy. During the exam period such aesthetic concerns go out the window. A combination of warm weather and a shoddy air conditioning system means that the ,students look like they're off to the beach, in shorts and flip-flops.
The library becomes a tip, with cups of coffee and chocolate wrappers scattered everywhere as students are simply too busy to put anything in a bin. One shelf, in particular, has books strewn all over the place: it's the shelf containing folders of previous exam papers. Rather than learning everything on the course, students simply devote a few hours to going through previous papers, looking for topics that always come up and questions that are likely to appear in their exam. You won't be asked about every topic, so why bother learning them all? It's far easier to simply play the percentages, revise a few topics well and hope for the best.
Cynics say that university is all about working hard, 12 hours a day, seven days a week – for four weeks a year. Those four weeks have begun. But university assessment is not all just exams. Barring Oxbridge, few universities judge their students solely on their final papers. The exams I will take at the end of May account for around 30 per cent of my degree. There's pressure – but not as much as there would be if I knew I was one duff paper away from a failed degree.
Even so, revision is a must. Timetables should be carefully drawn up and scrapped when your university decides to move your exams forward a week. My room is littered with spider diagrams, revision cards and notes of factoids that might wake the examiner from their marking-induced stupor.
Despite having sat exams every year for the best part of a decade, revision is still something of a mystery to me. At GCSE and A-Level there are revision guides to lead you. At university, you're on your own, with only your shoddy notes for guidance. Notes that made perfect sense when written down hurriedly in a lecture make much less sense three months later. Often, it's not even a case of "revision", but a case of learning for the first time.
The hardest part of revision is learning how to write again – not learning how to write lively, analytical prose, but how to physically form letters with a pen, rather than keyboard. Because I type my lecture notes, I have barely picked up a pen since I last did an exam, in spring 2009. Exams are easy – it's the writing that's hard.
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