How to Revise
Students often worry about what to revise. The more lectures and seminars you have attended and the more course material you have read the easier this will be but even if you’re approaching your exams in last minute panic mode, there are simple approaches which can make your working time more effective.
What should you revise? I’d love to say, ‘everything, in depth’ but let’s be realistic.
Look at course notes, handouts etc to identify key themes in different texts. What issues have your lecturers raised? There are usually clues in lectures & seminars! Certain issues will keep cropping up ie they’re worth looking at.
Above all: keep calm & keep revising.
If you find yourself trying to force what you know to fit the question, you’re probably straying into irrelevance. Don’t start with what you know and try to write it down come what may, start with the question and then answer it. You may feel that it’s tragic not to let the examiner see that you know a lot about another subject but we cannot give marks for irrelevant material, however interesting it may be.
Read the question and answer it. Be brutal with yourself so that your examiner won’t have to be!
Quick test for relevance: if I had to defend this material in court, would I be confident in front of the judge? If I had to take part in a debate on television, would I choose to use these points?
Break down questions into blocks
This helps to structure the essay and makes sure you deal with each part of the question. I would suggest that you underline key phrases / words and then keep glancing at them to check that you’re on track.
eg. Are Chaucer’s characters all caricatures?
The question has three ‘blocks’: ‘characters’, ‘all’ and ‘caricatures’.
If you find it helpful to write a quick plan, take 5 mins and jot down relevant points, textual references or quotations in shortened form. An exam essay plan should help you to remember things and stay relevant. If you write everything out in full for your plan you are wasting valuable time.
Quotations and Textual Reference
Quotations and textual reference are both forms of textual evidence, which is vital in supporting your argument. ‘I feel’ or ‘I think’ isn’t an argument, it’s an unsupported assertion. ‘Defoe argues’, ‘The text demonstrates’ + quotation / detailed textual reference is an argument. You should aim to support each of your points with textual evidence.
A quotation is when you can remember the exact words (in the right order!) from a text.
Textual reference is when you refer in detail to a relevant bit of the text. Be careful not to simply paraphase and please don’t just tell the story! The key is to refer in detail to the relevant bits of the text and to demonstrate why they’re significant.
Write an essay on any one of the following themes in two or more of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Measure For Measure and The Tempest: nature, power, law, dreams, sexuality, hypocrisy, magic, justice, innocence.
It’s obvious but make sure you read the question carefully: it requires a discussion of one theme in two plays.
Write on vision or on memory in Edward Thomas, with reference to at least three of his poems.
ie. one subject in at least three (but hopefully more!) poems.
See the blog for posts on how to do well in exams.