English Exams – Lost in the Books

If there is one thing students tend to agree on it is a dislike for exams. Some students experience exam stress and anxiety. When I started with AU, I recall going in to take my first exam: English 211. When I’d had to prepare for exams before it was pretty straightforward; there were either facts to memorize or terms to know. I was stumped when it came to studying for ENGL 211; how was I supposed to memorize the plethora of poems, poets, and themes? How was I going to identify a section of a poem, in context with the rest of the poem, and know who wrote it? I was stumped, it was simply too much.

Since then, I have written many English exams. As such, I have come up with a study plan for the overwhelming amount of information an English student is expected to remember. There are two key points: First, you can’t cram for an English exam, and second, studying begins when you crack open the first unit. When it comes to exam time, I tend to give myself about a week to “study” I do not rely on this time to cram in information; rather, this time is spent refreshing my memory about characters, authors, and poets that occurred in the beginning of the course. I say “refreshing” because what I believe is most critical to doing well in an English exam (and I am sure this translates to others) is to consider the exam from the very beginning. As I work through the course, I will pick out key elements of certain authors and poets, what do they do that sets them apart from others, how can I use this to connect the author to the work? I consider the study questions, though I would be lying if I said I answered them all, but I read and consider them, consider the answers, and if there is a question that I do not understand, or a theme I missed, I will go back and gain a better understanding of it: if this question comes up on the exam, how comfortable am I in answering it?

This is not to suggest that I do not stress out about exams. Only that I have come to the understanding if I skip over a study question or unit without fully comprehending it, there is no way I am going to go back at the end of it all, a week or two before my exam, and understand it. There is far too much reading involved. I have found that to cram for an English exam would mean rereading every assigned reading. Readings that took me a couple of months to read in the first place. So, it is not going to happen. I have come to accept this. Which means that, come exam time, I know how ready I am. I still stress, and I still obsessively refresh to see if my mark has been posted, but I know at the end that I am as ready as I will be, and cramming will not help me. After all, how do you cram-study six novels and a multitude of short readings? You don’t.

My week before an exam usually consists of procrastinating on studying by working on other courses. Then, two days before, I refresh myself on characters names, author’s names, and major themes. I will read through the study guide, I will not reread any of the works, I might flip through the pages, but that is the extent of it. At my invigilation centre I have two options, I can write at 9am or 1pm. I always select 1pm, not so I can have more study time, but so I can get up, have a coffee, do a round of yoga, or go for a run, and prepare myself for the exam (blank paper, roughly a thousand pens, and a bottle of water.) I have found that this routine allows me to enter the exam more relaxed, which means I am able to focus on the exam rather than my nerves.

This method may not work for everyone. I think every student finds their own method. But, I think it is important to remember that in an English exam, there is not a single right answer (unless it is asking who the author is.) You are expected to interpret a work, to show your understanding of themes and your ability to critically analyze a piece. For myself, these are not things which I will learn in a late night study session, but things I learn through the course.

Deanna Roney is an AU student who loves adventure in life and literature

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