THE HERTFORD GUIDE FOR ENGLISHERS BY ENGLISHERS
HERTFORD GUIDE ADVICE FOR ENGLISH FINALISTS PREFACE ‘This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here!’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’ (Aaron Sorkin, THE WEST WING)* This Guide is designed to give a helping hand to Finalists studying English Literature and Language at Hertford College, Oxford. The Guide began on a wintry Wednesday afternoon in Homerton, when a third year student asked her college mother what she should bear in mind for Finals. The best answer mustered was: ‘YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW THAT MUCH’. It was therefore felt necessary to seek a second opinion. Good fortune led to the involvement of Emma Smith, who suggested research within the Hertford English Group - an online social network of Alumni. Several pleas, nags, questionnaires, pesterly reminders, spreadsheets, scribblings and creative faff later - the Guide was born. It draws on the collaborative input of a wide range of Hertford Alumni. Like the early modern playwrights, only with less drama. It includes suggestions ranging from the particular and practical to the supportive and sympathetic. Disclaimer. This Guide is not intended as a definitive text on sitting Oxford University English Literature Final Honour Schools examinations. The Guide is one researcher’s interpretation of a variety of experiences. The Guide does not seek to emphasise one way of revising over another, nor does it seek to discourage students from revising in whatever way suits them. It is hoped that there will be something of use for everyone in this Guide. In the unfortunate event that there is not, we nonetheless wish you huge good luck with your exams. Whatever happens to you along the way, remember this: you have good company.
CELIA SMITH (2009-12)
* Sorry, Literature purists, for this televisual borrowing.
Getting Started ............................................................................................... 4 Choosing Topics .............................................................................................. 5
Revision Methods ........................................................................................... 6
Time Management .......................................................................................... 7
Wellbeing .......................................................................................................... 8
Finals Week ....................................................................................................... 9
Case Study - Sam Hawkins ..........................................................................10
Appendix ......................................................................................................... 13
Case Study - Hannah Pollard ...................................................................... 11 Final Words ..................................................................................................... 12
Abstract. This Guide offers advice on revising for English Literature Finals at Oxford University. Thirteen Hertford Alumni were surveyed through an online questionnaire, two were interviewed and all these contributions thereafter summarised by one graduate. The Guide covers the issues of getting started, choosing topics, revision methods, time management, wellbeing and finals week itself. It also has two further sections: miscellaneous advice and an in-depth coverage of two recent graduates. One of the things the guide emphasises is getting enough sleep. However, the Guide’s main conclusion and strongest piece of advice is to do what you alone feel comfortable with; you are not to heed the doings or sayings of others (paradoxical, eh).
CONTRIBUTORS ALUMNI: Georgia Green Jessica Hill Helena Mullineaux Isabel Asquith Phoebe Arnold Hermione Eyre Emily Pugh Eve Jackson Matt Lewin Sam Caleb Sam Hawkins Hannah Pollard & 2 Anonymous
ILLUSTRATIONS: Kate Beaton (4, 8) My Ideal Bookshelf Web (5) Things Organized Neatly Web (6, 7) Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Decine and Fall’ (Penguin) (12) RESEARCH, EDITING & CREATIVE: Celia Smith Adobe InDesign CS6 Published December 2012
GETTING STARTED HOW DO YOU START? WHEN? The following pages contain direct answers to a survey about Finals, which was organised by the editor and answered by 15 Alumni (referred to here as Englishers). The comments are answers to questions subtitled at the top of each page. Remember that these are merely individual opinions. They should not make you doubt your own work regime.
SUMMARY Start date. Englishers tend to begin revising in the Easter Vacation (the holiday after Hilary term). Some Englishers take time off between the end of their Paper 8 and the beginning of their revision – for example, Sam Caleb, who took a fortnight’s break.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Although Easter is the usual starting point for the vast majority, there is of course no rule on this. A few people start preliminary revision in January, such as Eve Jackson, who used the Christmas vacation to re-read old essays and see where her strengths were. Equally, a small number claim not to start revising properly until much later on. One anonymous contributor states that s/he did not start revising properly until Trinity term.
Eve Jackson (2006-9): Christmas hols. My first job was to read all my essays and start thinking about which texts and subjects were my favourite, which essays I got the best comments on and which ideas stood out. I also re-read a couple of novels and poems, and began re-reading Troilus and Cresseyde. Sam Caleb (2008-11): 2 weeks after the Hilary coursework hand-in. Selected authors and made a rough plan as to what I would (and could) do each week. Then read some books I knew would be useful.
How to begin. There are a range of ways that previous Englishers have tackled beginning revision. Some choose to start with scheduling, others with reading or re-reading texts, others with re-writing past essays and others with thinking about their main topics.
Georgia Green (2000-3): Easter holidays. I began with a massive timetable. I decided how much time I had, based on 6 hour days (not including lunch or breaks) then what proportion of that time to spend on each paper (according to strengths and weaknesses, I spent most time on my best and my weakest papers).
It might be worth thinking about whether you’re a person who likes to go straight in with a project plan, or whether you prefer to do some background reading beforehand.
Anon (1997-2000): In the holidays after Hilary term 2000 I redid essays from the Second Year which hadn’t been very good and also wrote new ones on texts I preferred to the ones the tutors had selected for us. I pretty much had to redo most of the work for Paper 5 and Paper 6. Interestingly, these were the two papers I got the best marks in. The essays for the other papers were OK, I just supplemented them with extra material. In the final term, I tackled the topics I felt most confident with.
CHOOSING TOPICS WHAT/WHO DO YOU SELECT? ANY GAPS?
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Number of topics. Englishers tend to go for a similar number of topics. Most choose to study 3 topics per paper, though occasionally people aim for 4/5 (this doesn’t always last for long). It is worth bearing in mind that within each topic, you will probably need at least 2-3 texts to discuss.
Matt Lewin (2006-9): I started out learning 4 authors/topics per paper, although towards the end when I got tired this dropped to 3. I remembered alarmingly little from my previous 2 years of study, so effectively had to start again. I even re-read or skim-read the texts all over again, making new notes. It was actually a real pleasure to re-read, with improved understanding.
Selecting topics. You can choose topics in a number of ways. Some of the factors are: interest, enjoyment, strength and/or strategy. Many Englishers choose topics according to their favourite essays already written. They also select topics according to how confident they feel about past essays. Other Englishers make selections according to interest in a topic regardless of having written a good essay on it previously. A number of Englishers make selections according to past papers - looking at recurrent topics from previous exams and basing their revision on these instead of their previous essays. Gaps in knowledge. Every Englisher has gaps to fill. Many Englishers start whole topics or papers from scratch. Many find these topics/ papers are the ones they most enjoy revising in the end, or the ones that end up generating the best results. One Englisher specifically encourages you not to be afraid to try something new.
Sam Caleb (2008-11): For authors and topics I tended to think about the essays I’d most enjoyed writing in the past two years. What could make them better? What other authors had I heard of who were similar to the author in focus, or also dealt with the topic in focus? There are always gaps to fill - discovering new stuff to fill these gaps can be a far more beneficial (and fun) way to revise than sticking with old material. Phoebe Arnold (2008-11): I made a list of topics that come up every year for each exam paper then worked out where the holes in my knowledge were (there were many). I would advise people to choose the texts you find interesting - you’re far more likely to write interesting stuff about them. Isabel Asquith (2009-12): Don’t be scared to do a completely new topic, you have time, especially if it’s extra stuff from papers 7/8 that fall into period papers. Anon (1997-2000): I had to redo most of Papers 5/6 but this time I selected topics/authors that I was actually interested in. In Papers 2-4 I chose my best essays and/or those which interested me the most and then supplemented them with extra material. (NB: for further comments, see, p13)
REVISION METHODS WHAT’S YOUR STYLE? POSTERS, POST-ITS?
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Classic method. One way of revising is by writing out All The Notes, followed by consolidated pages. This method also goes hand in hand with reading and re-reading previous/ new texts, taking extra notes and adding them in. The Classic method lends itself well to eventually reducing content down to practice essay plans. (See Lewin, Jackson, Caleb and Hill).
Isabel Asquith (2009-12): Use COLOURED PENS. Also: look at past papers for ideas about question phrasing/flexibility – practice plans rather than timed essays might be more useful and less panic inducing.
Animated method. Another way of revising is to bring text to life with colour, audio or performance elements. Englishers mention colour-coding, creating a contextual timeline, acting out passages of plays and putting quotations on dictaphones. (See Asquith, Arnold and Green).
Georgia Green (2000-3): I made sure I had a ‘secret weapon’ for each topic - a piece of impressive close analysis or a clever point. When studying for the degree I tried to write on something I thought was crucial to understanding an author or topic, so these ‘secret weapons’ were likely to be relevant to most questions. I identified 3 quotes per topic, and learnt these with flash cards and dictaphone, usually the night before the exam!
Gobbets & quotations. A key part of revision is being able to recall quotations, passages or scene structures - verbatim. A majority of Englishers use flashcards for this, though some also use mneumonics. Two Englishers bring up the point of ‘gobbets’ or ‘secret weapons’ - not just a learnt quotation, but a learnt piece of detailed analysis/practical criticism that can be inserted into an essay. (See Mullineaux and Green.)
Sam Caleb (2008-11): Reading and reading around my chosen areas. Consolidated notes into 2-4 pages per exam question, clearly sectioned and with grab-quotes. Then re-read these. Did some essays plans. Tried to do practice papers and failed so didn’t bother.
Practice essays. All Englishers are aware of practice essays, though many Englishers find them overwhelming and unhelpful. One Englisher suggests practice essay plans might be a good place to begin rather than full-on essays.
Phoebe Arnold (2008-11): Bullet points, re-reading, writing out quotes and highlighting most important ones, reading a few extra critical texts. Also I recommend practice papers and making a timeline of the last millennium and writing all your texts on it - fun and interesting.
Jessica Hill (2003-6): Sheets and sheets of notes. Quotes on flashcards. Mini essay structures, but didnt write many full essays.
(NB: for further comments, see p13)
TIME MANAGEMENT PAPER v. TOPIC? HOW DID YOU MANAGE TIME?
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
By paper. Englishers can divide time per paper, then work through each one for a number of days before moving on to the next. This allows students to assign more time to a weak paper whilst maintaining equal amounts of time for the rest. Working by paper also allows students to fully immerse themselves in each paper’s historical/literary context.
Anon (1997-2000): I forced myself to revise a section of Troilus and Criseyde every morning right after breakfast. That took about 10 days. I always focused on that in the morning as I really wasn’t keen on this aspect of the course and needed to be ‘fresh’ to cope with going through them. I also spent this time in my room as there were no distractions like in the library. After lunch and in the evenings I revised the other papers, usually in the college library.
By topic. Englishers can also divide time per topic, with 2 or 3 different topics from different papers studied per day. This method allows students to re-visit topics multiple times, with the repetitive aspect aiding memorisation. Working by topic also means each paper has been covered by the end of the revision process - a flaw of the ‘by paper’ method is that, if you don’t stick to your structure strictly, you may end up pressed for time on the last paper(s) you have timetabled.
Georgia Green (2003-6): I used the principle of spiralling over each paper repeatedly rather than finishing each paper revision chronologically. I did the most mundane work (translations) at the time of day I had least energy. I used a timer on my phone, and switched it off during breaks, so the 6 hours a day really were 6 hours of concentration. Eve Jackson (2006-9): 9 hours revision per day, 3 hours per paper, 1 topic per 3 hour session. Divided my time 9-12, 1-4, 5-9 with dinner in the middle.
Commentary texts. Some Englishers have a specific way of timetabling their commentary revision - some devote a specific amount of time to studying their two texts in one chunk and others target prime working hours everyday.
Matt Lewin (2006-9): I counted back the number of weeks till the beginning of exams. There were 12. This meant I could spend two one-week periods revising for each paper. I then broke down those two weeks into two to three day periods, during which I devoted myself to one author or topic, taking my cue from the way in which they were presented on the course - e.g. Renaissance travel writing, Milton and Marvell, etc.
Self-monitoring, spaces and intensity. Some Englishers use timers to record the amount of time they actually spend working. Others use specific places for studying, depending on their need for focus and the task at hand. Englishers aim to work in short intense sessions rather than ‘lethargic library marathons’. They also see frequent/regular breaks as essential to revision.
(NB: For further comments, see p14)
WELLBEING HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR SPIRITS UP?
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Sleep. The unanimous advice by Englishers is to get enough shuteye. Sleep deprivation is not an index of hark work.
Matt Lewin (2006-9): I got out of bed as soon as my alarm went off, which was early. I cycled up to the College library and was always the first one in (just before 8am). I then took two hours off for lunch, and tended to finish around 4-5pm. I then didn’t do any more work. I found strict dividing lines between work and social life very helpful, as well as having confidence in what I had achieved that day. The best thing was chatting about the weird ideas I had cooked up as potential answers for the exams. I also got into the habit of going out for hour long runs with a friend, leaving the house at about 11pm. We shared ideas all the way and it felt amazing to stretch my legs and clear my head after such intense sedentary study.
Eating/Exercise. The vast majority of English students advise that you eat well/enough. Many Englishers also recommend taking up some form of exercise, if you don’t already. Activities like running or squash can clear your head after a day in the library and they help with sleeping. Change of scene. You are also advised not to revise in the same place all the time - at least not in the early phases of revision. If you can manage it without feeling isolated, try a mixture of locations e.g. your room; the college library; libraries that don’t contain other English students or libraries which require a brief walk (e.g. the American Institute, the Taylor Institute, the Sackler Library, the SSL). The transition from one place to another reminds you of the change from work to break, thereby emphasising the importance of both. Socialising. Most Englishers emphasise making time to see your friends. At mealtimes, during exercise, in the evenings, and/or at the pub. Some advise avoiding the topic of revision; others recommend talking through problems or ideas together. One Englisher warns that socialising with competitive finalists can be stressful, so spend time with people who you find a positive influence - be they people on/off your course, in/out of your college or in/out of your year.
Phoebe Arnold (2008-11): Running, seeing my friends, sleep, cooking, alcohol. Jessica Hill (2003-6): Tried to jog occasionally. Every lunch we did the Times crossword together. I still went to the bar for one drink every night to avoid getting too stressed and didn’t work after 8pm. Hermione Eyre (1998-2001): Never skimp on sleep. It isn’t worth it. Getting three hours sleep a night for a month or so served me very badly.You gain a few extra scraps of knowledge by staying up late and getting up early to cram quotes, but you loose mental agility - which is far more useful for Final exams. (NB: for further comments, see p14)
FINALS WEEK COPING MECHANISMS IN THE THICK OF IT?
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Eating before exams. Although you may feel nervous and too sick to eat before your exams, you are advised to eat breakfast if you can. Exams are tiring and you need the energy. Your sugar levels will also drop around mid-morning, which makes you very hungry all of a sudden in the middle of your exam (very distracting). A bottle of water during exams is also helpful.
Isabel Asquith (2009-12): (1) Use Port Meadows (for running or walking). (2) Move all your revision notes of of your revision file after each exam. (3) The weekend before the final paper is really useful for learning the final paper. (4) Don’t take the exam paper out with you, or if you do, don’t look at it. Ever. (5) If you’re crying after the exam, you will definitely be in good company. Have something enery boosting ready in your pidge so that you can remember you are a competent nice person. (6) Do nice things for other people after your exams. Englishers are in a very good position in going first.
Decompression after exams. Englishers advise a break after your exams before returning to study in the afternoon. Different Englishers do different things - some take a long lunch with friends, others watch a short TV program, go for a run, or phone up supportive family members/friends. Relaxing in the evenings. Different Englishers anticipate a different amount of additional revision needed in the afternoon before each exam. Some anticipate little work other than memorising quotations, and therefore recommend watching films or listening to music before going to bed. Others anticipate a greater degree of work, but nonetheless warn against learning too many new things. All recommend getting your sleep. Routine. English Finals occur in one block, which allows you to create a strong routine. Find habits that work for you and stick to your processes. Even if you feel an exam went terribly, your routine will help you feel as though you are in control, thereby aiding confidence.
Matt Lewin (2006-9): Routine: exam in the morning, leisurely lunch then an afternoon sat on the bed memorising quotes learned for the next day’s exam. Because exams were on consecutive days it was easy to create a routine. Anon (1997-2000): I remember getting all my stuff for the exam ready the night before so I wouldn’t get stressed looking for my gown and hat. I tried to eat a good dinner each night and made sure my alarm was set. I always had something to eat before the exam in the morning and used to meet my friends to walk to the exam schools. After each exam I made sure to have a short break before revising. (NB: for further comments, see p15
CASE STUDY SAM HAWKINS (2008-11) Sam is a former Hertford Englisher and current Account Executive at a London-based corporate PR firm. He knows about Virginia Woolf and used to be the editor of the Cherwell newspaper. As an undergraduate Sam was known for his ability to turn his hand to anything and succeed - be it rowing, reporting or cooking. He has this to say: I’m pretty particular about how I have my notes, so once I’d picked my topics or authors per paper, I typed up everything I needed to know in one document for each topic. So (for me) about four/five documents per paper. Then I had one massive pile of documents, which I think I’d got complete by roughly a month before finals started. And I knew that if I knew all that I’d be OK. Within each topic, I tried to have a number of ways of writing about it - probably three roughly prepared essays that I wanted to write, but a lot of the ideas and content overlapped between them. So if I had three arguments/ ideas for each of four topics for each paper, I had however many essay ideas in total that I had to get my head around. There’s a whole debate about whether you should do the standard topics well or try to push beyond that into ‘original’ stuff. To be honest I was so far behind when I started revising properly that I was just trying desperately to be able to do the basics properly, I found practice essays so helpful. I started off writing them more or less untimed on topics I’d chosen, then started doing them under timed conditions but still choosing the questions, then finally got down to choosing a whole past paper at random and doing it all in the right amount of time. Only did a couple of those full paper practices, though - but I did do loads and loads of plans, where I’d pick a random past paper and do reasonably detailed essay plans for three questions. The single biggest thing which saved my degree was writing down the actual time I spent working. I’m very good at going to the library, doing some work, then having an internet break, then reading the Guardian, then a bit more work... So I think I’ve done an eight hour day and actually done four hours of
work. In January I started writing down the time I started each stint of work and the time I stopped, even just to get a book or go to the toilet, so I knew precisely how much I’d done. The self-monitoring did get a bit overwhelming because I’m a bit too competitive with myself. Once it was all so exactly recorded, I started trying to push myself to do more, or at least to reach my target on days when I would probably have benefited more from having a break. But, on balance, it worked for me - simply because I have a stronger tendency to slack off than to over-do it if I don’t monitor and compete with myself. In terms of how many weeks/days per paper/ topic: during the Easter holiday I had something like two days per topic, or roughly a week per paper. And then I had about a day per topic from the end of the holidays to the start of finals. As for final words of advice... Don’t go anywhere near Piers Plowman. Throw your copy in the bin now. Not worth it. Do try to read Troilus and Criseyde. It’s not that bad and actually quite funny, and I found it made a big difference in a paper where it’s relatively easy to do well. FRESH AIR is massively important. Go for walks/ice creams/pub/running/whatever. Otherwise you’ll want to jump off a tall building before long. We had a few get-togethers with all of us, partly to moan and despair, but also to share all our thoughts/books/approaches, etc. They were really useful - maybe they only worked so well because we were such a close group anyway, but maybe worth suggesting. All will be fine, you just have to get your head
3 down, do a decent number of hours a day and get through it.
CASE STUDY HANNAH POLLARD (2008-11) Hannah is a former Hertford Englisher and current Masters student at Oxford University. She knows about early modern theatre and is the editor of a young writers’ magazine. As an undergraduate Hannah was renowned for being a nocturnal worker, though she has now hung up her guerilla armour and is proudly diurnal. She has this to say: Don’t open your essay with someone else’s words unless absolutely necessary. Don’t open it by talking about authorship or dates unless you’re going to make something on it. Open with a statement of your own critical stance. Be bold!
CONTENT Interpretation is king. Rather than gathering vast reams of material, practise spinning quotations and examples in different directions. This will also help with structure, as you can swing out in multiple directions for one examples. It’s also more efficient.
WORK STYLE Working when you’re exhausted is pointless. This is the complete reverse of essay-writing, when what matters is on the page - for revision, what matters is in your head, so there’s no point staying up till the wee hours. I am noctural by nature but un-vampired myself for finals by forcing myself to go running every morning, and I think it was the best thing I did. (Exercise is genuinely a good thing and it will help you sleep. I am usually a mortal enemy of exercise so that is sincere advice.)
Don’t learn long quotations. They’re a waste of time and examiners hate to see them. As well as learning short phrases which you can subject to analysis, also learn single important words that you can ‘scatter’ into your essay, making you sound fancy. Remember to think about structure and style as well as quotations. I got hung up on my revision cards with quotations on them, but it’s equally impressive to talk about the patterns, progressions and shape of a text, maybe illustrated with a single word quotation. This is backed up by Emma Smith, who told me that when discussing plays, too many people write about lines and not enough about scenes.
Don’t fret about being original. I was taught a good phrase: ‘best is the enemy of good’. If you attempt to be the next William Empson you’ll just get frustrated - if you attempt to write clearly, comprehensively and engagingly, then something really great will come out of it. Read the Examiner’s Reports early in Hilary term, take a couple of notes about any practical matters, and then never read them again.
Don’t be afraid of showing off in your conclusion. One of my recent essays ended up talking about how several plays interacted together on stage in a ‘danse macabre’. Utter nonsense. But just a little flash of sensationalism to perk up the examiner basically. If you’re not like me and your essays aren’t precariously balanced on skinny legs of rhetoric, then the more grounded equivalent is to glance towards wider debates, and show yourself as contributing towards them.
Write as many practice essays as you can, they really are the best thing you can do, as it’s such a different style from long-essay writing. And if one of them is going dreadfully, just try and finish it even if it’s nonsense. Better to struggle to the end of a dismal argument than give up in the middle - this will train you for the exams when you have no choice but to battle through. See people in the evening if you can. Honestly, it really is about ‘getting away with it’ rather than knowing everything.
FINAL WORDS MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR FINALISTS?
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Have fun and relax (bracket your scepticism for one moment). Englishers remember Finals as being both exciting as well as challenging. They advise you to try and enjoy the exams as much as is possible. After all, English students are strong essay writers by default, so half the work of the exam is done already. A number of Englishers describe how adrenaline kicks in at the last minute, which means you find yourself coming up with new ideas right there in the exam.
Phoebe Arnold (2008-11): (1) Do creative things like knitting, painting and drawing cartoons with your friends. (2) Don’t follow what other people do (be proactive in working out what works for you before you feel compelled to). (3) Hang out with funny people or watch comedy. (4) Don’t let yourself get caught up in a hysterical whirlwind. (5) SLEEP and EAT regularly and enough - basically it’s a slog, and you need to be physically and mentally prepared, because you’ll get tired. (6) Don’t start the exam week tired or undernourished, your brain needs some love. Do some exercise and get into the countryside during Easter. (7) REMEMBER your adrenaline will kick in on the day. (8) MOSTLY don’t give too much weight to what anyone else says - work out what works for you during Easter and then work hard after the vac is over.
Don’t dwell on it. After the exams, it is inevitable that some people will want to discuss what has just happened. You are advised not to spend too much time thinking about mistakes (if you made any), since this will halt your momentum for the coming exams. Remind yourself you did well to get through it, then move on. Keep grounded. Finals are famous for being times of stress and exhaustion for students, especially at Oxford. For many they are a gruelling process. However, many say that their imagination of Finals was far worse than the reality. Losing perspective can lead to hysteria, which stops you thinking critically about your work. Enlist someone who knows you to help keep you from panicking. Do your own thing. Above all other pieces of advice, this piece is emphasised the most. Do not worry about what anyone else is doing. There is no right or wrong way of revising things. Find your own way and keep backing yourself.
Eve Jackson (2006-9): Have fun in the exam - you can be quite imaginative in the way you discuss texts and authors. With all the knowledge in your head you may even find yourself coming up with new ideas in the exam, so just relax and trust yourself! Sam Caleb (2008-11): There is no correct way to revise. Do whatever you feel most comfortable with. Georgia Green (2000-3): Don’t get caught up in the hype, just focus on what you think you need to do, rather than comparing yourself to others.
APPENDIX FURTHER ALUMNI COMMENTS
REVISION METHODS REVISION METHODS
Anon (1998-2001): I revised the stuff I liked. For one paper, where I felt I hadn’t covered anything I liked or was good at during the term, I just started again, going back to some stuff I did for A level and expanding on it. It was a risky strategy and I felt I was underprepared going into the exam but actually that paper ended up being one of my best marks.
Eve Jackson (2006-9): I revised by picking my 3 subjects for each paper, then reading through all my notes and all my essays and picking out the relevant facts, quotes and points. For each topic I wrote out around 5 double sided pages of points and quotes. Once I had my 5 sheets of notes I wrote one double sided condensed essay plan. For each topic I referenced 4-5 texts, and if focusing on 1 author I added in references to 2 other authors for colour and contrast. I memorised around 20 quotes for each topic and tried to use around 10 in each essay. I put the quotes on flashcards and got my boyfriend to test me.
Emily Pugh (2006-9): I looked through my essays and identified which topics/authors I felt most confident about and had the strongest arguments for. I also looked through past papers and thought about which areas came up most frequently. There was one paper I felt was all pretty weak, and I worked quite strategically for that one - using past papers to identify recurring topics/themes and basically writing new essays to fit them, rather than re-jigging my old essays. Jessica Hill (2003-6): I went for my favourites and the ones I found most interesting as you are more likely to be able to write on those. There were massive gaps where I had clearly done the bare minimum of work to get an essay done for a tute, so I did have to start again on some papers. Eve Jackson (2006-9): I picked my favourite subjects and authors, and decided only to study 3 topics for each paper, not 4. I had a few gaps to fill around the edges, but all the major subjects were provided by essays I’d already written. Georgia Green (2000-3): I went with just 3 topics for each paper, and chose to revise the topics I felt I had most interesting things to say about. If I didn’t feel I had interesting things to say, I did some gap filling.
Helena Mullineaux (undisclosed): Make sure that for every text you wish to talk about you have a gobbet (e.g. Act 2 Scene 1) which you can describe, analyse, discuss themes for, reference critics for, etc. It’s just a way of anchoring your point clearly, structuring your essay. It’s helpful if it is important for more than one theme - multipurpose gobbets! Also: regarding techniques on how to remember everything - it helps if it’s not just words on a page - watch it on stage or screen, use audio tapes, rope people in to read through it with you-anything to make it more vivid. Anon (1998-2001): I didn’t ever do practice essays. For some reason they always freaked me out and I could never trick myself into treating it like a proper exam. I always found the process of writing things out in different colours, with highlighters, really helped me remember them. So I used to do multicoloured revision cards with colour coding, pictures and mnemonics.
APPENDIX FURTHER ALUMNI COMMENTS TIME MANAGEMENT TIME MANAGEMENT Sam Caleb (2008-11): Plenty of breaks. Days off. Lie-ins. Work a lot but always try to do it in short intense bursts rather than lethargic library marathons. Jessica Hill (2003-6): I actually got up for breakfast for the first time in 3 years - was in the library by 9, had an hour break for lunch, back in library till dinner, then perhaps an hour or so after dinner. Emily Pugh (2006-9): I drew up a revision timetable during the holidays and stuck to it pretty religiously. I allowed myself extra time for the paper I felt least confident with, because I knew I’d have to do a lot more work to bring it up to scratch with the others. I then split up the rest of the time equally between each paper - I think I gave myself either one or two days for each topic for each paper, with a few days left over to accommodate for any overspill, or to revisit any areas I thought were weak. I basically stuck to it with deviation - I thought that if I spent lots of extra time strengthening certain areas, it would only negatively impact everything else, as I’d have less time to spend on the other papers. Phoebe Arnold (2008-11): Don’t work all hours of the day early on as you might need to work harder later on in the revision period.
WELLBEING WELLBEING Eve Jackson (2006-9): Have meals with friends, eat well, have lots of nice walks, sleep 8 hours a night. Anon (1997-200): Change of scene was important - I did some revision in my room and then some in the college library and then some in the Bod. Walking or cycling between those places was good to get some fresh air. I made sure to eat regularly and properly and took time for (short) coffee breaks. I also tried to avoid people who weren’t coping with the stress - there was another English student in my year who accused other English students of ‘stealing her essay topics’ and hoarded some key texts from the library. I also got a few books to read after finals so I could focus on getting through and on the all the free time I was going to have afterwards. Sam Caleb (2008-11): Have manageable amount of drinks with friends. Plenty of conversation with attempts to steer it away from topic of revision. Walks in Magdalen Deer Park. Read in the (admittedly sporadic) sunshine. Anon (1998-2001): This is the most important piece of advice I have to impart: stay away from other Finalists! Talking about revision doesn’t help you, and sends you into a kind of frenzy where everyone feeds off everyone else’s panic, but also tries to play a kind of crazy ‘but I’m so much worse prepared than you’ one-upmanship game. It’s totally destructive. Always get a good sleep. And have college breakfast each morning. Isabel Asquith (2009-12): During the Easter Vacation: (1) Start some sort of exercise. Hertford has a hilariously grim squash court. (2) Talk to friends on the phone - it’ll be the last time you’re normal and free.
APPENDIX FURTHER ALUMNI COMMENTS FINALS WEEK FINALS WEEK
FINAL WORDS WORDS FINAL
Eve Jackson (2006-9): Watch films every night! Preferably something relevant, ie a version of Hamlet, or a version of Tristram Shandy. Cast your eyes over your notes but don’t try and learn anything new.
Matt Lewin (2006-9): Enjoy it! It turned out to be the most positive intellectual experience of my entire 3 years as an undergraduate. I had a head packed full of fascinating ideas, and I enjoyed re-reading and learning the texts anew.
Sam Caleb (2008-11): Take at least three hours off after every exam before returning to revision. Read something that has nothing to do with the exam before going to bed. Watch Doctor Who.
Anon (1997-2000): Avoid ‘post mortums’ as they do you no favours. You did your best. Move on. Finals are only one of the many situations in life when you are put to the test; it is important to keep a sense of perspective about the experience and try to enjoy (as much as possible!) the intellectual challenge of shaping your knowledge of English Literature to the exam questions on the day.
Jessica Hill (2003-6): Eat breakfast. Have a break immediately after an exam - dont start revising again straight away. Phoebe Arnold (2008-11): Friends and mother. Georgia Green (2000-3): Porridge and lucozade.
Jessica Hill (2003-6): Just relax - English students are good at basic essay writing which is half of what you need to get a minimum 2.1 Dont try to learn 7 authors per paper - just focus on a few as there are always some very vague exam questions at the end which you can adapt to your chosen texts. Memorise some quotes and as soon as you can start writing, list them so you dont need to remember them anymore! Emily Pugh (2006-9): Thoroughly plan your revision timetable and stick to it! Don’t be tempted to get bogged down in certain areas at the beginning, even if it feels like you have lots of time left - you’ll only pay for it later on.
Advice for Oxford English Finalists