Tuesday, 26 January 2010

It’s hard to cram everything you know and can reason into an exam question answer. You only have a certain amount of time and therefore a limited word count. Plus, no matter how well you know the text(s) – I’m talking about an English literature exam here – you still need time to think out your arguments.
Is a key to getting this right taking the time to rehearse beforehand? Not just to study the texts but also to think of some of the critical discussion? It’s good too to take the time in an exam to plan your work. This may mean your write less, but you don’t get any marks for writing more if you’re writing the wrong material.
You need to demonstrate the following in your exam answers:
that you know the texts        
that you can present a good argument
that you are familiar with the critical debate
that you are familiar with secondary resources
that you understand the key concepts in English literature and can discus them meaningfully
that you have the language for discussing the texts
that you can express all of the above succinctly and clearly in good English
Exam answers are full of “overwriting”. Students use up valuable word count giving themselves thinking time as they construct their sentences. Do the thinking first: you’ll find you have a lot to write and little time to write it. You are forced to write tightly.
Nobody should be leaving a literature exam early. And if you are well prepared the whole experience should be utter joy.     

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