By Áine Kenny
Exams are fast approaching, as is the sense of impending doom. When should we start studying? Are we already behind? What if the question that comes up every year doesn’t come up this year, in some cruel twist of fate? Do we need more continuous assessment, and fewer exams?
However, weirdly enough, some students do better in exams than they do in continuous assessment. Hours painstakingly researching that essay don’t pay off, and a quick flurry of scrawls on the page seems to reap more rewards. Therefore, is it possible to produce a good essay in exam conditions?
Dr Irina Ruppo Malone from the Academic Writing Centre believes so. “Yes. It is possible to produce good writing under pressure, but it is not easy. Of course, having plenty of time to ponder a question is no guarantee that you will have a coherent structure.”
“I would suggest reading the exam question for clues on structure. For example, the question might list the number of steps you need to take in order to prove a point. You might be asked to first deal with one issue, before moving on to another.”
“Students often don’t see these clues. They read the question for key words only. I would suggest taking a minute to study the structure of the question. Often it is almost a mini-outline.”
She also has some further essay writing tips for students who have to a produce an essay in an exam setting.
“Practice writing while studying for exams. Try out sample questions from earlier exam papers. Come up with questions of your own. Practice outlining, organising your thoughts and editing.”
“Often students rush when they read course material; there is so much pressure to just ‘cram’ all the information in. Again, it is the structure that often gets ignored during this process.”
“When reading articles, students often ignore the main point that the author has made. Instead they highlight information that, though relevant to their subject, will not be as helpful as knowing that main point or that main idea.”
“Also, have faith in yourself, your writing, and your ideas,” she concludes.
Exams aren’t just stressful for students. There is an incredibly small window for lecturers to correct exams over Christmas. Dr Rebecca Barr, a Lecturer Above The Bar in English, spoke to SIN about the stress students and lecturers face.
“The period for return of marks is very tight and this does indeed put tremendous pressure on staff over the ‘festive’ period. The demand for return of marks is challenging for lecturers with very large lecture modules.”
“I would argue that the University needs to give urgent and serious consideration to introducing a reading week in the middle of semester in order to optimise learning and manage stress for students, and to stagger the cascade of marks return and feedback from lecturers.”
“The issue of student burn – out is real, and, in my experience, there is a significant decline in both attendance and the quality of work after the midterm period. The demands of multiple assessments, commuting, and extra – curricular work genuinely depletes students.”
“If the university is serious about retention, student well – being and academic excellence, it should consider bringing in a mid – semester reading week to ease pressure on all sectors of the university.”