It must be OU revision time again

Over the last few days, there’s been a steady increase in the number of people visiting my Open University ED209, DD303 and DD307 notes pages. It’s revision time, isn’t it? I knew there was something missing from my life this year!

Anyway, as I’ve been asked a few times about how I approached revision when I was studying for my psychology degree, I thought I’d collect all of my thoughts in this handy blog post. You may do it differently – and that’s ok as the first tip for revision I have is to make sure you do some – but do it in a way that works for you.

It’s worth reflecting on how much effort you put into TMAs when judging how much time you might want to set aside for revision. For example, if your course has 6 TMAs that (for the sake of argument) took you an average of 15 hours each, then a rough rule of thumb might be that you ought to consider 75 (6×15) hours of revision. After all, the OCAS (continuous assessment) and OES (exam) components are equally weighted on all of the OU psychology courses I took (with the exception of DXR222 which just had the examinable component and SD226, which had an end of module assessment in place of an exam – thank goodness!)

Having said that, it’s a good idea to work out how much time (realistically) you have to revise in and plan your revision around that time. I always found that setting myself modest revision goals was good (and by modest, I mean that if I achieved them I’d be able to answer at least one question from each section of the exam). I also found it useful to and to have a backup list of topics to revise once I was comfortable with my “must revise” choices. Looking back through my blog posts, it’s definitely what I did for DD307 last year and DD303 the year before that. In the end, the problem I had on exam day for both modules was too wide a range of questions to choose from … but that’s an infinitely better problem to have than having nothing to choose from.

I needed somewhere I could be quiet and spread my materials out. I found that our dining room table – even though it meant me having to share the space with our house rabbit (more of him later) was a particularly good place to work from for the final push. However, earlier on in the revision process I simply used anywhere I  could find a few minutes quiet to work from. Quietness was really important for me. I know some people say they work better to music or the background noise of a television, but I definitely can’t.

I always found that reworking the course material was important. It’s why I created my notes in the first place. With the exception of my DSE212 notes, I wrote them all while progressing through the module. I was almost too late on DSE212 before realising that it would have been impossible for me to revise from the books and scribbled margin notes alone. I tended to update my notes during the revision process and/or make handwritten summaries, flow diagrams and mind maps to go with them. You won’t find these online I’m afraid and I’m not sure I’ve got them still – and even if I had, no-one but me would stand much chance of deciphering them. If you’re curious, then have a quick squint at the photographs on this blog post. There are calming photographs of my house rabbit on there as a treat, as well as the notes!

Use other people’s notes to help too if you can find them. There’s the professionally produced ones from Linda Corlett and others of course, tutorial handouts are often useful and while it’s too late for this year to go on the OUPS revision weekend at Warwick University, it’s well worth considering attending in future. I also found having the support of a few study buddies incredibly useful as well – invariably meeting up virtually rather than face to face.

Practice essays, based on previous year’s exam papers (and particularly, spending some time writing good openings and closings) were another useful way I found of reworking material.

Which brings me onto handwriting. That’s something I hadn’t done a lot of since I left University the first time around in the mid 1980s. Being able to write for up to 3 hours, by hand, takes some practice. I found that I needed to train to be able to write for that long (perhaps not quite like an Olympic athlete, but you understand my point).

Just like athletes, having the right equipment is important too. For me, that meant investing in an endless supply of this pen. They’re fairly inexpensive – it’s all relative of course, as even at £1 or so for each one is way more expensive than free biros from hotels or pencils from a well-known blue and yellow themed household goods emporium. But they meant I was able to write for longer and  far more legibly than I otherwise would have been able to. In addition, they have the real advantage of being able to work sensibly on the “paper” the OU like to provide for exams. I learned the hard way on DSE212 that my nice fountain pen just wasn’t going to be able to cope.

There may be some other things that I’ve forgotten – and if so, I’ll add them in here as I think about them. And if anyone else would like to share advice, please feel free to add something in the comments. If you happen to be revising please feel free to say hello in there too.

I can’t believe that I’m writing this, but I’m really missing revising this year – and I’m sure that all of you who are definitely don’t believe me …

 

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Reader Comments

  1. Gail Ollis

    If your readers can stand some extra advice, can I add my two penn’orth? It’s the nearest those of us with revision withdrawal symptoms this year can get to the exam adrenalin!!!

    * My must-have pen is a Pentel Energel, e.g. this one: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pentel-Energel-Retractable-0-35mm-BL77-C/dp/B000KN6LO6/ref=sr_1_4?s=officeproduct&ie=UTF8&qid=1347641811&sr=1-4. Smooth flowing and fast drying, with a nice rubbery grip which seems to take some of the strain out of clutching a pen for 3 solid hours.

    * No doubt everyone is sick of hearing that you should be rehearsing doing what will be required in the exam, i.e. writing essays is better than reading books. What doesn’t often get mentioned is the “fringe benefits” of this approach. For one thing, it naturally breaks revision into manageable chunks. Sitting down to write a timed essay doesn’t just give you practice at answering a question within 60 minutes; it also means that an end is in sight, just one hour away. It also helps build up your stamina for writing. Give it a go as soon as you have done your first brief overview of the material; there may be some bits you’re not too good on, but in writing the essay you’ll discover which these are and be able to direct your attention where it’s most needed. Oh, I also rehearsed eating extra strong mints while doing timed essays! I’ve had them in exams since O-levels, but it was only in my OU degree that I used them in revision too in the hope that they’d offer a little context reinstatement! Not sure it helped my memory as such, but it did help with a feeling of settling in to a familiar process despite the unfamiliar surroundings.

    * There’s a limit to how many timed essays you can manage – even if you have the time to spend, it’s hard not to get sick of it! My strategy was to gather all the questions I could (past papers; revision materials; ones that suggested themselves from the learning outcomes) and identify all the ones that were basically the same. Having identified the questions underlying the different variants of wording, I wrote a plan on an index card for each of the basic questions – including what my argument was. (Or sometimes, what my choice of arguments was, for those where how I tackled it would depend on my mood on the day!) Apart from being a handy summary of the key points, this also gave me time to consider my stance on different questions, rather than having to think it through in the heat of the exam.

    * Once at the centre, I’d always find somewhere to sit with my eyes shut, focus quietly on my breath, and then gradually and gently make the out-breath longer than the in-breath. It was advice from my yoga teacher & I found it calming. (Note that “calming” doesn’t necessarily mean you will be calm full stop! But it might help you to become calmER. And anyway, perhaps it doesn’t pay to be TOO chilled; one of the worst moments I can remember is getting to the last hour of my last exam thinking “oh god, not ANOTHER essay”, and wondering if I could summon up the effort).

    And finally, if at all possible make sure that a handsome man greets you with a large bag of chocolate buttons when you emerge from the exam hall! My hubby predicted the urgency of the chocolate fix & brought in the bag that was ready in the car. He was rather overwhelmed by the response of 5 post-exam women! You may want to adapt this one to suit your personal preferences 🙂

    Good luck. It’s worth it in the end, honest.

  2. andrea

    Hi Tim
    just a quick reply to say your notes and posts have been superb, thanks for your help
    will let you know how well I do in the exam, thanks again- Andrea

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