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 …


My hand hurts

I’ve been trying to write practice essays and essay plans over the last couple of days.

Conclusion: I probably know more than enough to get through the DD307 exam on Thursday, but it’s going to be a struggle writing it down on paper!

Take this afternoon for example. I managed to write around 800-900 words in 50 minutes for a question on prejudice and conflict. However, as the question was actually focussed on approaches to conflict reduction I spent too little time talking about that at the end of the essay and too much time talking about Adorno, Rokeach, Fisher, Allport and Fiske & Taylor on individual approaches to prejudice at the beginning. I need to remind myself to answer the question that’s been set for two reasons:

i) Examiners never, ever ask questions that say “Tell me all you know about …”

ii) If I try to answer questions in that way, then not only will I annoy the examiner, but my hand will fall off.

As it already hurts, that may not be a bad thing I suppose.

Attitudes and attributions

It’s funny how certain topics tend to stick in your mind and others don’t. I’ve spent most of today so far revising the attitudes and attributions chapters. With attitudes, I now feel absolutely confident that I can tackle any of the previous questions, so if something similar comes up on Thursday I should be fine. As for attributions though, I simply can’t get Langdridge and Butt’s critique straight. It still makes little sense to me! However, I’m hoping that I can use Merleau-Ponty’s argument about the overvaluing of empiricism and intellectualism elsewhere, as I do understand that part of it …

Tomorrow I’m going to go back to group processes and will try to write out yet more essay plans and exam answers. My hand hurts already!

At the moment, just under three days out from the exam, it all feels like it’s starting to come together. However, I really hope the examiners don’t decide to get creative with the social judgement questions and mix and match the attributions and attitudes chapters.

They wouldn’t do that, would they?

Existential football – a.k.a. the production of knowledge revisited

Today’s revision efforts have been focussed on production of knowledge. Of all of the blocks in the module, this has been my favourite. I enjoyed writing the final TMA on individual differences (and really enjoyed the mark that I got for it) and both of the two probable exam chapters are fascinating as well.

If I get a choice on the exam, I’m still leaning towards writing about bystander intervention and Francis Cherry’s critique of Darley and Latanės work. There are so many angles to critique and counter critique from, the course themes of power and situated knowledges are everywhere and I can even remember all of the details of Darley and Latanės experiment. I also remember the two experiments that Cherry uses as part of her critique and even better – as she uses these for support while arguing from a social constructionist epistemology I can use that to either counter-critique her work or suggest a potential reconciliation between perspectives … which is what I think she is kind of arguing for anyway by the end of her paper (“standpoint epistemology”). Wonderful stuff!

The embodiment chapter is interesting too, however. It may be the only chance I have in the exam to look at phenomenological psychology in any depth. This is because I’m pretty certain that I’ll choose to do a question on attitudes over attribution due to the fuzziness of Langdridge and Butt’s critique of the FAE and worse, their non-explanation of how phenomenology accounts for attributions. I have however seen a valiant attempt at this on the OU forum today. I hope I don’t embarrass Katie by name-checking her here, but I thought it was a fantastic exposition of a line of argument that would work very well in the exam.  I’m sure I could remember it, but I’m just not convinced that I could make the argument with any real conviction! Fundamentally, I have a real problem in believing that French and German existentialists have very much to say about the “real world” – which of course, according to them, doesn’t exist!!! Like so many of the chapters, the one on attributions is interesting, but not well written when it comes to working out how to revise it or write an assignment from it.

So as the group processes block is largely mainstream vs discursive, I already have a chance to talk about power and situated knowledges if I want too. Additionally, the embodiment chapter seems far easier to bend to a discussion of agency-structure than any of the group processes material (although I suppose that it could be used in a critique of Janis vs Potter & Reicher) or even the attitudes chapter which is easier to focus a discussion around individual-social dualisms and power in my view.

Maybe I will have made my mind up by Thursday afternoon!

While I was thinking about existentialist philosophy and its role in psychology earlier on today, it led me naturally to procrastinate by looking up on YouTube the “Bruces” sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, as well as the “Philosopher’s Song”. However, I also found this little gem that I’d forgotten about – a football match involving German philosophers taking on the Greeks. It’s brilliant – and here it is to finish off with tonight. For those who don’t want to know the result, look away now 🙂

DD307 revision – group processes revisited

Having spent the day going through the group processes block, I’ve now decided that if I get the choice, I’d rather answer a question centred on conflict and prejudice than intragroup processes and entitativity. This goes against what I’d originally planned for this block, which was to primarily focus on intragroup processes, but I’m glad I’ve recognised that now, rather than in the pavilion at Derbyshire County Cricket Club next Thursday afternoon!

It’s not that the subject matter of entitativity is difficult to remember – it’s just that answers to previous year’s questions seem more difficult to structure than those on prejudice and conflict! With any luck I’ll get a choice on the exam paper between the two. One other thing I’ve noticed is that they quite often seem to pose questions that could use material from two or even three of the chapters. That observation has also modified my revision strategy for that block, in that I don’t feel I can simply rely on knowing one chapter really well and having the other two as backups, unlike the blocks on social judgement and production of knowledge.

Here’s hoping that I’ll get there in the end …

DD307 revision – a weekend of photographs: day 2

Revising group processes seems to be far more difficult than either production of knowledge or social judgement. The sheer number of studies in the prejudice and conflict chapter makes it difficult to see the woods from the trees, but I think I can just about make a critical argument or three now. Anyway, enough of me rambling, here are the photographs.

I'm relaxed about the DD307 exam, even if you aren't
I'm relaxed about the DD307 exam, even if you aren't
All ready to start the day
All ready to start the day
The garden bench could do with a bit of TLC
The garden bench could do with a bit of TLC
Today's fruit is a tomato
Today's fruit is a tomato
Off to visit my mother - and guess what's on the CD player
Off to visit my mother - and guess what's on the CD player
Another project for next year - Mum's vegetable patch :(
Another project for next year - Mum's vegetable patch 🙁
Home and finished - 7 chapters in a weekend!!
Home and finished - 7 chapters in a weekend!!

DD307 revision – a weekend of photographs: day 1

Rather than write a post about revision today, I’ve been taking photographs instead. My aim this weekend is to produce seven A3 handwritten sheets that I can use during the week to remind me of the things I know (in blue and black – one for each “opposing” perspective in the chapters) and the stuff I still need to learn (in red).

Today has been about attitudes, attributions, bystander intervention and embodiment. Tomorrow will be the three group processes chapters. This is today’s story:

All organised for a day's DD307 revision to start - with coffee!
All organised for a day's DD307 revision to start - with coffee!
I don't drink coffee - but I love parsley and greens ...
I don't drink coffee - but I love parsley and greens
Attitudes first - not too much red ink
Attitudes first - not too much red ink
Attributions - obviously requires a lot more work :(
Attributions - obviously requires a lot more work 🙁
That's more like it! Lunchtime calls.
That's more like it! Lunchtime calls.
I want out. I shall keep making those growly bunny noises at you until you do as I say.
I want out. I shall keep making those growly bunny noises at you until you do as I say.
Happy now! But don't think I'm not going to try to scratch you again when you bring me in ...
Happy now! But don't think I'm not going to try to scratch you again when you bring me in ...
The last strawberry of summer
The last strawberry of summer
Finished for the day - not too much damage done, apart from to my hand from writing and my arm from bunny scratches
Finished for the day - not too much damage done, apart from to my hand from writing and my arm from bunny scratches
ED209 bad joke alert: "Don't think I'm going to let that duck gorp me now I've come back inside"
ED209 bad joke alert: "Don't think I'm going to let that duck gorp me now I've come back inside"


Time for a beer. But you all know what that looks like, so no photographs 🙂


The beginning of the end and new beginnings

Today has seen me attend my final tutorial for DD307 and press the “submit” button on my SD226 EMA. It really is the beginning of the end now, with just the DD307 exam to go in less than three weeks.

I’m sure that at some point in the future I’ll be able to reflect properly on my Open University journey over the last five years. It’s been a lot of fun and I feel that it’s helped me to improve at work too. When I write sales proposals now I think that they make a lot more sense than they used to, because if nothing else, writing so many essays and assignments makes you think about the way you express yourself on paper!

But the focus for the next three weeks is the exam, so I may not be blogging too much between now and then. I still don’t feel my revision has kicked in properly yet, though I was pleasantly surprised by how much did seem familiar at my tutorial this morning. I’ve decided to take a few days off work to help with my revision efforts, so I hope that should increase my chances.

Tomorrow though, I’ll be spending the day driving to Camarthen and back to see my youngest daughter off onto her university adventure. I’ve all of the audio I recorded at the Warwick revision weekend to keep me company in the eight hours or so I’ll be spending by myself in the car.

I’m not sure that I properly appreciated the chances that university gave me when I was 18. I was the first in my family to go, so I really had no idea what to expect. But, judging by the way her sister has approached university, I’m sure she’s far better prepared than I ever was. Here’s to new beginnings.

My DD307 revision strategy refined

I’ve been refining my revision strategy for DD307 over the last couple of days within the three blocks I’ve decided to study (Block 3 – Social Judgement; Block 5 – Group Processes; Block 6 – Production of Knowledge).

I’ve decided to focus the majority of my future revision efforts on a single chapter from each block. Unsurprisingly, as the discursive critique is the only one I’m really comfortable with, all three of my selected chapters pit the social cognitive against the discursive perspective. As none of these chapters came up in a TMA question, I figure that it’s a reasonable gamble.

This strategy therefore makes my primary targets:

Block 3 – Attitudes:   LaPierre (Chinese visitors) and Fishbein & Ajzen (TRA and TPB)  vs. Potter and Wetherell (Critique of Marsh and Polynesian immigrants in NZ).

Block 5 – Intragroup Processes:  Janis (Groupthink) vs Potter and Reicher (St. Paul’s Riots).

Block 6 – Bystander Intervention:  Darley and Latane (Experimental) vs Cherry (Social Constructionist/Feminist) viewpoints of the murder of Kitty Genovese.

That leaves a set of secondary revision targets within each of the blocks which I’m less comfortable with, but shouldn’t have to use. In order of importance, these are:

Block 5: The chapters on SIT and prejudice & conflict. My reading of previous year’s papers suggest that sometimes questions come up which span two of the three chapters in this block. That possibility makes these two chapters the most important backups to have.

Block 3: Attribution. This comes next in priority order as the critique is fairly straightforward to work through, even though it’s phenomenological.

Block 6: Embodiment. This comes last as it’s a chapter where the cognitive social perspective is absent and so pits the discursive against the phenomenological perspective. I’m also gambling that the chapter on individual differences doesn’t come up as TMA06 covered it. It’s never appeared in the DD307 examination yet …

I just hope that this strategy will be enough to see me through to at least 55% for a pass 3 and preferably 70%+ for a pass 2!