Exam Month

The month has been Exam Month. Capital E and a capital M. For an English student this can mean something slightly different than for a cellular and molecular scientist, a medic or a lawyer. At Bristol, exams are run very differently to any GCSE or A Level English exam I’ve ever sat. The emphasis is on an individual’s ability to immediately respond to and find your own critical interest in a piece of writing you’ve never seen before. The only question you get is ‘what’s interesting here?’. This might sound totally alien and very daunting but I actually think it’s one of the best ways to measure capabilities in the subject. No longer are exams simply a memory test of how many quotes you can reel off or what irrelevant context you can force into an essay. This exam is purely grounded in the text in front of you. It challenges you to develop and explore what you find interesting and figuring out how it operates in that text. This means revising becomes a whole different ballgame. You can’t really prepare for an unseen exam other than reading as much as you can and continually pushing yourself to dissect everything you read. Always actively read, don’t just finish a book and think ‘well I enjoyed that’ and put it back on the shelf. Pick apart what the narrative did, try to focus on a part of the text you think demonstrates that in action.

The only issue with this I’ve found is in my house-mates! Needless to say when my friend studying law is buried beneath piles of notes, case studies, practise papers and dates to memorise, looking over at me curled up in an armchair reading didn’t always induce the warmest of feelings! You’ve just got to embrace something of a support giver role. Especially with our exam being so early this year. Lots of baking, cooking proper meals for frazzled friends and delivering care packages of incense and bubble wrap (to pop when stressed!) is all necessary. It’s interesting being an observer on so many different styles of assessment; multiple choice, 24 hour exams, timed essays which you get the question for in advance. It makes me feel lucky that for my degree and style of examination I am well suited. I feel lucky that my exam style fits me and truly feels a measure of English critical ability.

– Harriet


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