Unsurprisingly, the Summer exams are never front and centre of the department’s glossy advertising. Therefore, I thought I’d lay out a short guide to everyone who hasn’t experienced the Bristol way of doing things.
1-In the revision period it’s always good to meet up with the lecturers to bounce a few ideas around the room. They are the ones who mark the papers, so it’s good to hear what they’re looking for from the historians mouth. Besides, teaching stops one week before the exams start, so they’re only drinking tea in their offices.
2-University exams differ from school insofar as your mark is decided on how strongly you argue your case, rather than whether that case is in the mark scheme. As my revision for ‘Ancient and Modern Paganism’ I have assessed the evidence for and against ancient human sacrifice, to give the most macabre example. In the exam, should this come up, I will make my case, and then bring in historiography which I can refute and argue against-markers like this!
3-All the Summer exams I have had so far are two hours long, consisting of eight questions, of which you must answer two. The good news is you can focus on specifc parts of the course, as the questions are topically spread across the unit. The bad is that the questions require more critical analysis and flexibility than A levels. My Soviet Christmas exam asked: ‘Was the Cold War essentially about Rock and Roll?’ I took it on, based on my knowledge of the Beatles’ ‘Back in the USSR’, and enjoyed the answer by the end! So expect the unexpected, but it’s easy to focus your revision somewhat so you can be critical and specific.
4-After the exam that’s you pretty much done until the end of September, so have something in mind that you can look forward to during those hour in the library!
The main difference between Bristol exams and school assessments is freedom. Your answer is not shackled to a prescriptive mark scheme, you can be yourself more in terms of independently sourcing evidence, and there’s much longer Summer in which to have fun.