The dreaded exam season has approached and the libraries are packed. As people drudge into the IC with a John’s Van treat and a coffee, the atmosphere is palpable for the collective stress we are all under. But fret not! As an exam veteran, I have some tips to make the exam period less stressful.
‘Oh you’re so lucky! You don’t have to take any exams, you only have essays.’ How many times as a Humanities student have you heard this line? I’ve heard it thousands of times during my academic career (okay not thousands but it still frustrates as though it's been said a thousand times). While many of us in the English department do not need to be dragged to an exam hall, our assessments and essays are just as difficult as sitting exams. The pressure to produce works of genius in a few weeks is something that overwhelms many students (me included). It might be tempting to rely on your sixth form ability to whip out an essay during a free period or the night before, but now, the bare minimum doesn't cut it and you need to plan, draft, write, write, write! But how do you make the transition from all-nighter to planned masterpiece? You, well, plan.
As an essay veteran, I can tell you the best thing to do for essays is plan your assignment out to the T. Gather resources, secondary literature, reread your books, plays, poems, scripts, etc, create an essay plan and then, get to work. Essays at degree level are no breeze, they require work that you might not have had to do before. You will need secondary material, that means book reviews, scholarly arguments, historical background knowledge, awareness of the author's background as well as awareness of religious subtext, political influences and even philosophical knowledge. All of these things might seem daunting, but the university makes it incredibly easy to access all the information you need.
StarPlus is the university’s directory of academic journals, articles, books, book reviews and so much more, all made accessible through one website. Also on the StarPlus website is helpful links to help you understand how the site works and where to find information that you need. The chat function also allows for you to converse with the knowledgeable library staff who can help locate a book or find similar books within that topic.
There are also other sites and directories for finding academic research, papers for your essays, and further reading, such as Semantic Scholar, Research Rabbit and Scopus. They at times have articles that I didn’t find on StarPlus.
Now that you have accessed and located the useful resources, you will need to analyse the content and learn how to reference. I will let you in on a few helpful sites which have helped me immensely.
Weava Highligher: Weava is an extension for Google Chrome which allows you to highlight and add notes to .pdf files and save them to your computer. This is an extremely helpful site for those of you prefer to highlight your notes but do not want to have to print off every useful piece of content (it's more environmentally friendly too).
Expresso: Expresso (careful with the spelling!) is an incredibly helpful site in which you can input paragraphs from your essay and have them analysed for spelling mistakes, repetitive sentences and filler words. The site allows you to edit your texts efficiently and make your writing more concise.
301 Academic Skills Centre: The university also offers support for essay writing, so if you think you need more direct support then the 301 Academic Skills Centre is the perfect place for you! 301 offers online assessment guides as well as sessions for writing support and essay help which run throughout the semester. Get signed up for support and do not suffer in silence.
The transition from sixth form to university is hard, even at second and final year and up to postgraduate level. Help is not a sign of defeat but a recognition of the necessity for support!
Written by Valentia Adarkwa-Afari, Postgraduate English Literature, on 18 January 2022.
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