Tip 2: Decisions, Decisions

A276 – Learning Latin – Targeting Exam Technique – Tip 02

my way

If you followed last week’s advice you’ll have spent the past few days looking through the A276 specimen paper and considering everything that that’s prompted you to think about the exam. In the upcoming weeks I’ll be concentrating primarily on preparing for the Latin language sections. But here, for this one week, I’ll be taking an overview of some issues to do with the exam as a whole.

Here are the main points I hope to hammer home:

* start thinking NOW about which questions you’ll choose to do in the exam

* start preparing NOW for the questions you choose to do in the exam

* start NOT preparing for the questions you’ll NOT be choosing to do in the exam

It is tempting just to keep following the course, learning as much as you can, as well as you can, and then leave it until the very day itself, until you open up the actual exam paper, read it, and so choose, then and there, which questions you feel you’d do your best at.

But think about this…

Are you going to prepare for and practice the literature question in the second section of the exam? That’s the one which asks you to compare two texts. Or are you going to choose the alternative Latin language questions instead? If you feel you’re likely to do better at the Latin then crack on with studying/revising language and don’t prepare/practise for the literature question. Remember, though, that even if you think your Latin might let you down, you still have to keep it going (you need it for Section 1). But you can decide now that you won’t do Latin for the second section; you’ll do the text comparison instead. That does mean, though, that you must build preparation/practice for that question into your study/revision from now on. So that needs thinking about now.

Similarly, the third and final section of the exam gives you a choice between two essays. Very generally speaking, one question addresses an overarching theme (e.g. exemplarity) in a way which allows you to draw on evidence from across the whole course; the other question will be more focused on one particular topic from the course. That you’ll know the whole course well enough to be prepared to answer any question equally well is very unlikely. To attempt to squeeze all that in now, in the time that’s left before the exam, is unrealistic. Similarly, cramming to make up for what you previously missed out or skimmed over is going to be unproductive.

Rather, the best thing to do is to consolidate everything from your TMAs. Review them and all the notes, resources, and materials associated with them. Correct, or have another go at anything you could improve. Make notes. Jot down quotes and references. Try to reduce everything down to learnable bite-size chunks (index cards are good for this). Plug away at this a little at a time, each day, every day, from now on. Concentrate on consolidating and not covering i.e. aim to know as much as you can as well as you can; don’t aim at ‘going through’ everything.

That means, especially: not going over anything that you know you’re already fairly familiar with; not trying to force yourself to get to grips with what you know really is beyond you; being very careful about trying to ‘catch up’ anything you’ve missed out (Is it worth it? Would it be at the expense of consolidating your knowledge and understanding elsewhere? Might it be better just to accept that there’s no point going back at this stage in a last-ditch attempt to fill a gap?). Rather, you must decide what to target, and how to target it, based on what you personally feel will make the biggest difference to your final exam performance given the time that’s left to you before then.

Once again: make notes; jot down quotes and references; try to reduce everything down to learnable bite-size chunks (index cards are good for this). As you’re doing so try to imagine the sorts of questions you could use your materials to answer. Look back over your previous TMAs. What sorts of other questions could you use what you know to answer? Write these questions down. Come back to them after the final TMA. Sketch out a rough plan of how you’d answer each one using what you know (i.e. not what you’d go and look up if you could [you can’t!]). Try a full answer, under timed conditions. Try the past paper questions. Plan how to work your way through all this preparation and practice in the run up to the exam.



You need to look at the question options in the specimen paper and for each one ask yourself:

1. How well would I do if I answered that (type of) question now?

2. What would I have to do to improve my knowledge and understanding for that (type of) question?

3. How much time, energy and effort, between now and the exam, can I devote to doing that?

4. How well might I then do if I answered that (type of) question in the actual exam?

Thinking it through like this should help you identify your ‘intellectual assets’ (what you’re best at) and which ‘academic investments’ you should spend them on (the sort of study you should concentrate on) in order to get the best ‘qualificational returns’ (the most marks in the exam; the highest pass; the best degree etc.). Whichever (types of) questions all that best suits then those are the questions you should prepare for and then choose to do on the day.

The best advice I can give you is to talk this through. The best person to do this with is your tutor because they know your work and they’ve been dealing with other students who have done the course and have had to make the same decisions. Talking it through with other A276 students you’re in touch with should be useful. Explaining it all to a friend or family member, using them as a sounding board, may help you straighten out your own thoughts. Even mulling it over yourself, just jotting down the pros and cons, is better than nothing.

Don’t, though, wait until the day of the exam itself to make your mind up. You might be lucky. But, then again, you might not… 😉

Steven Havelin (23.04.18)