This blog has been a bit thin on the ground over the past couple of weeks.  Today, I’m allowing myself the luxury of staying in bed, reading, writing and drinking tea. I finished my last exam yesterday, and studied right up to the last minute (it went well).  At the beginning of the semester, I decided (being a bit of a smart-alec) that I would take more subjects than I strictly needed, so as to get more credit points in the first (winter) half of my year, and have a bit more leeway for the second (spring/summer) half of the year. In theory, it works well: do more when you’re beginning and enthusiastic, especially if the weather may be so inclement as to have a watertight excuse to stay in bed all day to study.  I took one Psychology module, one German language module, and a selection of other subjects, some I’d wanted to try before (Anthropology and Ethnography),  and others that just fell my way – a module on Berlin and gentrification/touristification (Cultural Studies I think), and a module on Great Britain, Language and Culture (actually in Philosophy). I ended up with eight classes, six in German, two in English.  I enjoyed all of them, and managed to keep up with weekly readings (mostly in English), and eventually understanding the lectures and some of the discussions.

However, the semester runs right over Christmas (you get a two week break), so when we returned in January, I realised what a huge amount of work I had to do before the beginning of the exams (February).  I guess I was still in some sort of UCD mode still, where I just reckoned I’d go over the notes, and cram for the exams, but of course, they were all in German, so it involved a lot of work just translating to get everything straight.  Meanwhile, the weekly readings got more complicated and more interesting, and classes got more intense, and I had a powerpoint presentation for a different subject each week. Now none of this would have been so challenging if I had four classes instead of eight, but isn’t that the way we learn? Biting off more than we can comfortably chew, regretting decisions, and in the end slogging to get through a hard patch.

Since I hate exams, cramming and the whole idea of judging by what you can spit out in a set amount of time, I tried, in both my Big Subjects (Psychology, Anthropology) to write an essay instead of doing the exam, but there was no way of trading in those particular subjects (often the case in other subjects).  Writing an essay here is a Big Deal, and because people only do it occasionally, they don’t see it as a normal part of academic life, whereas in UCD, we usually write at least one essay for each module we take (12 per year).  I found the Psychology relatively straightforward information, albeit an awful lot of it, but my main problem is to translate the questions; I can write the answers in English.  I went to see the lecturer the week beforehand, since there was no sample paper to see the layout of exam (it’s a new course).  “Oh, I haven’t written it yet!” she said airily.  So, since we knew that there were no multiple choice questions, I reckoned that it would probably be something like home ie. “Here are 6 questions, answer 3 of them”.  Unfortunately, no: “14 Questions, answer all of them”.  Exam was at the unearthly hour of 8am, and I had arrived in early to a silent university to be nicely chilled, just running over the last few notes and getting myself into a relaxed state. However, at the last minute I discovered I had left my dictionary at home, and had to rely on guessing the translations.  Then when we got into the exam hall, there was no clock, and of course, you couldn’t use your mobile phone. Instead of a clock, they tell you when a half-hour is up, when an hour is up, and when there’s five minutes to go (exam is 90 mins).  At the first time-check, I had two questions done, so after that, went into a spin, trying to answer enough to get through. After the exam, I discovered the last four questions, hidden on the back of the exam paper.

After this exam nightmare, all others fell into place, and I think I did okay. But the not knowing is a funny feeling. I don’t usually fall at the last fence; though I hate exams, I get through them with my own system.  Here, I’m right on the cusp of passing and failing, not knowing which side I’ll land on. They have no break here between classes and exams (no Study/Revision week), so while you are doing exams, lectures and seminars run as usual, and you can’t skip, because they are still giving out the info you will be doing in exams.  After this really challenging patch, I think I want to get a teeshirt with “Fail.  Fail again. Fail better” written on it, because, good old Beckett, that’s where the real learning is.

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