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April 24, 2013

A Revised Opinion

A view out of the Museo Vecchio, in Firenze, out onto the Piazza della Signoria.

A view out of the Museo Vecchio, in Firenze, out onto the Piazza della Signoria.

If you’ve been reading my fellow Diarists’ blogs, you’ll know that the academic year at Clark is swiftly drawing to a close.  The last day of classes is next Monday, the 29th, and shortly thereafter campus will transform for the summer as various construction projects get underway (including one on the fitness center, which I’m very excited about; as you know, readers, I’m extremely physically fit).

For me, though, the year isn’t quite close to being finished.  I’ll return to London this Sunday (I’m now ensconced at my grandmother’s house near Edinburgh, surrounded by marmalade and peach preserves), and will immediately settle into the task of what my British friends like to call ‘revision’, and what I like to call ‘guided insanity’.

I’ve written a bit before about my general approach to final exams – you can find that post here – but since the finals at the LSE are worth 50% of my final grade, I thought it might be worth taking some time in my head to come to a ‘revised opinion’ of sorts about what the purpose of studying – sorry, revising – is.  Of course, the usual caveats apply: what I have to say is probably best applied only to me, and so whatever you take from it has to be run through the filter of your own experience.  If it doesn’t make sense to you, by all means do it a different way.

It seems to me as if the best way to revise is to try to fix concepts, not ideas, firmly into your head.  If you can get enough concepts locked in, you can tie them together in a broad narrative that not only really truly keeps them securely fastened in place for when you need them during the exam, but keeps them there afterwards so you can (gasp!) apply them to your life after the class is well done and dusted.  Plus, by thinking about course material on a conceptual rather than granular level you allow yourself to develop your thoughts in the holistic and synthetic way that really shines on an exam.

So what I’m going to be doing is trying to write stories in my head about the concepts we’ve covered.  Say I’m writing for my course on the history of economics: what I’ll try to do is tell a story of economic thought as it’s developed over the centuries, weaving together as I do little anecdotes and subplots (the Classicals thought this, the German Institutionalists thought this) and, of course, remaining cognizant of the stories told by others about the same events – these are the academics I’ll cite in my exam for those sweet, sweet points.

When the time comes to take the exam, and I’m faced with a question like ‘What role(s) did metaphors and analogies play in the monetary analyses of Hume and Fisher?‘ (an actual question from the 2009 exam), I’ll be able to draw on a much richer store of knowledge than I would had I just fastidiously reread Hume and Fisher’s work without trying to tell a story about it. Because I have that narrative available to me, I’ll be able to tease out what’s important and discard what isn’t.  I hope that’ll help me as I go forward.

But that’s all for later – next week, really.  For now, I’m going to settle into The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which I haven’t read in far too long, and enjoy these few days of spring before I sequester myself indoors until June.

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