I had my statistics exam at the beginning of the week.
This exam was weirder than most. Because of the pandemic, the OU had decided to turn the usual three-hour sit down exam into an "end-of-module" assignment that could be done at home within a period of 24 hours.
As soon as I heard this news, I had mostly negative feelings. The exam at the end of a 9-month module is a chance to really show off what you've learned. In three hours you have to recall, at speed, a very large assortment of problem solving skills and take full advantage of nurtured intuition. Some people can just stroll into an exam and do well, but I need to work very hard to walk into that exam hall with any confidence. Preparing for these exams for me is like training for a marathon, or a mountain climb. It's exhausting.
I start attempting past papers under exam conditions on Saturdays and Sundays four to five weeks before exam day. Then the week before the exam I take a whole week off work to spend practically ten days straight doing past papers, marking them harshly, then reviewing them and revising further.
By the time I arrive at the exam in the exam hall in June, those three hours feel exactly like I'm running that marathon or climbing that mountain I've been training for.
Walking out of an exam realising like you were prepared and knowing it's all over is an enormous feeling. The final punctuation of nine months hard work.
Hearing that that wasn't happening this year was a let down. I'd be denied completing my marathon.
Though despite the fact that the "exam" was to be completed at home, I trained just the same. To the point where I felt I couldn't have been more prepared. I was comfortable and determined to complete the at-home exam in three hours regardless of how long I was given.
On the day, I downloaded the exam pdf. I scrolled through it. And I realised that they had changed the distribution of the questions in the sections just enough that I was not prepared for it in the way that I was hoping. For the past seven years of past papers, you could guarantee certain topics would appear.
For the past seven years, you should guarantee that within each topic, you'd be given a certain set of sub-topics.
Immediately I was glad that I was not running my marathon. If I had been, I would have had to be stretchered away from the starting line by medics.
That day was a battle. Over the entire course of the exam (which took way way longer than three hours) I thought "how was I not prepared for this?". It shook me, and it was the only thing I could think about.
Here, in the third and final stage of this degree, I may have found that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way I learn.
Being kind to myself, this was generally a hard exam. It was statistics, which by its nature is non-intuitive (a lot of people find it so anyway). I did think that this module was aimed at students studying an actual degree in (just) statistics, and that I probably didn't have the background knowledge that other stats students did. And as my mathematician friend has pointed out, it's unlikely it was hard for just me. If an exam is hard, it's generally hard for everyone.
So where do I go from here? It's difficult isn't it. Amongst those 500 or so pages I learn from, should I pay attention and make notes on 'the fleeting comments on page 274 that I never got tested on once and seemed insignificant'? ......Regardless, it seems my revision technique as it stands isn't sufficient.
Assuming I will be in an actual physical exam hall for three hours in June 2021 for my complex analysis exam, I need a better revision strategy.