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Oxford vs High School - Revision

By Rani Patel


At school, I felt like success in exams was determined by memory. For most subjects if you could drill into your brain the set formula, dates, answers, facts then you’d get a high mark. In subjects like history, I pretty much just learnt the textbook off by heart. That was the subject I got 100% in. I never really felt it was down to how clever I was, it was down to learning techniques to improve my memory. My memory was to thank for the high grade. 


I got a bit of a shock when first sitting collections at Oxford. The way I used to revise; writing copious notes and regurgitating them onto the page, was no longer what they were looking for. Revision at Oxford is meant to be about extending your learning. I’m now reading English and the idea is: you take an essay from term-time and build upon the ideas and concepts that have come up in the subsequent tutorial. I’ve found it really hard to get out of my old habits. I feel like I need the basic understanding memorised in my head and then I need to build upon it but the extra reading takes time and at Oxford, time is always in short supply. I think the new concepts and original ideas is what distinguishes candidates who get a 2.1 and those who get a first. 


I’m still finding this difficult but some tips on how I’m trying to overcome it:


Split my revision into chunks. Memorising the basics and then the other half of my schedule extending my learning.


Extend interesting concepts. I’ve learnt that Oxford is about quality not quantity. I can’t know everything there is to know about what I am studying but I can hone in on one aspect in detail. Say an interesting set of images came up in Paradise Lost, I could spend all my ‘extended learning’ focusing on these and only writing about the concept of ‘taste’ or ‘senses’ for instance, in an entire essay. 


Practise applying your revision notes to past exam questions. Whilst in-depth analysis is good, you need to make sure it is still broad enough to apply to different essay questions. So it’s probably good to have a few topics you can write on per author.


Take a break! Revision at Oxford is never-ending. It’s not like at school where once you’ve memorised a few pages, you can tick it off and stop for the day. You could be revising 24/7 but you need time to reflect and digest. Some of my best ideas during revision have actually come when I’ve left my desk and gone on a walk! Also make time to see friends and switch off for a bit.


Good luck with your Trinity exams. You’ve got this! 


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