Think before you start

If you’ve been given an unfamiliar task to do, give yourself time to think before you get started. If you just jump straight in, you’ll probably soon find that as you start to realise what the task is about that you’ve gone about it in the wrong way. Let me give you an example.

When I was doing A Level English Language, we had a module called Editorial Writing. It had a strange exam. A week beforehand, we were given two big fat booklets containing real material from a variety of sources on a particular topic, like tattoos, Glastonbury music festival or the legend of King Arthur. There would be magazine articles, leaflets, interview transcripts, all covering the same topic from totally different angles.

Our teacher warned us that lots of people would fail on the first attempt in January and would have to re-sit in the summer. He wasn’t wrong! Nearly everyone in the class re-sat, and I was one of them. This is how it went down…

We would have a week to get to know the content of the two booklets. Then on exam day, we would be given several options of a completely new format and audience to write for, using the text provided as a resource. It’s an exam that people really struggled with, because if they hadn’t also done a lot of research about how to adapt your style for different audiences and formats, they totally missed the mark.

The other reason that people struggled was that they didn’t prepare the materials effectively so they could find information easily during the exam. We’d get the booklets and everyone else would pull out a highlighter. Second time around, I had a plan…

I asked one person what she was highlighting, and she told me ‘the important information’ as if it was obvious. But how can you know what the important information is before you’ve been told the question? I took a completely different tack. Next to each paragraph I wrote a very short summary in the margin so that I could quickly glance through the text and find the information I was looking for. Once I’d gone through the whole book and got a good feel for the recurring themes and arguments, I took the staples out of the book and grouped the articles by theme. Then I wrote myself a new contents page with details on the key points in each article and the kind of information it contained.

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On exam day, I opened the question paper and read something along the lines of,

BBC Radio 3 [a classical music station] is broadcasting the premiere of a new opera, Arthur and Guinevere. Write the script for a programme that will play in the interval that will discuss whether or not King Arthur was a real person.

That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in an exam. It was the last A Level exam I did, my pen leaked all over my hands, and I got 100% for it.

Have you ever started a task again because you realised you hadn’t planned it properly? Tell me about it in the comments below!


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2 Comments

  1. 100% in your A Level English! That’s amazing! I have countless stories of having to discard entire essays after I realized I misinterpreted the question or didn’t enjoy the topic as much as I’d thought I would lol 😛 Great post! 🙂

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    1. Thanks Ayesha! I think we all fall into the trap of jumping straight into things and then having to backtrack later. I’ve always liked the Abraham Lincoln quote “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. It was true when he said it and it’s true now.

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