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Salient. Victoria University Students' Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 25. October 4, 1976



Remember, exams are only three hours long. They can never cover all your course. They seem comprehensive purely by fraud. This is done in one of two ways:

a. Such general questions are asked in such a roundabout way that you feel that whatever you write is trivial or slightly off the mark. For an example, take these questions from a German II paper. You were offered a choice of fifteen topics from which you had to write on three. From the choice comes questions like:

Klopstock and Goethe.

Herder: new perspectives and directions.

Weimer 1775-1786

'Sentimentalisch' and 'romantisch'.

Or a slightly different type, very prevalent in subjects like English and History, this time from an English III piper:

"Why is all art to be restricted to the uniform level of domesticity? Whenever humanity wrestles with the gods of passion and pain, there, of necessity, is that departure from our diurnal platitudes which the cant of criticism denounces. The mystery of evil is as interesting to us now as it was in the time of Shakespeare, and it is downright affectation of effeminacy to say we are never to glance into that abyss." (Dickens, in an editorial in All The Year Round) To what extent does Dickens succeed in his imaginative handling of "the mystery of evil" and "the gods of passion and pain"?

The first examples are impossible to give a satisfactory answer to; the best thing to do, if you must write on topics of this type, is to restrict the topic in your first sentence, i.e. Klopstock and Goethe. "As this question is so large I will restrict myself to talking about whether there is any foundation in the current rumour that Goethe was Klopstock's step-uncle by a former marriage.", or else just to scribble like a bastard.

The example from the English paper is perplexing. Are you to talk about the quotation, that is, that Dickens has lifted himself above the "diurnal platitudes" of domesticity, or that Dickens is a tuff guy to talk about these devils and gods? Surely not! The quotation, that has taken you five to ten minutes to roll around inside your head, is irrelevant. It is put in there only to impress you with the scope of the lecturer's reading. In such circumstances ignore the quotation completely.

b. A more usual form of exam is with questions of considerable depth on selected topics. These exams are easier to pass, as all you need to do is to discover what topics are being included. For this you need to study past exam papers. A person of my aquaintance, studying History I from Massey last year, not only predicted the exam topics accurately, but also knew the approximate wording and the place in the paper where each topic could be found. She merely ticked off the five questions the had prepared and started writing. Exams teat techniques as much as knowledge.

Your lecturer is a good source of information. Never get on the wrong side of him. It is worth going to great lengths to gratify his whims. Agree withhim, drink with him, sleep with him, even whip him if he is in a mood for it. Remember it is his baby you are sitting.

It is usually not too hard to find the book where his lecture notes come from. Study it closely, but never, under any circumstances acknowledge that you have read it. He will think you a genius for having views that happen to coincide with his secondhand ones.

Note his quirks and turns of phrase and use them without hesitation throughout the exam. He will never notice that you are humouring him, but will consider that you are writing fluently and well. A friend of mine once even went as far as to insert stage directions - (here pivot on left foot) (continue throwing chalk from hand to hand - suddenly drop it for laughs) etc. I wouldn't go so far as to advise this, but it is on the right track.

Of course, you must invite him to your pre-exam party. Ply him with drinks and talk about Muldoon or the weather until he is positively staggering. Then throw him a few hard questions like socks to the jaw. (Be brutal - they are payed to help you) If the strain of a year's lecturing has been sufficient he should crumple and begin sobbing, and you will be able to mould him like putty.