Revision Rush Part I

Time is of the essence.

We’re back in the bubble, and we have just over two weeks to prepare for the first wave of exams.

I arrived back in London on Monday night with four bags full of belongings, and a head on the verge of bursting from so many flashcards. I unpacked everything, and then admired my clean room. It had all the makings of the calm before the storm; two solid weeks of revision- I knew it was about to get messy.

It was the usual ceremony on the first night, namely ensuring that the office is primed and ready to kick on with work for the next day. When the preparations are complete, I then set the alarm for 7:30am, lie down in my clean bed, and listen to 夢の中; it never fails to relax the mind ahead of a hectic few weeks.

To my surprise, the first morning wasn’t such a depressing affair. Usually on the first morning back, I wake up confused as to where on earth I am, and then recall the miserable revelation that I still need to go food shopping. This time however I managed to nip to the Metro the night before, ensuring I could sit down and commence the six-page schedule devised for the next seven weeks.

It’s a full-on, day-by-day programme of targets to hit, just like before. By holding faith in this plan and completing it I should be ready for all exams in time, with the most intense work coming in these first two weeks. It mainly consists of converting all the memorised flashcards into exam plans. The idea is that the memories of each point, explanation, case study, and criticism have by now been compounded into one flashcard, which needs only one prompt to trigger the chain of memories. By then taking these prompts and laying them out in an exam plan, it becomes a case of memorising the prompts and their order, which in turn will trigger all the information needed to write each point in the essay.

That’s the plan, but it requires a lot of persistent hard work and a fair flogging of the brain to be successful. When it works it’s remarkably effective; the entire exam becomes one huge brain dump.

Hard work certainly appears to be the key to these two weeks, but in reality, this week I have found it to be so much more complex than that.

During this period, the mind goes under so much strain, and it is only when we hit a wall do we really notice the fatigue. It’s important to remember to relax your brain just as hard as you work it; it’s important to remember to take care of all the little day-by-day tasks and above all, look after yourself. Yet while these things may seem hard to forget, sometimes you forget to remember.

The threshold run on Wednesday really was a grind; sometimes a run can seem pointless when you just cannot feel your body warming up to it. Everything ached, I had little air in my lungs, and the temperatures had dropped to an irritating cold which yielded nothing more than a headache. It should be no surprise; these two weeks are the most intensive in my marathon training, but I’ll come back to that later.

The result of this draining affair was the desire for an extra boost, to spur me on as the going starts to get tough. No, I didn’t turn to steroids, or class A drugs; I simply thought increasing my supply of vitamins would be a decent kick for which will slowly wear me down. I have no deficiencies, but there may have been a small part of my consciousness relaying concern from the GCSE exam period, where after a month of the intense concentration required for each exam I was practically on my knees.

I thought multivitamin tablets could only be positive- that’s the concept behind them, right? But a few days in and the whole pack was already in the bin. Those little blue bad boys were brutal. Just a few days in and my brain was in overdrive. The pills are stimulants, and thus sped up my brain drastically; I was relaying thoughts at twice the speed, and amongst the chaos was starting tasks and then quickly forgetting them in the place of another. My anxiety levels increased terribly, and by Friday afternoon I was sitting in Japanese class in a cloud of worry and feeling very down.

Evidently not an idea I shall be continuing, but it was worth a go.

You see, in terms of managing yourself through these periods, it’s not the resulting action which is the main problem. Rather, it’s distraction from the main plan. Just like previous periods in the year, this is a particularly stinging experience which will be an awful ordeal at the time, but is merely a short-term spike in stress which will even out in the long-term. The problem is forgetting that while this period has its place and its own importance, stumbling now will not ruin the entire outlook.

All in all, this week has not been so bad at all. For the first week I have achieved the target of revising half of the year’s work and creating exam plans. All that is needed is confidence, and faith in the long-run plan. Although despite this, as I was discussing with Ethan earlier in the week, the advanced stages of revision can at times really test your confidence levels. After so much focus on one topic, you start to ask yourself whether you really understand it all. It’s a natural occurrence, just like when you say a word over and over again until it no longer sounds like a word. You begin to lose your perception. However I don’t think drawing upon Buddhist notions and writing that you’ve reached the stage of enlightenment in which you realise you no longer understand anything at all will cut it in an exam.

Next week of course comes with the added pressure from the fact that I’ve written “go over everything until you know you’re ready”, yet I know we’ll already be more settled and prepared. Only two revision lectures left before my timetable completely empties, and then once the actual exams begin, I don’t think it’ll be too bad.

And this week hasn’t all been work. The revision lectures were a nice chance to have a catch up with those I haven’t seen in a while. Arisa’s on the last stretch of her assignments and things are looking bright with a possible employment link on the cards, so it was nice to hear her sense of optimism. Meanwhile, it was also nice to see Zahrah again; economics may be a gruelling prospect at the moment, but it’s an ordeal we’re all fighting through. The highlight however was definitely the walk home with Paul on Friday afternoon. If anything it was a pep-talk, and he really helped set my sights straight on not just exams, but finding work and approaching each experience with the right frame of mind. Paul’s a great friend, and I’m grateful I was in his class this year.

We’re definitely in the latter stages of building up to this year’s goals though. The end of April and beginning of May is the period where we make the final push before the drama begins. I’m starting to feel the strain and the need to keep pushing in the marathon training. This week was the penultimate long run; 22 miles, with my venue for these two weeks being Hyde Park. While Hollingbourne’s route was plagued with hills, Hyde Park has a mixture of uneven terrain, and paths which go off in so many confusing directions.

The exact route was a 2.7 mile run from Dinwiddy, and then four 4.3 mile laps around Hyde Park before returning the same away. Like last week, I approached the run with a refined strategy, and enough fuel to last me 4 hours.

Yet for this one I had to really push to finish. My legs tired out quickly, as early as lap 2. I felt like I had much less glucose stored as a result of not loading up properly the night before, and thus by the time I had to stop at a crossing, my legs felt like they were dangling off the rusty metal hinges you would find in an old action figure.

I believe this partly comes down to a new route. After a few weeks of running around Hollingbourne I knew how to approach each lap mentally, as I had a rough idea on timings, locations, and how they fitted into the entire run. There was hardly any rhythm on this new course until I finally got the hang of it in the later laps. Before that I kept getting lost, and somehow managed to end up at the Israeli embassy. Considering recent events on campus, I bet they were delighted to see a SOAS student. Overall though, I spent the large part of that run dishonouring the eyes of many of London’s rich and wealthy with the sight of me dragging my lost and knackered self around the streets with my phone’s GPS app barking at me to turn around.

Amusingly, a European lady stopped me mid run (tragically she only needed to break into a jog to catch up with me), and asked where ‘the zoo’ was. To be honest love, I was just as lost as you were, yet being the polite Englishman I am I still courteously took five minutes of your time to confirm on my phone that I hadn’t a clue where to direct you.

It’s that time of year, we’re getting closer the climax. April has been the killer, 110 miles ran and 700 hundred flashcards scoffed into my brain. Going into May, we have just one more long run, and one more week of intensive revision.

We’ve already come so far, and all we need to do is keep moving. Because at this rate, we are going to make it.


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