Summertime (Part I)

What a summer.

I finished my exams in the 18th of May and holidayed for the remainder of May. The exams were incredibly draining emotionally. First I handed in an essay portfolio which I thought was actually pretty good, but it did a grade lower than what I had hoped so that was a bit of a disappointment – it was the first B in my otherwise unblemished record of straight As. Keeps me humble, I guess…

I didn’t have much time to worry about it, however, because up next were my three phonetics exams: written, transcription and production. The last one, production (in which I get shown phonetic symbols in isolation and embedded in nonsense words and I have to pronounce them), went incredibly well, but that is coming from a person who once crafted a handmade A3 reproduction of the IPA chart in her free time, the one which is now hanging to my immediate right from where I’m sitting. So yeah, I had fun. Transcription (in which the professor produces sounds and nonsense words and we have to record them using phonetic symbols) went alright, although I’m pretty sure I made a few mistakes.

The exam, however, was a blooming disaster. Or so I felt. We even had the fire alarm go off in the middle of the exam (a one-and-a-half hour exam!) and my coursemate spoke for us all when he said he hoped his exam would burn. I don’t know what distorted version of my paper the examiners ended up reading, but as it happens I did fantastic in the exam. As much as I loved phonetics, it did rather show me that the mathematics-y side of linguistics is really not my forte and that I should just stick with my mouldy paradigms.

I was very well prepared for my philology exam and rather enjoyed the exam. We had to write three essays and I had a great deal to say in all three, and I did do fantastic in that exam too. I got out of my second-to-last exam at 2pm on Tuesday, and my last exam was to be the next morning at 9am. It was to be the last exam of five in the space of eight days. I was not very well prepared, not at all.

That Tuesday afternoon I came back home and collapsed into bed. The next day’s exam was Old English literature (that is, Anglo-Saxon literature). I had loved the course, but we would have to do translations and essays and commentaries in the exam, and I was terrified. We had studied about a dozen poems and bits of prose (some a couple hundred lines long), and although I had translated all of them at one point in the past nine months, I could not remember anything about them. My mind was blank. I was ready to panic.

In a brief moment of unexplained lucidity, I devised the following battle-plan: I was only going to cram in about ten percent of a year’s worth of material, all at the very last minute. Don’t get me wrong, I had studied hard for this course the whole year. But I was overwhelmed by the amount of things I’d have to commit to memory, although I understood everything that was taught. I carefully chose three or four poems which I translated and then memorised the translations (having an incredibly good memory does not hurt in situations like this). I briefly annotated the poems as well as I could, and colour-coded everything so that I’d be more likely to remember it. And then I went to bed.

The ten percent that I had studied? It was all in the exam. Every last bit of it. For the translation I had prepared in a different way, but making hundreds of flashcards and testing myself on vocabulary every single day. So the translation pretty much wrote itself. The poems were a piece of cake too – I remembered the translations perfectly and had intelligent things to comment on them. And then the essays – we had to write two (this was a three-hour exam). For one of them I really had to think hard about all the criticism I had read. I think I wrote it on The Wanderer, and lucky for me, I had read a killer essay on it for preparation. In fact, I’d been so captivated by the poem and its Biblical allusions that I even memorised the Bible verses that the poem draws on. Let’s just say they came in handy.

And for the other essay… For the course, we had one big assignment in the autumn term and one in the spring term. The way it works is that the better one of the two is counted towards your mark. The autumn one was a grammar test on Old English while the spring one was a critical essay. I did slightly better in the grammar test (because, of course) so I was free to use anything and everything that I wrote in the essay again in my exam. Well, it so happened that in the spring I wrote an essay on reading the poem Deor as a consolation. And what did I find in the exam as a possible essay topic? To what extent can Deor be read as a consolation? Bam. Essay done. And did I mention that I had miscalculated the time allotted for each section and ended up with a mysterious extra 45 minutes in my hands?

June was the first June that I had ever spent in Glasgow and it was glorious. I had never really lived in Glasgow outside of term time, and it was wonderful to find that my friends had not forgotten all about me and were willing to hang out. I also spent my first ever birthday in the UK and also my first birthday away from my family, but I had an incredibly good day and I was moved to find how many people did indeed take the time to wish me well – a family even invited me over to watch the Italy game that evening, and although we sadly lost, it was a wonderful day.

And then I flew off to China. I think this post is getting out of hand so I’ll tell you all about China in the next installment, and maybe spare a thought for America too. Suffice to say for now that I had an incredible time but it’s good to be home. Glasgow’s home.

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