by Hannah Marshall
Welcome to the Tripos Guide for Part IIB Sociology. As you probably already know if you’re here, Part IIB of the Sociology Tripos gives you the freedom to explore a whole range of fascinating topics relevant to the infinitely complex, wonderfully messy, and constantly changing entity known as society. This guide will detail the techniques that I found helpful in creating a successful exam strategy in a discipline that can be unwieldy, and complicated to navigate.
Choosing your topics
Ideally you should do this at Easter, before you start to plan your revision schedule.
Use past papers as your guide. In some papers, such as Social Theory, it is easy to ascertain the topics that are likely to come up every year. Look through your papers and find out where you can be strategic. Combining pragmatism with (as much as possible) topics that you loved studying in term will give you more freedom and time to explore the topics innovatively and in detail.
Don’t be afraid to drop and swap a topic if it’s becoming unnecessarily difficult or burdensome, is there another topic that you excel in that you could replace it with?
Make sure that you revise a back up topic in case your preferred topics don’t come up.
Planning your revision
I have always found it useful to start early enough to go through everything you want to revise three or four times, each time using a different revision technique. I find that this helps you to get to a point where you can call all the material to mind very easily during the exam, leaving you free to produce the original and spontaneous response that will push you into the realms of the first and above.
Here is an example of what this could look like if you wanted to prepare 12 topics for an exam (3 papers, with 4 topics for each paper)
Allocate one day per topic, creating a rotating 12-day revision cycle.
On the first cycle of 12 days: revision technique 1: e.g. convert notes from term into mind maps
On the second cycle of 12 days: revision techniques 2: e.g. learn mind maps by reading them, covering them, and then recalling them verbally
On the third cycle of 12 days: revision technique 3: e.g. create power points on each topic from memory, and then go back to the spider diagrams to add in anything that you have forgotten
Fourth cycle of 12 days / if time: revision technique 4: e.g. make flashcards and then test yourself
Be strict with yourself and get used to testing how much you can remember early on in the revision process, even if it means facing up to the fact that you still have a lot of work to do!
I would usually try and set aside a few hours a day during the revision period for extra reading for:
a) Clarifying the issues that you don’t understand
b) Ensuring that you can always include and address counter examples in each paragraph of your main argument within the exam answer.
Always make notes from your extra reading and incorporate them into your revision the next time that you go over the topic.
Preparing for the exam itself
Do as many practice questions at possible as early as possible (try for one per day during exam term, no matter how terrible they are). Do them in the evening to consolidate the revision that you’ve done that day, and to figure out the areas that you need to work on next time.
Once you finish a practice question, either give it to your supervisor to mark, or mark it yourself (or both). Start building a list of all the things that you can improve on and refer back to it before you start each timed essay.
Keep going back to the mark scheme and to the past examiners’ reports – work out what the criteria are and exactly how you are going to hit each of those criteria for the first and starred first in your answer. Writing these criteria at the top of each practice essay can help to focus your mind while writing.
Conditions in the exam itself can be really off-putting. Other candidates, invigilators, and noise outside the exam hall can all be distracting. Accordingly, don’t write your practice essays alone in your room – get yourself used to focusing despite distractions by writing timed essays in a busy library or study room.
Coping with stress
Give yourself a structure to follow, with set breaks.
Don’t worry/think about what other people are doing. The people who got firsts/starred firsts last year definitely don’t spend every waking moment thinking deep and original thoughts about symbolic interactionism, and they probably also spent their revision break looking at pictures of cats on the internet.
If you find revising with other people in your subject group stressful or competitive it’s ok to take the time to study alone and avoid extra unnecessary pressure.
There are times when you need to push yourself to keep revising, but if you’re sobbing your way through Habermas’s The Crisis of The European Union, or think you might actually have lost the ability to read, then it’s time to take the night off. Remember, 99% of the time you’re not having a nervous breakdown, you just need a cup of tea. You will get there!
Thanks for reading and good luck.