Omniscience is the ability to know everything infinitely and as broad as Criminology is as a social science, it is not infinite and we cannot learn everything.
This will become apparent in your second year when you learn new things about society every week in your seminars. Study Prisons, Probation and Punishment which can seem infinite, indeed there is a whole sub-discipline dedicated to Penology, the study of punishment. And you will also realise, there are very few criminological ‘facts’.
Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed 🙂 I made this mistake last semester when I did well on essays but let myself down with the exams because I tried to learn everything, instead of using my ‘Criminology Imagination’ by thinking outside the box and critically, but not about everything. So how to succeed in an exam when facts are obsolete and your expected to write an essay in one hour? Specialize.
My brother completed his Psychology Degree last year and told me that to work out which topics to revise is basic maths, if there are sixteen topics and you have to answer two questions, then revise a majority. In that case he revised 8-10 topics for most exams, I witnessed the stress and kept a distance…. This might work for a Science degree where names and facts = points, but for a social Science Degree you need to have a good argument, hence for my Brothers History exams (he studied a Dual Honors) he had a very different approach. Remembering the sheets upon sheets of notes he had for his Psychology exams I asked how he revised for History exams? He showed me 3 cards 😮 three cards with a few scribbled notes!
Lesson learned, when revising for essay based exams you should know your topic; well in advance. Revision for essay based exams does not happen over night, trust me you will be told by other students that they manage this and still get a 1st. They lie. I’m 23, my brother graduated at 19, so he happened to remind me that some students (at least in their first year) are still in the school mentality where it’s not cool to work hard. Revision for essay based exams begins at the start of the semester, from the first introduction lecture you attend, you need to be reading every week and becoming more knowledge about your topic. Even though you only need to know one lecture topic for an essay, you can’t simply regurgitate your essay for your exam. When you reach the revision period (which is May and June for Leicester Uni) you should already have a broad knowledge of the module, not to know everything but to make the revision easier when it comes to reading and note taking. I find that if you at least speed read most lecture topics throughout the module then it becomes easier to specialize for revision. Also, if you have any questions then email your tutors! You have paid to be here, therefore you deserve to ask questions and get replies; you never know if you don’t ask.
Specifically, don’t memorize names and facts. I did this for Policing and even though I could tell you the eight Policing policies of Rowan and Mayne (1850), I didn’t criticize it therefore the facts were irrelevant. For every name and fact you need another name and fact to criticize it. Find out what your learning method is, auditorial, visual ect; how do you learn? I like music so I thought mine was auditorial, except in silence I can speed read an entire book in a few hours (not possible a year ago), therefore I found it easier to choose specific journals, speed read them, then make extensive notes, then summarize those notes onto a few cards. These are the basics for exam revision, though you should alter this for essay revision to include abstract ideas rather than facts.
You could use Bourdieu’s concept of ‘Habitus’ or you could also use quotes that summarize a topic, Cultural Criminology can be summarized by Jeff Ferrell (1999) as ‘the screen scripts the street and the street scripts the screen’. Most Criminology exams have eight questions and require you to answer two, but these questions are rarely specific to one topic and usually overlap. Therefore you should cover two broad areas that might overlap across four lectures but are all related in some way. Play to your strengths, I had two presentations this semester on Gangs because my optional module was Youth Crime, hence I revised everything on Gangs because this also overlapped with my Youth Crime module, which made it easier to understand.
Be aware of the time during the exam, this is your measurement for what you should be writing. In a two hour exam the two questions are equally weighted, therefore spend equal amount of time on each question. I would recommend spending the first few minutes jotting down ideas, then summarize your answer in one sentence to use as the introduction. Use the next 45 minutes for your argument, I try to get all the basics out in 15-20 minutes then use the next 30mins to criticize your own argument. Use five minutes for a conclusion and five minutes to check the question before moving onto the next one. You should have used a similar amount of writing for the introduction, argument and conclusion, which demonstrates a good structure. This equals more criticism than fact and since critical thinking is key at University, this should equal higher marks. I’ll let you know if this is true when I get my results back next month…
To summarize this unintentionally extensive blog post (I like to give specific examples so you know what to expect from studying Criminology), here are three principles to keep in mind when revising for essay based exams:
1. Know your topic
2. Play to your strengths
3. More criticism than fact
Good luck in now and future exams!