The Student Success Office has described the key to success in university as the ability to remain organized, instead of being naturally intelligent. In this way then, I believed that I entered university with an advantage: I was described as a diligent and hardworking high school student, and my organizational systems & practices (at the risk of sounding boastful) were commended as being “impressive.” While I had strong organizational habits, I knew that university would be an adjustment, and an adjustment it was!
I was forewarned that university, and each day that I exist in university, would present new challenges: harder coursework—a struggle to adopt theory amidst practical assignments, testing my foundational understanding of a concept; school-life balance issues and learning to be independent and self-sufficient—while networking and creating connections with faculty, staff and my peers. I knew that the coursework would get harder and I needed to manage my time; I thought that my status quo would be fine. I thought that I would be set, and that all the horror stories of mark-dropping and late nights were a by-product of overly concerned people drinking culture’s KoolAid.
I learned quickly that culture’s KoolAid was not a myth and that university would present its challenges—the amount and depth to which I would be asked to read, and how my readings, tests, midterms and papers would be placed on my lap, all within the span of a week. And to be completely honest, I’ve been asked to do little writing. Instead, I’ve been asked to absorb and master content from lectures and readings, and regurgitate this knowledge in a multiple choice or short answer exam. What I appreciate about the short answer exam is that it gives leeway to students who understand the concept conceptually, instead of factually, and then students can bring in their examples—when forgetting the professor’s examples in lecture, sadly is more common than changing my socks. Where I’m challenged in this form is the vagueness of the test prompt, and it seems like I’m blindly composing a response, in the hopes that what I wrote would get me at least a part-mark, if my response is “off the money.”
While I prefer short answer responses to multiple choice exams, I still have described my frustration with this style of testing before, and by no means has this frustration gone away—I’m still being asked to fit within a specific genre that I dislike. But, I’ve come to terms with my personal dislike of said form to comply with the academy’s boxed in testing methods. I would prefer and find little reason to argue against, an argumentative essay assignment where I’m asked to assert a claim and develop an argument to demonstrate my knowledge. I know that I’m not alone in this inherent desire to want to write more, to think autonomously more, to be a more independent and autonomous scholar, of sorts. However, I’ve conceded that I’ve been very privileged: to attend strong schools, with a focus on providing students tangible skills that will prepare us for further development in the ivory halls of the academy, and beyond; and that many students haven’t shared in that same experience.
And thus, the question presents itself, “Jacob, what skills have you developed over the first six weeks of your undergrad?” I’ve learned the importance of prioritizing, and learning to read for content–because not all texts are pleasurable to read. I’ve seen that Lunsford is certainly right—that academic writing is dispassionate and objective, but at the same time, it seems like the style under which it is written is painstakingly dry and monotonous to get through. It’s like eating soda crackers without saliva, while sick—it’s painfully exhausting and it leaves a weird taste in my mouth.
Speed reading and writing seem to be skills that I needed to acquire quickly: in the face of 130 pages of reading for one course multiplied by five courses, the need to read accurately and succinctly for content, for the first time was a skill I learned quickly. As I began to do my readings, I started by reading every single word, of every paragraph, of every reading. Then, I realized that I needed to get over my need to be perfectly knowledgeable about every aspect of readings, and get to the nitty-gritty of each reading: what are the big ideas that are present in this dialogue—and devote my time to that. Specifically related to this course, I’ve learned to develop a clear argument, edit quickly—exploring the major contradictions in my argument before I focus on the micro-concerns of my argument. What I’m struggling with to do in this course is to find ways to “let my hair down in my writing,” while not being overly informal. To overcome this hurdle, I’m hoping to overcome this obstacle as I read other people’s work.
However, it’s become quite clear that I’m not going to be a perfect writer in one day, and that to be an effective communicator, I must continue to redraft, finding my voice and myself, redefining and honing my critical thinking and literacy skills throughout my undergrad. I’m sure it will come. One day at a time.