Monday, 19 May 2008

No trousers?

You sit down, turn over the paper. The questions are revealed. You read over them quickly. An out-of-body experience begins to creep in. Your palms start prickling with sweat. What the hell are they asking? This wasn't even on the course, was it? Your heart is jumping in your chest. You look around. Heads are down. Please - someone give an indication that they are in the same position. No one. No one? This is just like the nightmare of turning up somewhere without any trousers, except it's worse: it's real.

But unlike the bare-legged moment, this probably happens a lot more than people care to let on. I'll come clean, it has happened to me many times. The words are swimming on the page, you are telling yourself to concentrate and then in that horrible recursive way you start thinking 'I should be actually concentrating instead of thinking about concentrating. Ah! I am wasting time!' And then - snap - you are back looking at the questions. Everyone around you seems to be getting on - and time is running out! What to do?

Take a deep breath.

Calmly read through the questions again and stop worrying about time. You will have missed something in your panic earlier. Sometimes a question comes disguised as an ogre whereas when you take off the ugly phrasing there's a hottie underneath.

Here are a few things to be on the lookout for when undressing the ogre:

1. Inversion

This is where a common theme is disguised by flipping it on its head. 'To what extent is language a cultural invention?' is getting at the biology of language. 'System-centred design is wrong. Discuss' is inviting you to talk about user-centred design. 'Social anxiety is a 'illness' 'suffered' only by malingerers. Discuss.' is opening the gate for a discussion on the neuropsychiatry of the disorder. Be careful not be led down the wrong path with questions like this. If you feel your thoughts drifting off into new territory ask yourself if the question is rotated whether you can get back to familiar ground.

2. Tricky language.

This is the use of unfamiliarity to mask a familiar topic. For example, 'Does matter matter?' - here the familiar theme - functionalism - is disguised by the seeming complexity of the question. Another might be, 'Discuss the evidence for 'insulated processing islands' in the visual system?' - here the usual term - a module - is substituted to throw you off the scent. Take a moment to translate back into terms you are familiar with.

3. Quoting.

This is the use of external quotations, often couched in the practical, which then demand theoretical clarification. For instance, '"Women need a reason to have sex; men just need a place". Discuss this statement in relation to Parental Investment Theory.' Or, '"Most of the focus in product design is on the product itself, and I realised that's just a small piece of it" (Norman, 2005). Discuss.' In these cases, the meaning of the quotation needs unpacking and translating back into something you are familiar with. I found it helpful to write a couple of re-phrasing words over the top of quotations just to get the meaning pinned down. Just make sure in your answer you address a quotation directly.

So, take your time when reading the questions at the start. If you feel panic setting in push it away, take a deep breath and have another look because a second reading without the dizzying effect of anxiety will be much better if you are looking out for the things questions are getting at and not their window dressing.

1 comment:

Carlo said...

Good job! :)