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University of London Diploma and BA Degree in Philosophy
studying with the international programme

by Moira McIntyre

I've just completed a University of London International Programme BA in Philosophy which I've been studying for over the past four years. I hope the following advice will be of use to anyone who is studying or planning to study via this route in the future. All of these are things I learnt 'the hard way' by having to develop my study plan year on year. I hope this article will help some others get the most from the international programme.

A. Make sure what you're studying will be examined

The biggest problem I found with the programme was the vagueness of the syllabuses. Often what was included in the syllabuses were rarely featured if at all on exam papers. There is nothing more frustrating than spending a lot of time preparing a topic area for it to not appear on the exam paper when you arrive. I found the following structure very helpful.

1. Read a general introductory text to this area and the appropriate chapter in the provided course texts.

2. This provides you with a basis to evaluate the questions on the past papers and group them into frequently occurring topics. Focus only on those topics which appear frequently. I am very interested in applied ethics and spent a fair amount of time on this topic erroneously as it only rarely appeared on the exam.

3. Don't try and study every topic on the module, focus on five to six. This should give you plenty of choice in the exam without making you spend too much time trying to decide.

4. Try and make sure that the reading you do covers the breadth of questions under this topic. If you are doing a historical module, keep your topics in mind when doing your initial reading of the course texts.

5. Once you've started to read around the area, try and come up with your own opinions on the topic that you're studying and then try to find arguments that back up or challenge this argument. I find it a lot easier to argue for something that is my point of view.

B. Be concise

When making notes for the course, bear in mind that it is completely assessed by exam. There is no point copying out long quotes, even if it does state the argument you want exactly. It is unlikely that you'll be able to memorise this for your exams. Instead, look for a summary sentence that sums it up that you may be able to memorise. Also focus on the fact that you've got only an hour to write on any topic by not gaining too much information. This may detract you from making a clear argument in the exam by trying to write down a lot of information in a rushed manner. For my final exams, I condensed each topic into a Mind Map covering just an A4 sheet of paper.

C. Be prepared for new perspectives

On all topics, you could get surprised and find a new perspective is questioned in the exam if you are unprepared. Try to prepare for exams by:

1. Splitting questions on the topic into two and using half to aid your enquiry and half to use as practice papers by tackling them without specifically having looked for information. This should allow you to find gaps which you need to research.

2. I found using the paper from the previous year as an unseen practice where I timed it in exam conditions -- so I had to decide on questions, plan etc in exam conditions -- further helped me plan for the unexpected.

3. Read recent journals. Often the examiners appear to ask questions on topics that have recently been brought up in journals and debates.

4. Make sure you're familiar with all terms featured in past papers and also all arguments that the examiners suggest are relevant in their reports.

D. Reading for speed

A lot of philosophical arguments in books or journals are quite lengthy and wordy. This can be both hard to get to grips with and also present you with an argument that you can't re-present in an exam. If you consider that you'll want to present at least three arguments in your exam, knowing and having read all the possible counter arguments from a 40 page paper isn't going to fit in the time. I found it is often possible to search on Jstor to find someone who has criticised or furthered an argument: they will often have summarised the argument that they're going to discuss in the first page or two.

Best of luck to anyone studying through the international programme!

© Moira McIntyre 2005