Yesterday, I had my first exam for the semester in our English Phonology and Pronunciation class. It was… interesting. More than anything, I’m just glad I got it done but I found it incredibly difficult to get used to exams again after going from online exams and moodle tests to oral exams back to this online format.
The test happened while we were in a Zoom-Meeting – which I personally found unnecessary but it is what it is. The test consisted of four questions that each would have different subtasks. The first question consisted of a transcription using the symbols of the international phonetic alphabet (IPA). We had to indicate whether or not it was meant to be transcribed in GenAm (General American) or RP (Received Pronunciation)… and in part 2 of the first question, we had to name five words from the text that are different in GenAm and RP. I could only find four out of five, sadly, but mine included “you” (/ju/ in RP and /jə/ in GenAm), “old” (/əʊld/ in RP and /ɑʊld/ in GenAm), “our” (/ɑː(r)/ in RP and /ɑːr/ in GenAm), as well as “newness” (/nju:nəs/ in RP and /nu:nəs/ in GenAm). I couldn’t find anything in the text apart from those for a time and ended up dropping it when I learned that we only had an hour left of our 90 minutes, so I moved on to other questions.
And that’s something that I practically forgot: It’s always been about quantity instead of quality with these exams. Naturally, you want a great grade but what’s more important is that you actually pass. In the case of this exam, I spent too much time on this first question because I completely missed that there were three other questions and not just two other questions. Hence, I tried moving to other questions, marking in stress in Question 2, explaining terms in Question 3, and in Question 4, I ended up having to transcribe a sentence while also explaining what kinds of interference-caused mistakes German speakers would have with that sentence right there. The sentence was something along the lines of “Her old things were dragged into the woods” and while it wasn’t too hard to transcribe that, it was hard to explain every single mistake possible here as I didn’t want to miss out on precious points.
In the end, it’s all about quantity because you need 35 points to pass (that’s 50%) and “bulimic studying” is being rewarded. I studied a lot of terms over the winter break, trying to understand what obstruents are alveolar and that sort of stuff. I tried learning where your tongue is when you form certain vowels and I tried studying everything about stress… because frankly, I already studied everything else from this semester before the break and I didn’t see much of a challenge there. I figured that I’d be fucked if these terms would be the important thing in this test. Luckily, for me, I didn’t have to explain any of those “medical” terms if that makes sense. The ones I struggled with the most weren’t there. But still, I ended up wasting too much time on the first question and hence didn’t have too much time to think hard about the ones we had to explain here. I had to explain “the sound t̬” which is essentially a “flap rule” kinda thing where /t/ is pronounced like a /d/ under certain circumstances. One of those instances would be in words like “kitty”, “litter”, “letter”, “utter” or “pity” where the /t/ sound is intervocalic (aka “between vowels”) and where the second syllable is unstressed. There are other rules but I literally couldn’t think of anything else. In those cases, the /t/ sound can be pronounced like a /d/ sound in GenAm, leading to people saying “ledder” instead of “letter” or “waned” instead of “wanted”. I guess it’s less of a “/t/ turns to /d/” thing but more of a “/t/ becomes voiced” thing which I should have mentioned in my explanation as well. Other questions included “vowel length”, “the vower schwa” aka /ə/, “weak forms”, and “RP” as in “Received Pronunciation”. It wasn’t the hardest, I guess, but time management proved to be tricky and my brain proved to suck at stressful situations. I ended up giving in to the pressure and forgot about a lot of things that I actually know about, so that’s a bummer.
Regardless, the test went fine, I think. In theory, people can cheat in those tests but my philosophy is that if you end up cheating, you’re only cheating yourself. I could have, in theory, looked up rules or whatever but I know that I won’t make it far in my studies if I can’t get through this test without relying on such means. Does that make sense? I’ve seen people waste a lot of time in one class or in this specific degree, only finding out late that it’s not for them because they cheated in their initial exams where “the ones that won’t make it” are usually weeded out. So, even though, I’m not 100% sure that I’ll pass this exam, I’m glad that I managed to write down what I could solely by relying on my own knowledge. That’s why I said earlier that having it in a Zoom Meeting makes no sense or is weird… It’s weird because it adds pressure to the participants but it doesn’t help and it doesn’t stop anyone from cheating in theory. I guess you guarantee that students actually write their own tests but in the end, you still had an hour afterwards to send in the questions, so in theory, people could help each other at that point… If I was a teacher (and I plan to be), I’d try to teach my students this as well. Cheating helps nobody and I’d want to give weaker students more chances of catching up while still doing my best for everyone equally, if that makes sense. I’d love it if I could make that happen… bulimic studying usually doesn’t help people at all.
Anyway, today, I just wanted to give an update on that whole exam situation. I still have another exam in my grammar class and about three others in philosophy. One exam got cancelled and another happens in the next semester, sadly, as my last name is relatively late in the alphabet. The point is, I’m glad that this one is over and I’m looking forward to studying more for the other ones to come.