Inside the Study Centre with David Wake
The Study Centre is the most important room in the college. MPW students sit weekly timed assignments in each subject so that progress is checked and developed.
All tests take place in the Study Centre which is managed by David Wake. We discuss the benefits of timed assignments and the importance of a study focused environment within the college.
Tell us about the Study Centre. What’s its purpose and how can students get the most out of it?
It’s a quiet room to test students in their subjects and to enable them to study. Today, there are far too many distractions. Phones seem to magically appear as soon as students leave the classroom. They are back on Facebook and Twitter, never giving their brains a chance to digest all this raw data. We do need space to reflect, think and learn without the endless necessity to like, share and status update. You have to put something in your mind before you can tell anyone what’s on it. So the Study Centre is a sanctuary, a gym for our attention spans, and a silent space to let us understand and remember what we’ve learnt.
Can you tell us about Timed Assignments and how often students sit them?
Students sit a Timed Assignment in each subject once a week - that’s a lot of tests. However, they are for the benefit of our students. Firstly, it reinforces what you’ve learnt in class. Secondly, you have a chance to practise your exam technique, so that when you come to do an exam, you think ‘Oh, I’ve done this before – no problem’. Practice makes perfect. Thirdly, it points out to you and your tutor, what you know and what perhaps you don’t. You and your tutor can then go over material in lessons and you improve. You learn by your mistakes, so it’s best to make them in a Timed Assignment, rather than in a formal exam. Taken seriously, Timed Assignments make a big difference.
How important is it to maintain a quiet environment for students to study in?
Very. We are trying to replicate exam conditions as much as possible. Why? Because it works. Students do their exams in a quiet room, so it’s as well to learn in that environment. Research shows that you recall things better in the same conditions: a smell evokes a strong memory, a song can conjure the moment you last heard it, and a silent exam room can jog all that revision and testing that you did in a similar (or even identical) quiet room. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed music and television during your actual exams. Teenagers often whine that they can learn with the TV on... and that is actually true. Yes, true! However, they recall that information best when the TV is on, which leaves them somewhat stuck when they are sitting at a desk in a large room faced with a tricky question that means the difference between a B and A, or a University place and a year of resits, and there’s no TV blaring away to prompt them.
Any advice for students?
I was a student again myself a couple of years ago. I did an MA and decided to follow all the advice: write clear notes, type them up within a day or so, and generally do it properly. I threw myself into it, volunteered to be the Student Rep and one of the Anthology editors. It was a revelation! All these adults, many with high-powered jobs, dithering and panicking when the deadlines approached, while I was there thinking ‘I’ve done this, I’m up to date on that, I’m well ahead on the other’. I strolled to a Distinction - easy, mainly because I enjoyed it so much. That’s the real trick: developing an excitement for your subject. I do miss being a student. You get out what you put in.
As well as working in the Study Centre you write scripts. Are you working on any scripts at the moment?
I’m planning a play: The Cancellation and Re-imagining of Captain Tartan for the World Science Fiction Convention, which is to be held in London this year. As I answer this question, I’m learning my lines: little and often, regular reminders, testing myself, getting others to test me. It’s far, far better than trying to cram during the dress rehearsal.
Can you tell us about the books you have had published in recent years?
I’ve three novels and a novella out. The Other Christmas Carol, the novella, is a dark tale written as a tonic to the Christmas spirit. I, Phone and #tag are near future Science Fiction novels. The first covers our overreliance on mobile phones and the second is a take on twitter. (I wonder where I got the inspiration for that ;-) The Derring-Do Club and the Empire of the Dead is a steampunk adventure yarn and the sequel, The Derring-Do Club and the Year of the Chrononauts, is out in August. I’m launching it at the Science Fiction convention. They’re all on Amazon, if I’m allowed a plug.