By Mary Bradshaw, A-Level student at Westbuckland School
In one of the Imperial College buildings, with university professors and other tutors giving the talks, the Connell Guides bootcamp gave me a flavour of university study and seminars, yet at the same time the intimate and friendly atmosphere meant everybody had the confidence to contribute their own points of view in discussion. It was an amazing and very rare opportunity to be on the receiving end of talks from such knowledgable and enthusiastic people.
The day began with theory crash courses, including psychoanalysis, feminism and Marxism. Each detailed the theory and applied them to some of the A-Level texts, before John Mullan, associated with Edexcel, presented his talk. He spoke about reading literary criticism with an open yet inquisitive mind and urged us to challenge instead of simply absorbing it. This was extremely useful to me as wider reading carries considerable marks in my exam, something which was less important last year.
For me, though, the most beneficial part of the bootcamp was when we split into groups according to the books and Shakespeare plays we were studying and were led in discussion by the tutors. These seminars replicated classroom discussion but were a hundred times better! I enjoyed seeing how other people think as well as presenting my own ideas and being pushed to develop them further in a way which resembled an academic interview and which reflected the thought process of planning an essay.
The content of the teacher Johnny Patrick’s two lectures (one on the evolution of contemporary literature and the other on how to write an A* exam essay) reflected, for me, the appeal of the day: the bootcamp provided the perfect combination of exam-specific advice about technique and our particular texts, yet reached beyond this into more general information about the history of literature and how to approach unseen extracts… including James and the Giant peach, whose deeper meaning (where the peach comes to represent a mother figure) we had all completely overlooked in our childhood innocence.
I came away from the bootcamp not only with new ideas but with a new confidence to express them in writing… and, of course, with plenty of handouts and free guides!