Preparing for Exams
- Review your notes each night. This part of the learning process is often neglected by college students who were successful in high school without it. Daily review will help you organize the material, and will help you locate areas where you may have questions. Most students don't do this unless they specifically plan for it.
- Come to class prepared. Do the homework before the next class, if you can, and be prepared with questions if not. Look over your notes briefly before class starts, so that you remember where you left off and what you were trying to accomplish.
- Form note-sharing groups. If you have trouble taking notes and listening at the same time, consider forming a note-sharing group with two or three other students in the class. For example, if there were three of you in the group, each would take notes one class per week while the other two could pay full attention to the lecture. After the class, the note-taker would photocopy the notes and give them to the other members of the group.
- Understand the definitions first. The definitions and theorems are the key to understanding a discipline. Your goal is to understand the concepts, so you need to consciously work at that.
- Organize the course material as you study. When you review for exams or quizzes, you should think about other ways that the material could be organized. This will help you recognized the interconnections of the material.
- Go over the homework and quizzes when you study. The quizzes and homework are not just for practice of things done in class; they should also lead you to develop important concepts or procedures you are expected to know.
- Don't do all your homework by looking at the answers first. Many students look at the answer before starting the problem (or before thinking long enough about it), and then work toward that answer. Remember that you don't have the answers to work toward on exams; if all your experience is working with the answer already known, you will have trouble when you don't have this on the exam. When you do problems in preparation for an exam, don't look at the answers and don't use your notes until you are done. Try to make the situation as close to an exam situation as you can. Choose four or five problems and give yourself half an hour to do them with no help. Pretend you are taking an exam; that's the best way to be prepared.
- Don't leave your studying to the last minute. The best way to study is to keep up with your work as you go along; that way you will not have to study before the exams, as you will already know most of the material, so you can spend your time brushing up on a few weak points rather than learning the basics.
- Get a good night's sleep before the exam. Many students stay up too late studying the night before an exam. This is a bad idea, in general. Studies indicate the lack of even one or two hours of sleep can reduce your effectiveness and responsiveness by as much as 25%. Another recent study indicates that sleep is a crucial component in memory; that the material one studies must be "locked in" by a period of sleep. Furthermore, after a certain time with no sleep, no new information can be retained.
- Read through in-class exams before starting them. Most students start right in on the first problem when they get an exam. It is to your advantage, however, to take three minutes and read through the entire exam before starting in order to give you an idea of how much work there is, which ones are the easy ones, and which will take you longer. This is essential information if you are going to budget your time properly. Knowing what is coming is as important as knowing what you are currently doing. There is no reason why you have to do the problems in the order they were given. Some people like to do the ones they're sure of first, to get them out of the way, while others like to work on the hardest ones first, so they don't feel rushed on them later. Choose an approach that works for you.
- Budget your time on exams. There is not a lot of extra time on in-class exams, so you need to budget your time wisely (that's one reason you should read through the entire exam first). If you end up spending 20 minutes on one problem, you may not have time for the other ones. Be aware of how long you have spent on one, and don't be afraid to stop working on it and go on if it is taking too long. Don't let one problem spoil your entire exam.
- If you get frustrated, take a deep breath and regroup. If you start to feel overwhelmed, put your pencil down for a moment, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. The 15 seconds it takes to do that is well worth it if you can get back your composure. Remember, no one problem, or one exam, is worth the misery you make for yourself that way. Again, it's better to leave one problem blank than to let it block you from doing the rest of the exam.
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