How To Prepare For an Exam

How To Prepare For an Exam

April 20, 2012  |  Exam Taking  |  9 Comments

There’s an old but true saying that those who do not prepare for success are preparing for failure. Passing your exams with high marks is not a particularly difficult task. The successful student plans his/her exam long before the actual due date.

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A chair in a classroom

Separating Out What To Study When Preparing For A Test

February 16, 2012  |  Exam Taking, Study Tips  |  1 Comment

When you sit down and begin studying for a test, you likely lay out all your notes, lectures, quizzes and homework assignments in front of you and – in doing so – realize that there’s a lot of material you’re going to need to cover. When faced with this realization, some students crack down and power through the material, in the process insuring that no details are left unexamined. If you can effectively study this way, that’s great, you’ll probably show up for the exam knowledgeable and highly prepared.

But most students will not learn well when they attempt to study every single detail. Sometimes this is because they get tired and distracted and never make it all the way through the material. Sometimes they do make it through, but the sheer amount of information crammed into their heads inevitably leaks out before the actual test has been administered. For these students it is far more beneficial to take a targeted approach – to separate out what’s important to study from what’s not, and in doing so create a list of topics from which they can prepare.

Whether you’re a high schooler, a graduate student, it’s consequently always important to be able to recognize key material and focus most of your energies there. Here are a few tips for differentiating between materials of different values:

  1. Use the three column approach

    One of the best ways to differentiate between material is to start the studying process by drawing three columns on a sheet of paper. In the first column, list off all topics that will be covered on the exam that you know well. In the second column, list those topics that you understood at one point but have since forgotten. Finally, in the third column, write down the topics that you never learned or understood. When you sit down to study, focus primarily on items listed in the second column. Ignore the first one completely and concentrate on the third only if you have sufficient preparation time.

  2. Study to the lecture

    Exams at many different levels of education will cover material from both classroom lectures and from textbook readings. While a teacher may say that the textbook content is just as important as what is taught in class, the reality is that the subjects covered in the classroom setting are more likely to appear in depth on a test. After all, a teacher will talk about those topics in which he is most comfortable or interested – and he will likely write his tests with a similar bias in mind.

  3. Spot trends in the class

    Teachers can be just as predictable as the rest of us. They can repeatedly harp on certain subjects more than others, for example, and they can write tests that are similar year after year. On this note, assessing the main themes of your course as a whole and the focuses of your teacher in particular can often help you narrow in on the information that is most important to study.

Hopefully these tips and approaches can help you begin differentiating between crucial and non-crucial material when preparing for a test. Although it is always theoretically best to walk into an exam knowing every possible detail, in reality this is often not possible. Consequently, we want to have the ability to focus on the material that matters most.

How To Study For Exams

How To Study For Exams

July 17, 2011  |  Exam Taking, General Tips, How to  |  2 Comments

Interested in knowing how to study for upcoming exams? In this post, we’ll go through the most important parts of the process which unfortunately tends to be overlooked far too often.

1. The urgency of NOW!

I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon pertaining to studying. For some reason, when it comes to exams, people tend to worry a lot more about their exams than they they do actually preparing. If you are currently worried about an upcoming exam, why not harness that negative energy into something positive instead? Whenever you start getting worried again it becomes time to hit the books. Do not succumb to procrastination. Do your studying and do it now!

2. A road map helps a long way

Always keep your exam date near to heart. Time tends to go by pretty fast, you may be surprised that 3 weeks left have all of sudden turned into 5 days left. Don’t let this happen to you. Organize your studies and memorize all of your test dates. Put them up on the wall if necessary.

A good way of constructing your road map is to first set the date for your upcoming exam, then outline all the major topics that you would need to have covered until then. Finally, you can divide these topics into smaller tasks, describing the everyday tedious “on the ground” “getting your hands dirty” work that simply has to be done. This could be something like reading chapter 3 or solving problem 5a.

3. Compile an I Don’t Know Paper (IDKP)

This is something that I personally like to do. Whenever you begin a new course, start out by getting a piece of paper or a text document and then start recording all of the things that you need to understand before the test date. These are the things that we intend to ask our professors but instead we put it up and thus forget about it until it’s already to late. By collecting all of the I Don’t Know’s in a IDKP, you can then, at the end of each week seek out the answers to these questions either by asking a colleague or your professor or by simply going to your local library and/or the internet.

Either way, don’t let it go unanswered or you will regret it later on when sitting during the exam only to have realized that your intended inquiry is now an exam question. The the motto is: Answer your own questions before they become exam questions!

4. Are you on track?

It’s easy to neglect work, even easier when it comes to education. That’s why you should appoint one day at the end of the week for the sole purpose of tracking your progress. Are you on track? Have you finished the tasks that you’ve outlined in your road map? Have you answered all the questions that you have been thinking about? If not, then no play for you until you’re back on chart.

Sure, missing out on one day isn’t that bad. The problem my friend, is when one day becomes two days and two turn into three and so on. Days tend to accumulate pretty quickly. If you’re behind schedule you should strive to get back on schedule as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will become to get back on track.

Passing Difficult Exams

February 9, 2011  |  Exam Taking, General Tips  |  5 Comments

Understanding difficult subjects

If you want to learn how to pass difficult exams you need to first revisit your definition of the word ‘difficult’. Don’t be deluded by the word difficult. How many students haven’t had their dreams shattered by this word. How many a men have not lost themselves in the wilderness of their own self delusion merely because the believed that things have an inherent difficulty in them. Too many, that’s for sure.

Difficult words

What makes the word accolade anymore difficult than the word acceptance? Is it the number of letters used? Nope, in this case the latter word has more letters than the former but is viewed as more difficult. Why?

Simply because we have a wrong understanding, that’s why. I had a teacher once who correctly stated: “There are no difficult words – only words you haven’t heard of”. We tend to call the unknown difficult while in reality it is no more or less difficult than that we already know. This is the mindset you need to have before learning new terminology.

Memorize the words and their meaning and then try to use those words in their appropriate setting. Once you’ve used a word or phrase continuously you’ll stop to perceive it as difficult and even worthy of an explanation.

Difficult subject

Now before I dismiss the notion of there not being difficult subjects I do need to state that there are indeed subjects that are perceived as more difficult than others. This we all know from experience. However it is important to understand that although we may view it as difficult someone else sees it as easy. The difference between us and this other person is that the latter has understood the concept and thus finds it easy. If you want to be able to transform a difficult subject to become easy you’ll need to first understand it.

That’s why you should invest a lot of time to pose questions to the teacher in the beginning of such a course. As soon as you don’t understand a word, phrase or concept you need to investigate it further. Don’t leave it to the future because chances are that you will never look into what that particular thing meant and will only later find yourself to be troubled when it shows up on an exam or in a real life scenario.

Do your homework, learn first and it will help you out later.

Bringing Food to the Exam, A Good Thing?

December 30, 2009  |  Exam Taking  |  3 Comments

Some people do it, others do not. I’ve always wondered if bringing some snacks to the exam is more helpful than it is hurtful. Although I’m not entirely convinced to either side (yet) here’s my simple analysis of the problem (feel free give your own opinion in the comments). Read More