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Studying and Tests
You have learned your material, when you can readily recall it and actually use it-on tests or in real-life situations.
Effective studying is your most important tool to combat test anxiety, but more important, effective studying helps you master the material and allow you to apply it as you need to.The reviewing and applying stage of the learning cycle involves studying and using the material you have been exposed to in your course.
Effective studying is an ongoing process of reviewing course material. The first and most important thing you should know is that studying is not something you do a few days before an exam.
To be effective, studying is something you do as part of an ongoing learning process, throughout the duration of the term.
Gather Your Learning Materials
Take time to merge your class notes with your reading notes. How do they complement each other?
Stop and think. What do the notes tell you about your material?
What aspects of the material are you unsure about?
Do you need to re-read a part of your text?
Write down any questions you have for your instructor.
Apply or visualize
What does this material mean to you?
How will you use this new knowledge?
Try to find a way to apply it in your own life or thoughts.
If you can’t use the knowledge right away, visualize yourself using the knowledge to solve a problem or visualize yourself teaching the material to other students.
Cement Your Knowledge
If you use the two-column note-taking method, cover up the right side of your notes with a piece of paper, leaving the questions in the left column exposed.
Test yourself by trying to answer your questions without referring to your notes. How did you do? If you are unsure about anything, look up the answer and write it down right away.
Don’t let a wrong answer be the last thing you wrote on a subject, because you will most likely continue to remember the wrong answer.
At least a week before a major exam, ask yourself these questions: What has the instructor said about what is included on the exam? If you were the instructor, what questions would you ask on an exam? Challenge yourself to come up with some really tough open-ended questions. Think about how you might answer them.
Be sure to go to any review sessions the instructor or your lecturer holds.
Review Your Outlines
Now go back and review your outlines. Do they cover what the instructor has suggested might be on the exam?
After reviewing your outlines, reread the sections of your notes that are most closely associated with expected exam questions.
Pay special attention to those items the instructor emphasized during class. Read key points aloud and write them down on index cards.
At the end of each unit, or at least every two weeks or so, use your notes and textbook to write an outline or summary of the material in your own words.
After you have written the summary or outline, go back and reread your outline from the prior unit followed by the one you just wrote.
Does the new one build on the earlier one?
Do you feel confident you understand the material?
Tips for Success
Schedule a consistent study-review time for each course at least once a week, in addition to your class and assignment time. Keep to that schedule as rigorously as you do your class schedule.
Get yourself in the right space. Choose to study in a quiet, well-lit space. Your chair should be comfortable but provide good support. Remember that libraries were designed for reading and should be your first option.
Minimize distractions. Turn off your cell phone and get away from Facebook, television, other nearby activities, and chatty friends or roommates. All of these can cut into the effectiveness of your study efforts. Multitasking and studying don’t mix.
If you will be studying for a long time, take short breaks at least once an hour. Get up, stretch, breathe deeply, and then get back to work.
Study groups are a great idea-as long as they are thoughtfully managed.
A study group can give you new perspectives on course material and help you fill in gaps in your notes. Discussing course content will sharpen your critical thinking related to the subject, and being part of a group to which you are accountable will help you study consistently. In a study group, you will end up “teaching” each other the material, which is the strongest way to retain new material.
Complementary Skills and Learning Styles
Complementary skills make for a good study group because your weaknesses will be countered by another student’s strengths.
When a subject requires a combination of various skills, strengths in each of those skills is helpful (e.g., a group with one student who is really good at physics and another at math would be perfect for an engineering course).
Finally, a variety of learning styles is helpful because you pick up differing signals and emphases from the instructor that you can share with each other.
Define an Agenda and Objectives
Give your study sessions focus so that you don’t get sidetracked.
Based on requests and comments from the group, the moderator should develop the agenda and start each session by summarizing what the group expects to cover and then keep the group to task.
Review and discuss class and assignment notes
Discuss assigned readings
Quiz each other on class material
When you first set up a study group, agree to a regular meeting schedule and stick to it.
Moving study session times around can result in nonparticipation, lack of preparation, and eventually the collapse of the study group.
Equally important is keeping your sessions to the allotted times. If you waste time and regularly meet much longer than you agreed to, participants will not feel they are getting study value for their time invested.
Limit your study group to no more than three or four people. A larger group would limit each student’s participation and make scheduling of regular study sessions a real problem.
Look for students who are doing well in the course, who ask questions, and who participate in class discussions. Don’t make friendship the primary consideration for who should be in your group.
Meet up with your friends instead during “social time”-study time is all about learning.
All tests are designed to determine how much you know about a particular subject at a particular point in time.
But you should be aware of differences in types of tests because this will help guide how you prepare for them. Two general types of tests are based on their objectives, or how they are intended to be used: formative assessments and summative assessments.
These include quizzes, unit tests, pop quizzes, and review quizzes from a textbook or its Web site. Their main objective is to make sure you know the fundamental material before moving on to more challenging topics.
Because these quizzes usually don’t count much toward your final grade, many students think they are not very important.
In fact, these quizzes are very important, they can help you to identify what you know and what you still need to learn to be successful in the course.
These include midterm exams and finals. They are used by the instructor to determine if you are mastering a large portion of the material, and as such, they usually carry a heavy weight toward your final grade for the course.
Because of this, they often result in high levels of test anxiety and long study periods.
In addition to this classification by objective, tests can also be grouped into various categories based on how they are delivered.
Each type has its own peculiar strategies. The more known ideas you have been exposed to, the more options you’ll have for combining them into new concepts. The following are some tips for creative thinking.
These are still the most common type of test, requiring students to write answers on the test pages or in a separate test booklet.
They are typically used for in-class tests. Neatness and good grammar count, even if it’s not an English exam.
Remember that the instructor will be reading dozens of test papers and will not likely spend much time trying to figure out your hieroglyphics, arrows, and cross-outs.
These tests allow the student to consult their notes, textbook, or both while taking the exam.
Instructors often give this type of test when they are more interested in seeing your thoughts and critical thinking than your memory power. Be prepared to expose and defend your own viewpoints.
When preparing, know where key material is present in your book and notes; create an index for your notes and use sticky notes to flag key pages of your textbook before the exam.
Presentations and Oral Tests
These are the most complete means for instructors to evaluate students’ mastery of material, because the evaluation is highly interactive.
The instructor can (and likely will) probe you on certain points, question your assumptions, or ask you to defend your point of view.
Make sure you practice your presentation many times with and without an audience (your study group is good for this). Have a clear and concise point of view and keep to the allotted time.
These exams are like open-book tests except you have the luxury of time on your side. Make sure you submit the exam on time.
Know what the instructor’s expectations are about the content of your answers. The instructor will likely expect more detail and more complete work because you are not under a strict time limit and because you have access to reference materials.
Be sure to type your exam and don’t forget to spell-check it!
Online tests are most commonly used for formative assessments, although they are starting to find their way into high-stakes exams, particularly in large lecture classes that fulfill a graduation requirement.The main advantage of online tests is that they can be computer graded, providing fast feedback to the student and allowing the instructor to grade hundreds of exams easily.
Understand the Software
Since these tests are computer graded, be aware that the instructor’s judgment is not involved in the grading.
Your answers will be either right or wrong; there is no room for partially correct responses.
With online tests, be sure you understand the testing software. Are there practice questions? If so, make sure you use them.
Find out if you will be allowed to move freely between test sections to go back and check your work or to complete questions you might have skipped. Some testing software does not allow you to return to sections once they are submitted.
Unless your exam needs to be taken at a specific time, don’t wait until the last minute to take the test. Should you have technical problems, you want to have time to resolve the issues. To avoid any conflicts with the testing software, close all other software applications.
This type of test is becoming more common as colleges install smart classrooms with technology such as wireless clicker technology that instructors may use to get a quick read of students’ understanding of a lecture.
This testing method allows for only true-or-false and multiple-choice questions, so it is rarely used for summative assessments.
When taking this kind of quick quiz, take notes on questions you miss so that you can focus on them when you do your own review.
Tips for Taking Tests
You’ve reviewed the material for a test and feel confident that you will do well. You have brought your test anxiety into control. What else can you do to ensure success on a test? Learn and apply these top ten test-taking strategies:
Learn as much as you can about the test.
Try to foresee the questions likely to be on the test.
Don’t be tempted to stay up late cramming.
Get to the test site early. Prepare your allowable tools.
Create a test plan.
Write it down. Take a couple minutes to write down key facts, dates, principles and statistics.
Read the directions carefully. Then reread them.
Do the easy questions first.
Keep an eye on the time. Keep as close to your plan as possible.
Maths and science tests require some special strategies because they are often problem based rather than question based. After reviewing problems in class, take careful notes about what you did incorrectly.
In your study group, take turns presenting solutions to problems and observing and correcting everyone’s work.
If you are having difficulty with a concept, get help right away.
Approach each math and science problem following three distinct steps:
1. Read the problem through twice: the first time to get the full concept of the question, and the second time to draw out pertinent information.
2. Compute your answer. First, eliminate as many unknowns as possible.
3. Check your work. Start by comparing your actual answer to the estimate you made when you first read the problem.
Process for Science Tests
Science tests also are often problem based, but they also generally use the scientific method. This is why science tests may require some specific strategies.
Before the test, review your lab and class notes
Read the question carefully. What does the instructor expect you to do? Prove a hypothesis? Describe an experiment?
Look carefully at all the diagrams given with the question. What do they illustrate? Why are they included with the question? Are there elements on the diagram you are expected to label?
Effective studying happens over time, not just a few days before an exam. Consistent and regular review time helps you learn the material better and saves you time and anguish as exam time approaches.
The following are three steps to follow in each study session:
Gather your knowledge.
Apply or visualize your knowledge.
Cement your knowledge.
Study groups are a great idea-provided they are thoughtfully managed.
There is no such thing as an unimportant quiz.
In addition to studying, prepare for exams and quizzes by getting plenty of rest, eating well, and getting some exercise the day before the exam.
Cramming is seldom a good strategy.
Before the exam, learn as much as you can about the kinds of questions your instructor will be asking and the specific material that will be covered.
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