Step #6. Prepare efficiently for exams
We will cover:
* Define the Challenge
* Cluster your notes for nontechnical subjects.
* Build mega-problem sets for technical subjects.
* Embrace the quiz-and-recall method. It’s the single most efficient way to study.
If you have been putting Step #1 to Step #5 into practice, taking smart notes and handling assignments effectly, studying should not be a big deal for you. In fact, when faced with a looming quiz or exam, you have to do only two things.
First, organise your material intelligently. Second, perform a targeted review of this material.
In this Step #6, we will cover how to accomplish the former. Don’t worry- organising your material properly is not a difficult task, but it is important that you do it right. Many students neglect this step, eager to dive right into the review, but by doing so they condemn themselves to hours of unnecessary work. You don’t want to be like these students. Pay attention to the advice that follows and you will experience a significant reduction to the difficulty of your study experience.
Define the Challenge
Before you can conduct any meaningful studying, you must first define the scope of the exam.
To accomplish this goal, answer the following questions:
* Which class and reading assignments (or problem sets) are fair game?
* What type of questions will there be, and how many of each?
* Is the exam open note or open book?
* For a technical subject, will formulas be provided or do they need to be memorised?
* How much time will be available? Does the teacher expect the exam to be easy to complete during the test period?
Get above information as early as possible – it’s curcial to your success.
Cluster your notes for nontechnical subjects
For a nontechnical subjects, once you find out which subjects and reading assignments are fair game for the exam, print out the corresponding notes that you have typed up or gather the pages you’ve written on (don’t be afraid to deconstruct your notebook). Cluster these pages into piles, separated by general topic. Clearly label each of these piles with its topic and fasten them together with a paper clip so you can easily transport them without mixing up the pages. For simplicity, we will refer to these topic-themed piles as “chapters,” Your final study guide, therefore, should contain a chapter, consisting of reading and lecture notes, for each general topic that might be covered on the exam.
Build mega-problem sets for Technical Subjects
Your problem set assignments are the key to your review process. Start a pile for each problem set that covers material that might appear on the exam. Next, you will need to supplement each problem set with sample problems from your class notes. For each class relevant to the upcoming exam, do the following:
1. Match the class to the problem set that covers the same material.
2. Copy sample problems from these class notes onto a blank sheet of paper. You don’t have to copy the steps or the answers, just the questions.
3. Label the blank sheet of paper with the date of the class. This will help you later figure out where these problems came from (and more important, where their answers can be found).
4. Fasten this sheet with a paper clip to the problem set you matched it to in step one.
In other words, this process transforms your problem sets into mega-problem sets by adding extra problems drawn from your class notes. Pretty simple.
Finally, you must augment your mega-problem sets with technical explanation questions. What are these? For every major topic covered in a particular mega-problem set, jot down a question that asks you to explain the basics of the topic.
For example, in an “economics class, make study sheets and then add a general question such as : What happens when a government increases spending and lowers interest rates?” Or, for a chemistry class, you might have a problem set containing many questions that require you to draw the molecular structure of specific chemical compounds. In this case, you could add a technical explanation question along the lines of: “Explain the general procedure for drawing a molecular structure, why this is useful, and what special cases must be kept in mind.”
It’s important that you add these technical explanation questions in addition to your regular sample problems, since they will reveal whether or not you understand the underlying concepts or if you have just memorised the steps for some particular problems.
One last note: if your teacher makes a practice exam available, then print out a copy of it and store it with your mega-problem sets. For technical subjects, sample exams are a great reveal tool, and you will definitely want to have them handy when it comes time to study.
So, what’s next? Now, it is time to get down to business. For weeks, you have taken smart notes and extracted insights from your assignments. You have identified the scope of the exam and organised all the relevant information into study guides or mega-problem sets. Your flash cards are stacked and ready to go. you are rested. Your time has come. There is nothing left to do but, dare we say it, STUDY…
Trust the Quiz-and-Recall Method
Whether it is philosophy or calculus, the most effective way to imprint a concept is to first review it and then try to explain it, unaided, in your own words. If you can close your eyes and articulate an argument from scratch, or stare at a blank sheet of paper and reproduce a solution without a mistake, then you have fully imprinted that concept. it’s not going anywhere.
The same is not true if you merely read over something. Passively reviewing a concept is not the same as actively producing it. Most students make the mistake of relying only on passive review; they read and reread their notes and assignments, and assume that the more they read, the more they will remember. Simply reading it over doesn’t work. You have to make the extra effort to get it into your head.
Using the Quiz-and-Recall Method for Nontechnical Subjects
To apply the quiz-and-recall method to nontechnical subject material, your first need to construct a practice quiz for each chapter in your study guide. Fortunately, the questions for these quizzes already exist, since, if you have followed the advice from past Steps, all of your notes should be in a question/evidence/conclusion format. Therefore, the quiz for any given chapter can simply contain all of the questions from the notes you took for that chapter.
You can be flexible here. Your goal is simply to produce practice quizzes that cover all the material contained in each corresponding chapter. If you can answer all the questions, then you understand all the big ideas.
Once you have built your practice quizzes, go through them one by one. For each question, try to articulate the matching conclusion and provide some highlights from the supporting evidence. you don’t have to reproduce the material in your notes word for word, but you do need a reasonable summary of the big idea and its support.
Here’s the important part: Don’t do this only in your head! If you are in a private location, say your answers out loud using complete sentences. If this helps, act as if you are giving a lecture on the subject. Get your blood pumping. Put some music on in the background. Make it an event. your study guide was designed to be portable, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a place to be alone. For this crucial step, think beyond the library. It can be nature trail on campus or even on the treadmill. Studying doesn’t have to involve long hours sitting at a desk.
Using the Quiz-and-Recall Method for Technical Subjects
The quiz-and-recall method is easily applied to technical subjects. You already constructed your mega-problem sets: now you simply need to solve them. Start with the technical explanation questions-thinking about the general concepts first will make it easier to solve the specific sample problems that follow. As with non-technical subjects, try to provide an articulate answer for each problem and if possible, give your explanation out loud, as if lecturing to a class. Otherwise, write out your answers clearly. Don’t skip any important details.
Once your are done with the technical explanation questions, move on to the sample problems. Try to answer each. Again, don’t do this in your head.
As before, check mark the questions that give you trouble. Review the solutions for these questions. Take a break. Then repeat the process, except this time try to answer only the questions you marked on the previous pass. Follow this method until you finish a round with no checked problems. When this happens, you are done.