The first test or first exam (I use the terms interchangeably) is coming up in a few days. If you are like most students, you will put in several hours studying. You will read the book, read over your notes, make flashcards, and hope for the best.
If you prepare for exams like most students do, you can expect the same average results those students achieve. If you want superior performance, you have two options. Option 1 – you can put in more hours studying. What you will find, though, is the problem of decreasing returns. If studying for 10 hours will translate to an 80%, another 10 hours will not get you up to a 160%. After all, you can only get a 100%. Each additional hour of productive studying will translate to less and less gain. And that is less time at work. Less time with family or friends. Less time doing what you would rather be doing. Option 2 – study smarter. Use the amount of time you have to study most effectively.
There are a few techniques for studying smarter. One of my favorite techniques is called “Write the Exam.” Each term, your professor has to write an exam for your class. Your professor probably has a bank of test questions, and each term will write a few new ones based on any new material covered in class. Here is what you do. At the conclusion of each class, sit down, review your notes, and try to think about what the professor will ask you from that class on the exam. Then write 4-6 exam questions, and answer the questions.
Once you have 12-15 questions, go and visit your professor during office hours. Tell your professor that you are preparing for the upcoming exam, and you are trying to anticipate the questions that will be asked. Then ask your professor to take a few minutes to look at the questions and answers wrote, and ask for feedback.
You will get one of two responses. Response 1 – you are not focusing on the right things. Your questions are too broad, or too detailed. This is useful feedback to get, as it will help you re-focus on what is important. Response 2 – “Why yes! These are exactly the kinds of questions I will ask on the exam.” Jackpot! You are already focusing on the right things. You are optimizing your study time. You are going to do well on the exam.
Wait a minute. What if you have no idea what kind of questions the professor will ask on the exam. That, dear student, is a red flag. If you don’t know what your professor will even ask you, you need to see your professor during office hours and say the following. “I am in your class, and I attend all of the lectures. However, I really don’t know what is important or what I should be focused on. Can you give me an example of the kind of question you would ask on the exam, based on our last class meeting?” A professor worth their salt would be willing to help you out with such a request, especially if you asked before the first exam.
Leave a comment and let me know how this works for you.