Shifting Mindset about Exam Preparation
We often get questions about preparing for exams. “But, how do I know if I have studied enough?” is a familiar refrain from students in our workshops. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. One thing we don’t recommend is the practice of “cramming,” or intense studying for a few days or a few hours before an exam. When cramming for a test, you are only learning in the sense that information goes into short-term memory, meaning that you may or may not retain the information on test day — and you definitely won’t be able to use the information for any “real-life” application or situation down the road, such as a job, research fellowship, or summer internship.
Instead, preparing for exams starts at the beginning of the semester. From the first week of class, you should be engaging with active study strategies, and setting aside time to review. But what do we mean by “active study”?
- First, create a plan for yourself.
- If you are not used to setting your own schedule, don’t be too discouraged if you go off course.
- Notice where you might need to make adjustments.
- Each week is a new opportunity to create a plan for when you will study and stick to it!
- Next, make sure you are spending some of your study hours going back and reviewing old material.
- For classes focused on problem-solving, this may mean going back to old concepts that caused you difficulty.
- The trick is finding new problems to keep you mentally active, instead of reading over old problems and their solutions.
- Finally, Weingarten is here to help you succeed!
By Staff Writer: Jennifer Kobrin, Learning Fellow, Weingarten Center
Assessment: Exam Analysis
Often, students spend all their time studying and preparing for exams before they take a test. Did you know though that some of the most important studying and preparation comes after you take exams?
One of the best ways to prepare for future exams and to ensure that you understand course material is to analyze your exam after you take it! Using our Exam Analysis guide ensures that you are thinking critically about your learning and preparing the best way possible for your next exam.
When you receive your test back from your instructor, first examine the questions you answered correctly.
- How did you study for this information?
- Why did you get this question right?
- What can you learn from it?
Use this information to help you prepare for your next exam. Identify what strategies worked for you when you were preparing for this test, and be sure to use them again.
Next, look at the questions you answered incorrectly.
Identify why you answered incorrectly:
- Was it a content mistake? Meaning:
- You never saw the information.
- You didn’t study the information.
- You studied the information but learned it incorrectly.
- You studied the information but could not recall.
- From these content areas, see if you can identify if your mistakes were coming from the same section.
- Do you need to go back and review a chapter section?
- Would it be helpful for you to review this with the professor, a TA, or a tutor?
- Was your error in the application of the material? Meaning:
- You studied and recalled the basic information but could not apply it to higher-order thinking problems.
- Did your error have to do with how you approached the tests? Meaning:
- Did you misread or misinterpret a test question?
- Were you too impulsive or overconfident on certain test questions?
- Was it test fatigue?
- Was your pacing off for the test? Were you running out of time?
Use this information to help you adjust your studying for the next exam. Make an appointment with a learning specialist at the Weingarten Center for more help on how to make the most of your exam analysis. We are happy to help you think more critically about your class, what you learned, and how to prepare for your next exam!
By: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Specialist
How to Create a Finals Week Study Plan
Want to keep your sanity during finals week? So you have 5 classes this semester with at least 3 final exams and 2 final projects or papers. Need to accomplish them all in 7 days? No problem. There’s a process you can use to deal with this situation that seems to always sneak up on us every semester. Here’s a suggested step-by-step process:
1. Rank Your classes
Rank your classes according to which one is sooner, which one is more important for your major, and/or which one is harder and needs most of your attention.
2. Break Down the tasks needed to study for each class
This varies for everyone’s needs and for the subjects being tested. For example, some people need to carve out time to skim their class notes and lecture slides and then need more time to actually practice their knowledge on old midterms or practice problem sets. Make sure you allocate your time wisely, 30/70 is what we recommend: 30% review and 70% practice.
3. Realistically Assign time for each task for each class
Now that you’ve figured out what you need to do for which class, it is now time to figure out the answer to each task: “for how long?” Some people read slower and may need an hour or two just to skim a chapter or notes, others may require less. The recommendation here is to caution against assigning more than 3 hours per task.
4. Plug in all studying tasks in an hourly schedule
So at this point, you got the which subject, what tasks, for how long, and now you need to know when. Try Google Calendar, iCalendar, or an old-school paper schedule template. Tip: avoid burnout by being realistic vs. overly ambitious in scheduling. Make sure to switch up the subjects so you don’t overload and keep breaks and meals in the schedule as well! Make your time as visual as possible.
If you would like more support on how to do this, come into Weingarten and a learning instructor would be happy to help!
Staff writer: Victoria Gill
Bigger Pictures: The Unexamined Exam is Not Worth Hiding
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
~ Mark Twain
Ever gotten back a midterm, peeked at the grade and stuffed it away somewhere dark, never to look at it again?
There are lots of reasons for not confronting the bad exam, not the least being embarrassment – you know, the whole, “But I don’t get grades like this, other people do.” It can come as quite a shock to the system. So hiding that nasty assessment point in a folder or in the back of a notebook is perfectly understandable.
It’s also a missed opportunity.
Let’s face it, basking in the comforting glow of a great exam grade feels all kinds of terrific. Good grades not only confirm our brilliance, but also reassure us that The Plan, in all its glory, is moving along, right on schedule. A bad exam grade can send us into a downward spiral of catastrophic fantasy, where we take this one grade as confirmation not only of our obvious imbecility, but that Dear Old Penn didn’t just make a mistake in accepting us, but should have never even allowed us on that pre-application campus tour. Indulging in this type of logical fallacy may feel cathartic, but it doesn’t solve the problem.
Once again, missed opportunity.
Just remember this: Unless you goose-egged the exam, you did something right, and that’s what we like to call a basis for improvement.
WARNING: Shameless institutional promotion to follow.
The folks at your learning center can help you with all this. We call it Exam Analysis. All you have to do is exhume the offensive exam from its deep, dark hidey-hole of shame and make an appointment with one of our friendly non-judgmental learning instructors. And then? And then together we’ll question the living daylights out of your exam. What questions specifically? There are too many possible questions of a reflective nature to go into, and we simply haven’t the space. We’d have to consider the discipline, the course, the format of the exam, the nature of preparation, the class resources, and so on and so forth.
Staff Blogger: Pete Kimchuk