The Exam Prep: 1

Midterms are fast approaching. Here's some advice that's a bit obvious, but maybe also helpful:

  • Do read the textbook. Stunningly obvious, no? Unfortunately, some first-year students don't realize that at university, you're expected to actually read the textbook. In my course syllabi (academic word for "course outline"), I have a table which lists my lectures by week. There's a separate column for assigned readings. Typically, each lecture topic corresponds with a textbook chapter.
  • Do read the textbook in the right environment. TV on? Rockin' your iPod? Tickling your sweetie? No. No. No. All of these things use up your attentional resources and distract you from reading your textbook. Sweetie will have to wait.
  • Don't use a highlighter. Take a look at past chapters: have you just been "painting" your textbook? Highlighting is laziness; you're just going, "This looks important. I better remember to actually learn that--later." If there's an important term, it's already in bold.
  • Do take active notes. After reading a section of a textbook, try to summarize what it was all about in your own words. Don't just copy definitions word-for-word. Yes, this takes a lot of time and effort. Know what? The learning takes place not when you review these notes, but when you make them. If you also have time to review them, so much the better.
  • Do review your lecture notes. Sometimes things make perfect sense when you've just heard my explanation of it in class. But a month later, you might look at the same stuff and go, "What?" If you don't understand something, your instructors (or the teaching assistants) can help--if there's enough time left before the exam.
  • Do make up flashcards. You may feel like an x-treme keener, but it works. On one side of a card, write an important term. On the other, write the definition. Shuffle the cards, and pick one. Do you recognize the term? Can you write down the definition on a separate sheet of paper? You may be able to do both of these things, and conclude that you're wasting your time. Not so: you added to your learning when you made the flashcards.
  • Do get enough sleep. There are so many studies that show how important sleep is to learning (and other things), it's not even funny. And why are you pulling an all-nighter anyway? Aren't you keeping up with the assigned readings?
These should be enough tips to keep you busy until your midterms. Tips for writing exams are coming up!

Why aren't you studying?


Michael said...

I think I disagree with you tip on not using a highlighter. I 'paint' my textbooks not because I am lazy, but when it comes down to exam time (especially final exam time) it makes it easier to find the important parts of the text without having to read to whole chapter (or book) all over again. This way I can re-read the notes I’ve made along with the corresponding explanations in the text if I need to.
Other than that, good tips.

stephen said...

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH *runs madly in circles, waving arms in air

Karsten Loepelmann said...

@michael: Highlighting is bad when you see that you've painted over the entire chapter--just skipping the occasional word like "the". If you're just highlighting a few parts, you're not wasting your time. Just the fact that you're reading the textbook is good.

The main argument against highlighting is that it's passive learning. Again, that's better than, er...not learning. But you can do better.

When you read a section of a textbook and paraphrase it, that's active learning. If you can't put down the important point(s) in your own words, it's because you haven't understood what you've read. Now, you've gotten instant feedback on your learning.

Hope this helps!

@stephen: Er, calm down dude! It's not too late. Step 1: buy the textbook... :-)

Simon said...

Micheal! i believe loepelmann has a point! he used more "big" words!!!!

or the gist of what Lo Po Man said, active learning is better than rote memorization

but on the other hand, flash card is just not for me~

Overall thank you for the tips =D


Step 2: Open the book

Anonymous said...

In my personal opinion I believe that learning is individual and you need to study based on what works best for you. I've tried using flash cards and paraphrasing notes but each method did not seem to enhance my learning and my results on tests. I think that your tips are good for people who need a lot of help figuring out how to study, but for people who already have a good sense of what works for them the tips may not be as effective.

Also I was wondering why you choose not to mark your class on the curve? It seems like 95% of university classes are curved, (including other introductory psych classes) and its rare to find an uncurved class. Not that I'm criticizing you for it.

Anonymous said...

i actually kinda like the fact that the class isn't curved... curved classes... especially in the sciences... end up really much too competitive.

a technique i had in high school for studying is just to study to learn... not to study to achieve. if you get yourself into the mindset of just studying to learn and understand the material... you usually end up doing spectacular. of course... with the whole emphasis on marks in university nowadays... it's hard to separate studying and achieving. but meh... used to work for me anyways... i've sorta lost that mentality b/c of all the pressures of university though.

Karsten Loepelmann said...

@anonymous: you're right, these tips are really not going to work for someone who's, say, a 4th year Honours student. But for a 1st year student (or someone who's struggling using their current approach) I hope they'll be of some benefit. Sounds like you've got something that works for you. That's what it's all about.

I choose not to grade on the curve because I don't have to...and I don't want to. It's confusing for everyone. I've taught my courses enough times to know where the marks generally fall, and can calculate my cutoffs so that I don't get too many A+s (or Fs). If my marks look, they will not be approved by the higher-ups. If a class does really well and I get more As and Bs, and fewer Ds and Cs, I take that to mean this class has simply done better. If the administration has a problem with that, I'll tell them what's what.

@anonymous: the crap thing is...marks. Really. I wish I could just talk to people about some of the really neat stuff in psychology, and have them get into it just for interest's sake. *sigh*

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