Saturday, April 2, 2011

Use common sense when preparing for exams

In the stress of studying for exams, some students lose their common sense.  They exhibit behaviors (either acts or failures to act) that seem illogical after the fact.  They say things they will regret later.  They make judgment calls that are inadequate.

To help students avoid a lack of common sense, the following list includes some observations and suggestions:

  • Study the things you do not know and not just the things you are comfortable with already.  Students often avoid the topics or courses that they see as confusing or difficult. 
  • Big blocks of time are usually unattainable at this point in the semester.  A whole Saturday to outline Y course is elusive.  Break large tasks down into small tasks and complete parts in smaller time slots so that there is progress on the task.
  • Spend time studying rather than merely organizing to study.  Students often waste time getting ready to study rather than just getting down to it. 
  • Unless a professor has indicated that something is not on the exam, study it.  Everything is considered fair game by most professors if it was assigned.
  • Attend all of the remaining classes for a course - even if allowed absences will be unused for the semester.  Professors provide information about the exam and pull together material in the last weeks of class. 
  • Learn the professor's version of the course.  Commercial study supplements are written for a national (or state) audience.  They can be helpful in clarifying points.  However, they may use different rule versions, different steps of analysis, or different emphases.  The professor will find the points more quickly in an exam answer if it is formatted and explained to match what was taught in class.   
  • Complete as many practice questions as possible.  Just knowing the law is not enough.  Students need to apply the law to new fact scenarios on the exam.  Students also need to practice any test-taking techniques so they will be on auto-pilot.
  • Complete practice questions that are as similar as possible to the format the professor will have on the exam: essay for essay exams; multiple choice for multiple-choice exams; short answer for short-answer exams.  First choice should be questions written by your professor if those are available.  Second choice should be questions with similar format and complexity.
  • Complete at least some practice questions under test conditions (on a timed basis, closed book, or other appropriate conditions).  By practicing under similar conditions, one gets used to working within those constraints.
  • One has to study thoroughly for open-book exams.  There is never time to look up much material during an exam.  Do not be fooled into lazy studying because of an open-book format.
  • Individual study must take place even when one has a good study group.  The study group cannot confer about the answers during the exam.  It will not be helpful that everyone else in the study group was knowledgeable about X topic if the student writing the answer on the topic is not.
  • Shortcuts are not the same as efficient and effective studying.  Shortcuts usually focus on someone else's understanding (example, other students' outlines) rather than individual processing for understanding.
  • Get help from professors, teaching assistants, tutors, or other academic support resources now.  Student positions often end on the last day of classes because those students need to prepare for their own exams.  Professors are often at home grading during exam periods.  Some professors have cut-off dates for questions.
  • Remember that others are listening and watching.  Overly competitive actions, rude behavior, mean remarks, or other inappropriate behaviors and comments will be remembered.  It is easier to think twice before speaking or acting than to apologize later. 
  • Stay away from the law school for studying if it is too stressful.  Study in another environment if it will be helpful: other academic buildings, the university library, a coffee shop.
  • Stay away from law students who are procrastinating, whining, belittling others, or exhibiting other negative behaviors.  Seek out those law students who are focused on productive work and will support your efforts. 
  • Sleep is critical to exam performance.  A minimum of 7 hours is needed.  Students often skimp on sleep and then realize in an exam that they are too tired to think.
  • Nutrition is critical to exam performance.  Brain cells need fuel.  Caffeine, sugar, and carbohydrates do not equal a balanced diet.  Students often turn to sodas, energy drinks, pizza, other fast food, and candy instead of keeping the real food groups on their plates.
  • Exercise is a wonderful stress buster.  Now that the weather for some of us has gotten nice (sorry about the latest snow for those of you in Massachusetts or elsewhere), it is a good idea for students to walk around outside for 15-30 minutes for a study break.  30-60 minutes of exercise three times a week can make a big difference.

Evaluating study choices carefully during this time period can have big benefits.  Taking care of oneself also has a big payoff.  (Amy Jarmon)

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