Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ten Quick Tips for Exam Takers

Here are ten things that can improve your performance as an exam taker.  Each of these tips can boost your focus, organization, or time management:

  • About a week before the exam, condense your outline for a course to 5 or 10 pages of the most important material.  Learn that shorter version very well. 
  • Several days before the exam, condense that shorter version of your outline to a skeleton outline of headings and sub-headings (no more than the front and back of a sheet of paper for the entire course).  Memorize that version.  When the exam proctor says you may begin, write that checklist down on scrap paper and use it as a guide as you answer the exam questions.
  • For essay exams: Once the proctor says that you may begin the exam, make a time chart for yourself on scrap paper so that you can stay on track within the exam time allowed.  For each essay question, allot yourself 1/3 of the question time for reading, analyzing and organizing your answer.  Allot yourself 2/3 of the question time for writing the answer.  Thus, for a one-hour exam question, you will use 20 minutes for the first steps and 40 minutes for writing.  If you begin the question at 1:00 p.m., you will finish your first steps at 1:20 p.m. and begin writing; you will end writing at 2:00 p.m. 
  • For multiple-choice or true-false exams: Once the proctor says that you may begin the exam, make a time chart for yourself on scrap paper so that you can stay on track within the exam time allowed.  Allot yourself checkpoint times for the number of questions that you should have completed.  For example, if I must complete 60 questions in two hours, I might set up six checkpoints.  If the exam starts at 1:00 p.m., I should have completed 10 questions at 1:20 p.m., 20 questions by 1:40 p.m., 30 questions by 2:00 p.m., 40 questions by 2:20 p.m., 50 questions by 2:40 p.m., and all 60 questions by 3:00 p.m. 
  • If you want review time in your time chart to go back over the exam, you will need to reserve review time out of the total exam time.  You will then distribute the remaining time in the exam accordingly within the essay or multiple-choice chart for the exam.  If you have a three-hour exam and want to reserve 30 minutes to go back over your answers, you will distribute 2 1/2 hours among the actual time to work on the exam questions as indicated in the last two bullet points. 
  • You will be better prepared for your exams if you do as many practice questions as possible during your studying.  Choose practice questions of the type that your professor will have on the exam.  Increase the difficulty in the questions as you approach the exam day. 
  • When you do practice questions for essay exams during the time leading up to the exam, complete at least some of the questions under timed conditions.  Treat them just like the real exam questions.  Read, analyze, and organize; then write.  Practice your timing formula.
  • When you do practice questions for multiple-choice or true-false exams during the time leading up to the exam, complete under timed conditions at one sitting at least half the number of questions you expect on the exam.  Practice your timing checkpoints and pace during the questions.
  • Open-book exams are a trap.  You will not have time to look everything up.  You need to study for the exam basically as if it were a closed-book exam so that you are confident with the material.  Any items that your professor will allow you to have during the exam should be strategically used within the guidelines that you were given.  Know exactly what your professor defines as accessible during an open-book exam; you do not want to make a mistake under the honor code for your law school.
  • Get a good night's sleep for several inghts before an exam.  You want to be awake and alert during the exam.  Staying up for extra long hours the night before will not help.  And you might oversleep!  Eat a nutritious meal before the exam to give your brain cells fuel.  If possible with your exam schedule, take two or three hours off after an exam to relax before going back to studying. 

All the best wishes to law students getting ready for their exams.  Take one day at a time and do the best you can each day.  Then just move on to the next study day and next exam.  You cannot fix what has already passed, but you can control what is ahead of you.  (Amy Jarmon) 

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