Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ready, Set, Go: What Steps You Should Complete in an Exam before Starting the Questions

Law students tell me repeatedly that they have two huge fears when they start an exam.  First, they fear drawing a total blank during the exam and not being able to remember even the basics.  Second, they fear messing up their time managment and not being able to finish the exam or rushing at the end.

To combat these fears, you can complete two steps as soon as the exam proctor tells you to begin.  First, write down a checklist of the material on a piece of scrap paper (our law school provides scrap paper in every exam room) or on the back of the exam paper.  Second, make a time chart to manage your time during the exam.

The checklist is typically a skeleton outline of the topic and subtopic headings for the course.  By writing this information down before you begin the exam, you provide yourself with a security blanket.  Putting it down before you start answering any questions, lets you memorialize the information before you start stressing out.  You can refer to it for each essay answer to see if you forgot to discuss anything.  You can use it to jog your memory if you draw a blank during the exam.

Your checklist may look somewhat different depending on the course.  It may include rules with elements, steps of analysis for problem-based topics, policy arguments for another course, etc.  You can tailor the information to memorize for your checklist to match the course content.

You can also vary the structure of your checklist.  A visual learner may use a series of spider maps for the course.  A verbal learner may use an acronym or silly sentences to remember the topics and subtopics in the list.  An aural/oral learner may recite a sing-song of the checklist silently in her head as she writes it down.

For a closed-book exam, you memorize the checklist so you can quickly write it down.  For an open-book exam, the checklist is the first page of the outline that is allowed in the exam.

The second step is formulating a time chart for the exam.  You will want to look quickly at the instructions for the exam to check whether you complete all questions or have options (for example, complete 3 of the 5 questions).  For most exams you will be required to complete all questions.

The time chart will vary in format for essay exams and multiple-choice exams.  If an exam is mixed, there will be a time chart for each part of the exam.  The time chart will help you to work through all of the questions at a steady pace so that you complete the entire exam.

For essay questions, your chart will have 3 columns (question number and its allotted time; time for reading, analysis, and organization; time for writing).  You should spend 1/3 of your time on a question for reading, analysis, and organization.  You should spend 2/3 of your time on writing the answer.  Each exam question will have a row in the time chart with 3 columns in that row. 

As an example, assume the exam begins at 1:00 p.m. and has multiple questions:

  • Question 1 is a 1-hour question (spend 20 minutes for reading, analysis, and organization; spend 40 minutes for writing). 
  • Column 1 will show "Question 1: 1 hour." 
  • Your second column for Question 1 would show "1:00 - 1:20 p.m."
  • Your third column for Question 1 would show "1:20 - 2:00 p.m."
  • Question 2 is a 45-minute question (spend 15 minutes for reading, analysis, and organization; spend 30 minutes for writing). 
  • Column 1 for Question 2 will show "Question 2: 45 minutes." 
  • Column 2 for Question 2 will show "2:00 - 2:15 p.m." 
  • Column 3 for Question 2 will show "2:15 - 2:45 p.m." 
  • And so forth through the questions for the full exam time.

If you wish to reserve time to review your written answers before the exam ends, then you will reserve review time and decrease the time you allow for each question.  Many students would rather use the full time for each question rather than allot review time.

If your professor indicates points rather than time for each question, then determine the time to spend proportionately for the number of points.  Practicing this method ahead of time will make it more natural when converting from points to time.

For multiple-choice questions, your chart will have 2 columns (a time checkpoint; the number of questions to be completed by that time).  Each checkpoint time will be in a row with the number of questions completed column for that row.  It is usually a good idea to include 4-6 checkpoints.

As an example, assume the exam begins at 1:00 and lasts 3 hours with 90 questions:

  • 1:30 p.m. 15 questions completed
  • 2:00 p.m. 30 questions completed
  • 2:30 p.m. 45 questions completed
  • 3:00 p.m. 60 questions completed
  • 3:30 p.m. 75 questions completed
  • 4:00 p.m. 90 questions completed

If you wish to reserve time to review question answers before the exam ends, then you will reserve review time and decrease the time you allow for the checkpoints accordingly.  Again, many students would rather use the full time for the questions rather than allot review time.

You want to make sure that you devise your checklist early enough in the class or exam period to allow you time to commit it to long-term memory so that you will know it by heart.  You also want to practice making time charts so that the method is on auto-pilot.  Both of these strategies should help lessen your anxiety during the actual exam.  (Amy Jarmon)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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