Exam Prep Day 2: Where do you want to be?

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Image "Solar_System" courtesy of NASA, licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic.

In my last article, we went over how to figure out where we stand academically. Now, we’ll take that information and use it to prioritize our exams and set some goals. Our overarching goal is to get the highest marks possible in the courses that are most important to us. To do that, we will determine which course are the most important, look at what grades we would like to get from the course, and then back-calculate what marks we must get on each exam to meet those course goals.

First, let’s prioritize. Which classes are the most important for you in terms of grades? This is different for everyone, but keep these things in mind:

1. Are you failing any courses right now? Can you still pass the course if you do well on the final? What are the consequences if you don’t pass that particular course?
2. Are you hoping to gain admittance into any major/degree/program? If yes, do your marks in certain prerequisite courses matter more than non-prereq courses? Is there a minimum average you have to have?
3. Do you want to go to medical/dental/nursing/pharmacy/dietetic/law/business/graduate/specialized schools or programs? If yes, what are their prereqs? Are your marks for these prereqs especially important when it comes time to apply for admission?
4. Did you consider how much weight is given to each final? As a general rule, it is more important do well on exams that count more (i.e. prioritize the psychology final that counts for 70% of your marks and worry less about that computer science final that counts for 30%).
5. Are you especially good at certain courses? That is, are you taking advantage of your GPA boosters?

The idea is to get the highest ROI (return on investment) in terms of grades for your time and ensure that you have the grades to pursue future career and education goals. Figuring out which courses are the most important to you will allow you to use your energy more effectively.

After setting your priorities, decide what mark you want on each of your finals. It will drive you crazy if you try to ace every single exam. You only have limited energy, so budget it carefully! Grab those big wins and don’t sweat the smaller losses.

When you determine what grades you would like to obtain in a course, consider your priorities and how well you are actually doing. I would advice you set a goal that is anywhere between 3% and 8% higher than your current grade or your mark on your midterms. Anything higher than 8% is usually not realistic and will stress you out unnecessarily, potentially leading to burning out or declining performance.

Then determine what grades you should obtain on your final to meet the course grade goal you set above. For some courses, a simple perusal will suffice. For example, if you want 90% in a course and you are currently sitting at just below 90%, aim for just above 90%. If you used the ScratchPad Gradebook, take a look at your current grade, max grade, and “just passing the final” grade. You could just pick a mark somewhere between your current and max grades to aim for, but for those who are more mathematically inclined (or entertain some perfectionist tendencies like I do), below is a systematic way of determining your final exam grade goal from data obtained from the Scratchpad Gradebook.

Determining Final Exam Grade Goal:

1. Open the ScratchPad Gradebook under the “Gradebook” tab.
2. Look at your current grade and max grade.
3. Subtract the weighting for your final exam from that of your maximum grade (i.e. if your final exam for course A is worth 50% and your max grade is 80%, 80-50 = 30%. This means that you are currently getting 60% in the course).
4. Subtract the number you get from the above step by your grade goal for the course (i.e. If you would like to get 75% in course A, then 75-30 = 45)
5. Divide the number you get from the above by the weighting for your exam. In our example, it would be 45/50 = 90%. This is what mark you have to get on your final to obtain the grade goal that yet set for yourself.

If our example, this student has to get 90% on the final (when he is currently getting 60% in the course) in order to meet his course goal of 75%. This is probably too ambitious and it may be prudent for him to review his goals and aim for something more realistic.

Now that we’ve prioritized our courses and set grade goals, on to Day 3: Organizing Material.

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