Exam Prep Day 3: What do you have to study?

Sea Monster Pencil Holder-Organizer

Image "Sea Monster Pencil Holder-Organizer" courtesy of Flickr User prettydreamer.workshop, licensed under CC Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Now that we’ve set our goals, it’s time to get organized! This may be difficult if for people who are not usually organized, but treat it like a necessary evil. It will save you from excruciating pain down the road! Before you start organizing anything, get confirmation from your prof or the syllabus about the content of the exam! Is the exam cumulative? Will topics from before your midterm(s) be on it? If they will be, will more weight be placed on material you covered after the midterm(s)? Will tutorial or lab material make it’s way onto the final? You do not want to realize – minutes before your final – that half the topics you studied won’t even be on the exam (or worse yet, that you didn’t cover half the material that will be)!

Now follow these simple steps:

1. Dig out/obtain a copy of your syllabus.
2. If there are explicit learning outcomes associated with your courses (like these) print them all out. Learning objectives are like Christmas presents because they tell you exactly what you have to show you can do. Thank your prof profusely for providing them. Really.
3. If your courses do not come with learning objectives, locate the “Course Topics” or “Course Schedule” page. These topics form the base of your personal learning objectives.
4. A personal learning objective merely list all the topics you have to be able to explain or skills that you have to demonstrate (unlike a real learning objective provided by your prof, they do not have “action words” and other fillers). Using the course topics from your syllabus and your notes/textbook, break down each topic into smaller subtopics. Organize these topics (and subtopics, and sub-subtopics) in a way that makes sense to you. If you’re a visual learner, a mindmap might work better than a linear list. Go as detailed as realistically possible. Your list will be longer for courses that involve more memorization and shorter for those courses that rely more on critical thinking and problem solving. This is the most time consuming step and involve a lot of flipping through your course notes or textbooks.
5. Repeat for each course.

As you are constructing your learning objectives (or reading through those provided by your prof), you might discover topics you have glossed over the first time you learned it. Perhaps you encounter a term or a concept you don’t remember learning. Maybe you see an idea that showed up on a midterm and gave you a lot of trouble. Mark these down! I call these land-mine topics because they have a habit of showing up on final exams and detonating, thereby harming your marks and making you want to kick yourself for not paying more attention. Make it a priority to ask your classmates, TA, or prof about these land-mines before your exam.

You’re all done! Move on to the next step… gathering all of your studying resources.


One thought on “Exam Prep Day 3: What do you have to study?

  1. Pingback: Constructing the Perfect Cheat Sheet: Part 1 « Scratches on the Notepad

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