The Finals Countdown! (If You’re Studying for Them, Breathe . . .)


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It’s that time of year. If you’re one of the students under pressure to perform on finals, here are a few quick tips to calm you down a bit:

  1. Don’t multitask (for goodness’ sake). It’s amazing – the powers of applying your entire brain to the task at hand. So, don’t have your phone in sight just in case you miss a text. Hide it or switch it to airplane mode for the time being. Don’t have other windows open if you’re using a computer or tablet to study. Conjure up that (old-fashioned?) image of the solitary student bent over a book in a quiet library – that method really works. You owe it to yourself to concentrate when you’re studying for important tests.
  2. Take occasional breaks. Give yourself a short rest at least every couple hours if you’re in a marathon study session. Stretch and take brief walks in the sunshine, if possible; perhaps take a lap around the building. At the very least, physically move away from your desk for a bit.
  3. Listen to New Age music. As a student, I’ve always preferred Classical as background when getting down to business; but recently, I’ve realized New Age – the kind of soothing music one hears at a spa while getting a massage – also can be excellent music for concentration. Personally, I find it most efficient to check out CDs from the library’s New Age section. I grab what looks interesting, and later usually discover I don’t like some of the albums, but I find others excellent for calming the anxious mind.
  4. Stay grateful. Keep in mind if you’re studying for finals, you’re in a group of lucky people enjoying the opportunity to earn an education. So even if the going seems rough at times, remember you’re partaking in a precious gift.

Good luck! –And for more Finals goodies, including study tips, click “exams” on this blog’s word cloud . . .

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Score Higher on Finals

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Preparation is key

If you’re a student preparing for Final Exams, reading up on exam study tips is very smart. (If reading the tips helps you earn even a little higher grade, or puts you even a little more at ease, isn’t the reading worth your time?) A quick internet search nets a number of articles and advice, many from college and university tutoring centers; I’ve listed just a few good articles below:

 “26 Tips for Studying for Final Exams” from Public Relations Matters, a blog authored by Dr. Barbara B. Nixon:

 “10 Tips to Help You Ace Your Final Exam” from Yahoo Voices’ Amy Brantley:

“Crazy Study Tips to Help Rock Your Final Exams” from Ryerson University’s Student Life page (this post is from Danni Gresko, a student):

Related posts on this site:
Finals Fright? Ease Your Mind with Proper Prep
Just in Time for Finals: Terrific Test-Taking Tips!

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Studying for Tests: One Simple Yet Effective Method

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‘Tis the season

College teaching expert Dr. Maryellen Weimer recently posted about an intriguing technique that helps students study for tests: assigning them to write their own questions. (Although profs may or may not use those questions on the test, the exercise is a healthy one for student learning.)

So I pass this along as something you certainly may practice on your own: next time you have a test (and with end-of-semester looming, that’s likely to be soon), try it. Write your own little set of test questions, and better yet, form a study group where several of you write homemade tests on your own, and then share, taking turns answering the questions. (Do be aware the questions themselves might need clarifying and revising, as the article discusses).

In the process of writing tests for yourself, you’re forced to go back through your class notes and materials, and are likely to hit upon many of the major concepts you need to know. Then, after you’ve taken a number of college-level tests and exams, you’re likely to get better at anticipating test questions, and will find this activity even more effective.

Good luck and happy studying!

Article discussed here is “Getting Answer-Oriented Students to Focus on the Questions” (The Teaching Professor Blog at Faculty Focus), 11/14/12, by Maryellen Weimer.

Related posts on this site:

Finals Fright? Ease Your Mind with Proper Prep
Just in Time for Finals: Terrific Test-Taking Tips!
Drawing on Your Memory: A Test Prep Method

What test-review methods do you recommend?

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Students: If You Did Poorly, Ask Yourself Why

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Feeling forlorn at final grades? Take heart . . .

Here you are at semester’s end: turning in those final projects, waiting for grades. Soon you’ll discover how you performed, and you may be happy or not so happy with the outcome. But take heart. Even from moments of seeming defeat, you may snatch victory by first thinking about this: if your performance wasn’t up to your expectations, why?

It’s quite useful to answer this question, honestly, to and for yourself. Maybe, for instance, you

-didn’t study as much as you needed to;
-didn’t understand the material in the first place or misunderstood an assignment;
-procrastinated and/or ran out of time;
-froze on a time-limited major exam.

As disheartening as it is to realize “I could have done better if only . . . ,” fortunately, in the future, you may tackle any of the above (or similar) hurdles. But first you must clearly identify those hurdles. Take a little time to contemplate why you didn’t do so well and write it out; remember, you’ve gained experience, you’re wiser for it, and a little self-reflection puts you firmly on the path to help yourself do better next time.

Note: This article (“Can Students Learn to Learn?” by Scott Jaschik, published January 2011 in Inside Higher Ed) discusses the benefits of metacognition to students; it is well worth reading for more information.

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Finals Fright? Ease Your Mind with Proper Prep


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Finals needn't be so unbearable.

If you’ve been an engaged, active, studious student throughout the semester, you’ve no need to fret over finals; but it’s true that going into the test armed with certain strategies will ease your mind and probably increase your score.

Below are some tips to help; the first two are biggies directly from personal experience, while the third calls upon excellent advice from several universities:

1)      For timed exams, keep an eye on your timepiece! This is important, as you need to pace yourself and allot enough time to answer each question.
I’m a wristwatch person myself, but many students today are not, preferring their cell phones as timepieces. Keep in mind, though, you may not be allowed to have your phone (or other e-device) handy during finals. You could use a wall clock if the room has one, you could borrow a watch, or you could buy a cheap wristwatch for the occasion. In any case, think about this ahead of time and come prepared.

2)      Read the questions very carefully. Answer what they ask. On many occasions, my students have lost points because they didn’t answer the questions posed; or in a two-part question, they answered only the first part. Don’t make this common mistake! Read slowly and carefully, and ask the professor if you need clarification on a question.

3)      Before the final, read up on test-prep strategies. Check out resources available to you at your school – you might find these at the college’s tutoring center or website. I wrote about finals prep previously on this site (here) and included a few of my favorite test-taking tip links.

More related reading: I hear an interesting conversation over at The Chronicle of Higher Ed’s website, as readers reflect on this article that claims “rather than telling students to study for exams, we should be telling them to study for learning and understanding.”

(Regardless of this debate, I must note, for practical purposes, to students:  if you’ve got an exam, you definitely should study for it.)

Article linked above: “Stop Telling Students to Study for Exams,” David Jaffee, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/22/12.

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Students: How to Remember What You Learned This Term


Student studying

Ah . . . final exams are over and you’re ready to close the book on subject X and relax. School’s out, after all, and you deserve a break.

I hear you — but wait! By pausing to take just one more end-of-semester step, you can create a very helpful reference for yourself. Save this information and it’s quite likely you’ll be able to use it in studying for future classes, in compiling your résumé or portfolio, and perhaps even in writing requests for recommendation letters or scholarship applications.

Best of all, this end-of-term activity is fairly easy to do while classes are still fresh in your head:

For each class you had, compile a one-page summary of what you learned.

A few guidelines:

*if you have a course syllabus, start there. A syllabus typically lists the course objectives and a list of units and assignments, so you can use this information as an outline.

*whether or not you have a syllabus, go through your textbook and class notes unit by unit. Look for major concepts and lessons, taking note of what particularly challenged you and what particularly stood out for you in any way.

*make note of any special projects you did: perhaps a major research paper or oral presentation, for instance. Any such projects serve to build your skills (e.g., in writing, research, or verbal communication).

*you might include a brief reflection, as well: what did you practice repeatedly in the class? How do you think you improved? What were your major mistakes and frustrations? How might you build upon your progress in the future?

While these one-page summaries do indeed have practical applications, remember they are primarily for your own benefit (most likely, you’ll be the only one ever to see them). But the activity of processing your recent learning is worthwhile in any case; and considering that you already devoted hard work and time to learn, you owe it to yourself to “save” your academic memories in an efficient, organized way.

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Just in Time for Finals: Terrific Test-Taking Tips!


Testing SignSome students study hard and apply themselves to every assignment all semester; they truly understand the material and have mastered the concepts, but come time for the big test, they find their performance is less than stellar.

Is anxiety the culprit? I’m sure in many cases, it is a contributing factor; but putting psychological issues aside, I was surprised to learn in my community college teaching that a number of students simply don’t know how to take a test.  That is, whether or not tests make them sweat, they lack knowledge of basic test-taking skills.

Good news, though: every student can learn or improve upon these skills – and some great information is freely available on the web. Refer to these excellent university-website links, where you’ll find valuable advice for tests in any subject.
A series of test-taking resources from the Learning Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The first link leads to a series of handouts, and the second offers a helpful video.
“Test Taking Strategies”: A list of strategies to employ before, during, and after your test. From the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
“Survival Strategies for Taking Tests”: More practical advice. From Middle Tennessee State University.

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Drawing on Your Memory: A Test Prep Method


The Bayeux Tapestry, chronicling the English/N...

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It’s exam review time, and you’ve got multiple dates, events, people, and places to know. You’ve been an attentive student and hunger to do well in the class, but the collective knowledge seems a bit overwhelming. Well, lots of us have been there; and believe it or not, you can turn such a seemingly stressful study challenge into an enjoyable experience. Here’s how: draw yourself a cartoon as a mnemonic device. This can be amazingly effective, particularly since you use your own ingenuity to create the picture (that in itself is a form of meditation on the material).

First, gather your course notes and creative palette (paper and colored pencils are great, though cutting up old magazines could suit your purpose; or for digital panache, you could use a tool like Glogster).

Now begin your studying project: use copious amounts of color, dialogue bubbles, and humor. Need to remember something about a historic figure? Sketch him or her clutching a symbol of whatever you need to know. Need to remember an important date? Draw it and drape a symbol over it, under it, or around it. For example: start with a large “1066” and to indicate the Norman Conquest, sketch in some victorious soldiers and name one Norman. To indicate the linguistic significance, you could draw something that reminds you of France or use dialogue bubbles if you know French.

The trick, of course, is to focus your creativity squarely on the lessons you’re trying to cement in your brain. Don’t get so wrapped up in the art that you forget the matter. Also, in order for this to be an effective method, the cartoon should serve to jog your memory about something you already have studied. That is, the cartoon-drawing shouldn’t be the only time you’ve touched the material! In the end, if the above example doesn’t remind you that 1066 was the date of the Norman Conquest, significant because it heralded the infusion of the French language into English, then the cartoon isn’t helping you.

This project works especially well for History, Humanities subjects, Politics, Geography – and anywhere people and symbols are relatively easy to envision in space.

P.S. Read more about the Norman Conquest here (scroll to “This week” – and on the way down, stop to read the featured poem!):

Related posts:

Cool Learning Tool: Turn “Boring” into “Amazing”
Mangle a Song for Memory’s Sake

Mangle a Song for Memory’s Sake

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Barry Manilow may write the songs that make the whole world sing, but have you tried writing the songs that make your own brain remember?  Song, rhythm, and rhyme are mnemonic devices dating back to antiquity, so why not use the wisdom of the ages to enhance your own studies?

Here’s how: next time you’re studying for an exam, set your studies to a song you know.  Of course, you could search google to find a mnemonic song someone else has created, but I strongly suggest creating your own.  It’s fun, and creating lyrics forces you to boil your studies down to the essentials.

True, your songs may turn out weird, but weird could even be best, as it might be harder to forget.  I am not kidding.  Off the top of my head, I still remember a “functions of the stomach” song my Anatomy & Physiology lab partner and I wrote (to the tune of a ‘60’s folk song) . . . alas . . . and we thought of it around 20 years ago.

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Math & Science Review: A Few Websites

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Rubik's Cube

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Certain (good quality) study websites can be immensely helpful

(a)    While you’re taking a course (the sites may serve as virtual tutoring), or

(b)   As brush-up exercising for college entrance exams or general college prep.

Below please find a handful of Science and Math learning websites to browse:
Chemistry help.
Algebra help.
Encyclopedia of math information.
Tutorial videos on this popular site include Math and Science subjects.

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