Student Success Strategy #76: Finals!

How do you study for finals?  Consider these four students:

Adam crams the night before a final exam, sometimes using energy drinks or coffee to stay up most of the night.  He hasn’t fallen asleep and missed any finals yet, but that’s one of his worries.  He keeps three alarm clocks set for an hour before the test so he can be sure to get to the classroom in time.

Bailey talks a lot about studying, but by the time the final comes, she reads a few notes and skims through her books, then figures that if she doesn’t know it by then, that nothing will help at that late time.  She goes into the final with an attitude of doing the best she can without good studying, and promising to do better next semester.

Cory sets aside time every day during finals week to focus just on one class.  He knows his friends are out having more fun than he is, but he spends at least three hours the day before his exam to prepare.  He feels good walking into the exam, but has a nagging feeling that he’s missed something important.

Dana spends one hour each week on each of her classes, beyond any assignments, to go over all her notes, improve them when she can, and write a few questions that would seem to be something that could show up on the final.  By the time finals week comes, she reads through her notes, spends about an hour a day on each class until that final is done, adding one extra hour sometimes for an especially stressful class, and thinks she is fairly well prepared.

Who gets the best finals grades?  Who feels the best during the break between semesters?

Which strategy do you use, or do you have something else that works for you?

Student Success Strategy #76:  Think of preparing for final exams as an obligation.  Pay a little at a time through the semester, or pay during finals week.  In either case, you pay.  But what you earn – and learn – from your payment is up to you.


Student Success Strategy #74: Gearing up for Finals!

The semester is about two-thirds done by now, and you are feeling the post-midterm slump.  You have lost some of your motivation and excitement from classes, even those within your areas of interest.  Don’t stop now!

Even if you are happy with your progress throughout the semester, and your grades so far, you need to find a way to gear up for finals.

This is a great time to refine your study habits.

Have you been keeping up with all your assignments?  Make it a goal to finish those in the next few weeks two days early, and use the two extra days to review material from the first weeks of class.

Have you been taking great notes?  After reviewing them in the evening after your class, take an extra ten minutes to review notes from the beginning of the semester, going through two or three class periods of notes each night.

Have you been studying alone?  Make arrangements for a session or two with a friend in the class, and see whether your early notes can be combined for even greater understanding.  Then discuss what is left of the semester and how to keep each other on track.

Having a study partner, whether you actually study together or just check in with each other, can help you maintain progress throughout the semester.  A simple question – “Did you finish your work yesterday?” – can remind you that even a single day lost may make a difference.  Letting each other know what you need to do, and including an early review of material long past, can set you up for easier times near finals week.

Learning, and remembering what you have learned, is easier with frequent repetition and review rather than cramming.  Start now, and you won’t have to stress over the approach of final exams.

Student Success Strategy #74:  Gear up for finals.  Do it early.  Do it easy.  

Student Success Strategy #67: Doodles

What do your handwritten notes look like?  Are there squiggles, stars, or other non-text doodles in the margins?  Why not make them fun AND useful?

Instead of random doodling, draw a quick picture of something that would remind you of the main points in your notes?  Sure, it’s easy if you need to label parts of a cell, but be creative.  Is there a quick picture you could draw next to the main points you need to remember.

How many times have you “looked” inside your brain and seen the page where information appears, and you know exactly where on that page the information you need is written?  Adding a small picture will make it more easily spotted in your brain.

Even a star, an underline, or a colored highlighter will help, but if you can add a picture with meaning, your brain will make a stronger association and will be more likely to recall the information when you are under the stress of a test.

Try it!  You know you are doodling anyway.

Student Success Strategy #67:  Make doodling a study strategy to remember important material more easily.

Student Success Strategy #32: Office Hours Part II

Do you have a test coming up soon?  If your professor doesn’t give a study guide or go over exactly what will be on the test, go to office hours.

First, read the syllabus!  Find out what you already know about the test, then formulate questions that will clarify your knowledge.

Ask for advice.  “If I study chapters 3 and 4 plus the notes from class, will that cover what is on the test?”  “Will information from our guest speaker be covered?”

Don’t just ask what will be on the test, although that may get you some information.  Show that you are a better student, and go in with a tentative study plan that you and the professor can review and revise.  You’ll have a  head start on a format for your studying, and will not only impress your professor, but can make notes on it as you speak.  Your professor will see that you plan ahead, critically think about the class, and want to do well.

You can ask the format of the test.  What kinds of questions will there be?  Multiple choice?  True-false?  Essay?  Matching?  Short Answer?  Ask for the professor’s ideas on what is expected from the essay or short answer.  Are the matching questions one-for-one matches, or could there be some duplicate answers, or some not used at all?

Student Success Strategy #32:  Use office hours to prepare for tests.

Student Success Strategy #24: Integrity is more than not cheating

One of the core values of many educational institutions is integrity, yet our students may not know what it really means.  Most students will readily state that integrity means not cheating, but there is so much more.

What should a student do if they see another student cheating?  Peer pressure is strong, and most students will hesitate before considering whether they should report it.  What happens during those moments?

The student thinks:

10:15  Did I really see cheating, or was that just a random glance toward the general direction of someone else’s test?

10:17  If I report it, will the student hate me?  Will I be a target later in the semester?

10:20  If I don’t report it, can I forget about it?  What does it really matter to me anyway?

10:22  I need to think about the grading system.  If grading is strictly on a point system, what that student receives doesn’t affect me at all.  If it’s a grading curve, could it push my grade lower as theirs moves higher?

10:24  Considering all that, what should I do?  Time is running out on my test, and I need to focus on my own answers.  Maybe I’ll mention something after class.

10:29  Whew!  I finished the test in time and I’ll be happy to get out of the room and forget the whole thing.

10:30 I’m outta here! Where’s the nearest food?

And many students do forget the whole thing.  Not just the answers on the test, but anything else they saw, including cheating.  They may have a twinge of guilt when the tests are returned, especially if they are able to see the other student’s score, but by then they’ve convinced themselves it is too late to say anything.  If the other student got a better score, it may look like jealousy.  If they got a worse score, it may feel a bit like justice.

In either case, the professor may never know what happened.

So what is integrity?  Should students report instances of cheating or other violations of integrity?  Is their own integrity affected by this?

Student Success Strategy #24:  Integrity is more than not cheating.  Students should consider what integrity means to them.

Student Success Strategy #6: Don’t Fool Yourself

Too many students review information for tests by reading and rereading their textbook or notes.  They fool themselves that this repetition is all they need to master the material.  The test comes, and they don’t do as well as they thought.

This is sometimes the result of students thinking that studying must be silent reading or writing.  Exactly the opposite may be the best way to study.

Asking yourself a question you think may be on the exam is a good technique, but it is easy to skim the beginning of the answer and think you understand it.

Those students who answer silently in their mind are fooled just like writers are fooled when they proofread their own work.  The writers “see” what should be there, not what is there.  When they read their work aloud, they are more likely to see the mistakes and typos.

Students “think” an answer without demonstrating the proof that they know it.  Hearing an answer out loud brings out their confidence or finds gaps in their knowledge or understanding.  It’s much harder to fool yourself when the proof is audible.

Student Success Strategy #6:  Don’t fool yourself into thinking you know the material.  TALK OUT LOUD when you study.

Talking out loud is also a benefit to those students who learn best by listening rather than reading.  Their own voice will help reinforce what they are learning.  Answering questions out loud in a group study is also just as effective.

Student Success Strategy #4: Write Your Own Test

My students are master test-takers.  The curriculum for my class, Strategies for Success, includes studying the best ways to approach each type of question.

On true-false questions, they look for extremes, which are usually false.  On multiple choice, they know to eliminate the obviously wrong answers before considering those that might be correct.  And on matching, they know to ask whether the question is a one-to-one match, or whether some answers could be used again, or not at all.

Their best tool, however, is to write the test themselves.

After showing them how tests are constructed, I use class time to have them work in small groups to write several questions with answers on each chapter, some in each format.  As they are reading the material and discussing it, their brains are processing the information, not just memorizing it.

When they have their questions and answers written, we test their questions on the other groups to be sure all answers are correct.  They listen closely to be sure their group can claim the best written questions.

All questions are then handed in, and I choose from the student’s work, usually adding only a few of my own to the official test.

Student scores on these tests have increased by 30%.

Student Success Strategy #4:  Write your own test.  Instead of simply reading the material, look for points that can be formed into questions, develop the questions, and determine the best answers.  You have just become the teacher, and teaching is the most effective method of learning.

My students no longer read chapters without a focus on possible test questions.  They don’t find themselves reading a paragraph for the third time without knowing what it says.  They don’t pull an all-nighter to read and reread their material, yet they know it.  [I’m sure some still do, but they are better prepared than those who have trained their eyes to move across the page without seeing].

This technique works in any class, and I ask my students to try it for their next test or quiz to prove how well it works.  Whether they form study groups or work individually, I’ve seen grades improve and confidence build.