Archive for the ‘test preparation’ Category

I hate mathI’ve recently returned to college to work on a master’s degree. When I talked to my advisor, he said I should take a statistics class to prepare for a research methods class. I think my blood ran cold. Math is not my strong suite. I can make straight A’s in just about any other type of class, but my mind has a great difficulty processing math. I really did not want to do it, but I also recognized the value of good advice.

I signed up for the class, and tried to adjust my attitude to a positive one. I studied, I did my homework, and I spent a lot of time preparing for my first test. So, imagine my disappointment when I scored a low C on my first test. I got a little more organized, and I made some changes in how I was studying. I practiced the type of problems I thought I would see on the test, and I did a little better. But, I was still not happy with my grade. I teach students how to study for a living, so I needed to take a hard look at myself and my study habits, just like I would any other college student.

What was I missing? What was I not doing?

Pre-reading! I hadn’t been doing it, because my instructor was not telling us what she would cover in the next class. So, I decided to ask her. I sent her a message on Blackboard and asked what I should read before the next class. She was happy to tell me!

Guess what? It made a world of difference! I went to class knowing which concepts I understood, and what was causing me trouble. I went to class, prepared with questions I needed to ask, and I had the vocabulary I needed to understand more from the lecture. I also had notes from my reading, and I could just add to them in class, rather than frantically trying to write down every single word my instructor said. My experience in class was immensely different when I went to class prepared.

If you are a college student and haven’t been doing this, I would emphatically recommend it. Class is a totally different experience when you pre-read the text material, or material provided by your instructor. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor questions. I have found that instructors are very accommodating and helpful. They like to know students are engaged and care about their class. Questions are welcomed and encouraged by most!

TRY IT! You will be glad you did.

The College Class Syllabus….

Every college student gets them. But, what happens after that?

Do they end up at the bottom of a backpack, as a crumbled mess, or in a desk drawer?

After all, the instructor will remind me of everything throughout the semester anyway, right?

Wrong.

Dead wrong.

Most instructors will assume you are an adult and will act as a responsible one. Therefore, as soon as you get your syllabus, you have a hot date that night. Syllabus+Planner+YOU.

I’d also suggest grabbing some highlighters, colored pens, stickers… and whatever else you might want to help you recognize at a glance, what you need to be doing. The Syllabus MUST Meet Planner

Now it’s time to hack your syllabus… break it into bits and prepare a plan that will help you manage your college life.

First things first: Begin by writing EVERY test, project deadline, research paper deadline, or anything else that has a due date in your planner.  If you are the kind of person who likes things to be a fancy-pants, use stickers, highlighters or colored pens to color-code everything. For example, everything related to biology is written in green, everything related to English Comp is written in blue, etc. Highlight all tests with a yellow highlighter, and paper due dates with a orange highlighter.

Next: Do some back planning. For every deadline, count back an appropriate number of days and set a “start date” for starting to begin test prep or writing a paper. For example, you should allow 5 good study days for every exam, at minimum.

So, if you have an exam on October 25, count back 5 days in your planner and write, “Prepare study materials for Psychology test #3. On day 2,  you might write, “Study for Psychology test #3.” Continue with the notations over the next 3 days. For a large research paper, you might want to count back 2 weeks and write “Begin research for British Literature paper.” The next day you might write “continue British Lit research.” Depending on the size and depth of your paper, you may want to begin writing it 1 week prior to the due date, so you would note this in  your planner, as well.

Keep in mind: If there are days you have things going on and cannot study for your test or work on your paper, then you need to add an additional day when you set your start date for studying or preparing for a project. college-planner

NOW…. if you do this with ALL of your syllabi,  it will take a while, but it is well worth the investment of your time. Having a detailed planner goes a long way towards college success.

myndology

The Myndology flash cards are my favorite flash cards. I used them exclusively for my college classes. Why do I like them so much? They are especially great if you are frequently on the move, if you have to memorize a lot of facts or vocabulary words, and if you like to have an easy way to study during short breaks throughout the day.

  • The ring on each set, keeps the cards all together, which makes them extremely portable, even when you are truly on the move! I kept all of my current cards in my purse, which allowed me to pull them out and study whenever I found myself with a few spare minutes. When I was taking Spanish classes, I used them to help me memorize vocabulary and verb conjugation charts, and I took them with me when I took my daily walks. I also used them at the gym when walking on the treadmill or using the stationary bike. Because of the rings, I didn’t have to worry that I would drop the cards and have them blow away, jam up the treadmill or get mixed up.
  • The cards also lend themselves well to organizing by color or sections. The Muse card sets have both white and accent colors. The Ergo style cards are white and include two colored cards that you can use as dividers. The Neon card set has five different colors of cards in each set. When I was memorizing Spanish vocabulary, I used the colors to group together different types of words. When memorizing Historical Geology terms I color coded them with these cards, as well.
  • The cards can be secured with the cover. This keeps them from sprawling out in my backpack or purse, which prevents them from getting bent up, and also keeps my bag neater. When I am finished with a set of cards, I can write a description of the contents on the spine, and thenstore them neatly in a small storage box I keep on my desk. If I need the cards again for review or for a comprehensive exam, I have them handy and well-organized due to the neatly closed packaging these card sets provide.

These little cards worked so well for me, I earned “A’s” in my classes. They come in different sizes, so if I’m learning something that doesn’t take much space, like vocabulary words, I can use the 1″ X 3″ cards. If I need to put something larger on the cards, like verb conjugation charts, I can use one of the larger sizes.

Myndology Flash Cards

Let’s face it, sometimes getting started is half the battle. If you deal with procrastination or tend to lose track of time, there is an inexpensive and simple tool you can use to help you out. Buy a TIMER. In my opinion, it is one of the best and most necessary time management tools. How does it help? Well, let’s say you need to study for a test, but you find yourself playing Farkle, sharpening pencils, cleaning out your backpack, etc. A lot of us tend to “get busy” when we are procratinating because it disguises our procrastination, because we feel like we are doing something. So the first step is to recognize what procrastination looks like in your life!

Once you have your timer, this is what you do. Make a deal with yourself that you will start whatever task it is, and will do that task for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes is pretty easy to do, right? Sit down with your study materials and set the timer, and go at it! When the timer goes off, you have earned a break. (However, if you feel like you want to continue, set the timer for another fifteen minutes and GO!) If you take a break, be sure to time your break, too! Allow 15 minutes breaks, at least every hour of study.

This really is a great tool and will generally cost you less than $10. Personally, I like the ticking timer, because it helps me to remember to stay focused. But, if you work best in silence, a digital timer is better for you.

Finals are next week, and the activity around my office has increased quite a bit. Some students are panicking because they have realized that the final will make or break the possibility of them passing the class. Others are doing well enough in the class, but lack confidence or suffer from test anxiety. We even have some students dissolving into tears during these last two weeks of school because of the stress. The most important thing these students can do, no matter which category they are in, is to begin preparing early in a systematic and thorough way.frustrated female student

Here is a good way to make sure you cover the material in a thorough way:

Begin by seeing how many days you have available to study before your final. Now subtract one from that total, and that gives you the number of days you will work on your finals preparation. So, let’s say you have 7 days before your first final. So begin by subtracting 1, which leaves 6 days. Now divide your test material into 6 parts. Over the next 6 days you will prepare and study the material. On the first day, prepare study material for Part 1.  This might mean making flash cards, organizing charts, creating a self-test, etc. On day 2, you will prepare study materials for Part 2 and study the materials you created for Part 1. One day 3, you will prepare Part 3 and study Parts 1 and 2. Continue on until you have completed all 6 days. On the 7th day, you will review ALL 6 PARTS! Each day, this should only take you an hour or two, depending on how much material you have to cover. Once you have completed this study method, you will be well prepared for your exam and can go into the classroom with confidence.

If you have several exams for the week, you will create this type of schedule for each exam you will be taking. Just adjust the number of days according to the time you have left to study.  

Let me know how your finals go and good luck!

Have you learned the hard way that you can’t remember things if you haven’t dispersed your studying over several days? Students are often surprised to learn that 10 hours of studying the day before an exam is not equal to 10 hours of studying over 5 days! The formula I am regularly giving students is TIME + REPETITION = SUCCESS. Time is a vital part of the equation!

The Ebbinghaus Curve of Forgetting shows us that people forget things at a shocking pace if they don’t review the information at regular intervals. You may recall that Ebbinghaus discovered in his experiment on memory and retention, that a huge portion forgotten material is lost in the first 20 minutes! Even more shocking, without any review, the person has forgotten nearly half of what was originally learned after just one hour. 24 hours later, a whopping 2/3 of the learned information has been lost! You can combat this rapid memory decline by using your Cornell Notes in a very purposeful way. If you follow my suggestions for review, you will find that when it is time for a test, you will have already made tremendous progress towards being prepared. Just implement the 5-day study plan a week before the test to seal the deal!

In order to use Cornell notes to combat the forgetting curve, you will want to begin by setting your note taking paper up in the form of Cornell Notes by drawing a line about 1/3 of the way over from the left, and another line a couple of inches from the bottom. Then work your way through steps 1-5, as described in the graphic below. It is just that simple!

Use Cornell Notes to Change the Forgetting Curve!

Using the Cornell note taking method in this strategic way combats the dramatic drop in memory pinpointed in the Ebbinghaus curve. Since we know that most of the forgetting occurs in the first 20 minutes after a lecture, you will want to review your notes in those first 20 minutes. (However, this is not just glancing over your notes, this reading through them and processing them in a meaningful way.) According to the Curve of Forgetting data, that brief review bumps the curve to nearly an incredible 100% again. Your second review should occur within the first 24 hours, the third within the first week, and the fourth by 30 days. Periodic review during that 30 day time period is also recommended. Look at the graphic below to see an illustration of this concept. Each time review is conducted, the curve is boosted. You might also notice that the drop in the curve is less dramatic after each review, because the brain is beginning to move information to the long-term memory.

retention and review 

The regular reviews help make those new neuro-pathways smooth and easier to navigate. This means you have quicker and easier access to the memory, which also helps to combat test anxiety, blank mind syndrome, and other stress-related memory blocks.

Try it! It is an extremely effective way of studying and keeps you from having to use those grueling, stressful, and ineffective all-nighters before an exam.

curve of forgetting“The Curve of Forgetting” is something I speak to all of my students about early in the semester. It is a powerful piece of information and it’s application can make a huge difference in grades. This chart is a visual representation of what happens to a person’s memory when they listen to a lecture. As they listen, the curve steadily increases until it reaches 100% of whatever he or she will know, however well they will know it. As you can see, after the lecture the curve takes a rapid and steady decline when the student does nothing to try to retain it. By day 2, if the information has not been revisited in any way, 50-80% will be lost!  After 30 days, only 2-3% of the original information is still hanging on. This may coincide with an exam date, and the student has to relearn almost 100% of the information that could have simply been retained with a little effort.

The reason this happens has to do with the instability of our short-term memory. This part of our memory is limited to just five to nine items, so our brains are constantly tossing items out to prevent the short term memory from getting too full. Therefore, if you want to keep a memory, you need to convert it to a long term memory. How does that happen? Quite simply, through repetition. Long term memory is created when chemical messages in the brain create a “neural network.”  The more these connections are used, the stronger the network becomes.  The author of a book titled The Brain in Action equates it with being similar to creating a path in the woods. “The first time you create a path, it is rough and overgrown. The next time you use it, it’s easier to travel because you have previously walked over the weeds and moved the obstacles. Each time thereafter, it gets smoother and smoother. In a similar fashion, the neural networks get more efficient, and messages travel more swiftly” (2). In other words, the more time you give “memory making” the easier it will be for you to access that memory.

If we apply this understanding to the lecture represented in the graph, we know that we must immediately begin giving our brains a hint that we want to retain that information. As you can see from the yellow line on the graph, a brief review within the first 24 hours gives your memory a fantastic boost, almost up to that 100% again. A week later, it only takes 5 minutes to reactivate the information and bump up the curve. If you continue to repeat regular reviews, you have worn a smoother path and given your brain plenty of hints that the information should be kept.

If you don’t do this, you will spend about an hour relearning each hour worth of lecture material. Therefore, it is actually a great use of your time to spend a few minutes reviewing material regularly. Another advantage is that this method decreases test anxiety because the information is in the long term memory, rather than the unstable short term memory.

Do yourself a favor and try this for a couple of weeks and then, do me a favor in return…. let me know what you think!