Exam week can be difficult, dangerous, even overwhelming. You may feel helpless and hopeless, as though there is nothing you can do. After a semester of too many classes and too much work, you think you'll have to stay up all night studying to pass your final exams.
But wait! Help is on the way!
Below are my handy hints for exam time, developed during ten arduous years as a student and fifteen more as a teacher.
A. Two Weeks Before the Exam
- Make up a set of study sheets for each class.
- Each set of study sheets should summarize the reading, your class notes, and any handouts.
- Type the study sheets so they are easily readable. Use plenty of bold type and white space to accentuate important ideas.
- For the next two weeks, read through your study sheets three times each day. Do not try hard to memorize the information. Just read the notes once, three times per day.
B. The Night Before the Exam
- Read your study sheets as usual.
- Go to bed early and get a good night's sleep.
C. The Day of the Exam
- Set your alarm and get up early. Allow plenty of time to get to the exam.
- Eat a good breakfast, including simple sugars (fruit juice), complex carbohydrates (cereal or toast), and protein (milk, eggs, meat, cheese). This will help your blood sugar stay at a stable level, and since your brain runs on sugar, you don't want to have an empty tank.
- Caffeine has been shown to increase alertness and performance. If you are a habitual user of caffeine, be sure to get your accustomed dose.
- Take along a piece of fruit to eat during the exam. This will help keep your blood sugar even, so you don't tire during the second half of the exam period.
D. During the Exam
- If you feel tense, relax, take a deep breath, and remember that you know the material because you've been reviewing for two weeks.
- Keep your eye on the clock while taking the exam. Allow enough time to finish the entire test. Avoid focusing on one question and running out of time on others.
- Read the entire exam before beginning to write. Know your enemy, in other words.
- Be sure your name is on the test. (This sounds silly, but sometimes if we feel tense or pressured, we forget the little things.)
- Read each question a second time, then answer that question.
- Go on to the next question. Remember to look at the clock and keep moving through the test.
- After the first hour and fifteen minutes, relax, stretch, eat your fruit. Calm down. You know the material.
- Use the entire exam period rather than rushing through the test.
E. Special Information for Students Taking Essay Exams
- Read the question carefully and analyze what the teacher wants in the answer. If the question has several parts, use these parts to structure your answer.
- Use the writing process: brainstorm, organize, outline, add supporting information, write, revise, edit.
- Write a version of the classic five-paragraph essay. Answer the question in the first paragraph of your essay. State and support one proof for your answer in each of the following paragraphs. Answer the question in different words in your concluding paragraph.
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