The Art of Test-Taking

Let’s be honest, we all dread exams.  I mean, who relishes the thought of 25% of their grade resting on the information they can recall and apply in an hour and 20 minutes?  Nobody.  Well… nobody in their right mind.
Well, I guess at one point in my life I actually enjoyed taking tests, but that requires further explanation.
For the first eight years of my education I was home-schooled, so taking tests was like running a race against yourself; there was absolutely no pressure.  I’ve never functioned well under pressure, so this situation was ideal for me, and I always did well.  Even throughout high school, I never saw my tests as too terribly important, I knew that I would graduate high school and go on to attend a relatively good college, and as soon as I started college, nobody would care about my grades in high school.
The first test I remember really feeling pressured for was my chemistry regents.  My teacher told us that if anyone got 100 on the regents, he would give us a $50 gift certificate for a restaurant of our choosing.  Based on my practice regents scores the gift certificate was not out of the question for me.
Needless to say I bombed the test; the result was the lowest score I got on any of my regents.

I have three exams this week, and through the process of preparing for them I’ve made several observations and devised a few guidelines for test preparation:

1. Relax – You’re not going to learn anything when all you can think about is how much of your grade rests on this one exam.  Take some time to do something you enjoy; draw, write, go for a run, etc.  Before you start studying dedicate a little time to relaxing and taking your mind off things.  Personally this helps me focus and keeps me from getting mentally burned out.

2. Break it up – If you have multiple exams, or other homework to work on (which is probably the case) then rotate!  If you’ve spent an hour on waves and optics then maybe it’s time to take a break from that and study diff eq.  I’m not saying interrupt yourself if you’re on a roll, but I’ve found that studying for half hour to hour intervals and interspersing other work with that keeps me from getting overwhelmed by one subject.

3. Stop trying to multi-task – it just doesn’t work.  I’ve tried to tell myself that I can watch an episode of Star Trek while I study waves, because that’s mostly math, so the dialogue from the TV doesn’t distract me.  Stop lying to yourself!  You care way more about Kirk stealing the Romulan cloaking device than the torsional oscillations of a mass hanging on a spring. If you really need background noise, that’s what Spotify is for.
Also, if you need to take a break for dinner, then take a break.  Take 20 minutes to eat and maybe watch an episode of HIMYM instead of worrying about dropping pad Thai on you emag book.

4. Stop blogging and get back to work – Ok so this applies to all social media.  Just shut your computer and stop refreshing facebook.  It will be there when you’re done or when you need to take a break.

5. Don’t panic.

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2 thoughts on “The Art of Test-Taking

  1. The best test I ever took in college was my intro to forensic science final. I took it, double-checked, triple-checked, and turned it in with in 20 minutes, while on a ton of vicodin, and I scored perfectly.

    The test that I got the most higher-than-expected score on was the one where I was stoned on vicodin and had my kidney blocked and was barely conscious on a class that I was pulling a 42% average in (have you taken Modern Physics yet?).

    And I got a good GRE score while I had swine flu and had been running a fever for 5 days straight.

    So, deducing from all of this… the key to test-taking is to be so sick that you’re incapable of coherent thought.

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