Preparing for Exams?
Focus on questions, not just
by Mary Wilson
Well, it's exam time again. Your notes are organized, the reading's done, and
now you've got to study for the exam. Dreading
the ordeal? Here's a trick good students use to get
ready: think like an instructor instead of a
Preparing and answering practice questions
will help you focus on what's important and boost
your confidence. Follow these three steps to be
ready come exam day:
Step 1: Identify the most significant parts of the
Not everything is equally important. Begin with the
most important areas.
Does the course syllabus or outline include goals
for the course? There's your first clue. Review them
to remember what your instructor thinks is crucial. Look at the course outline and think about what
actually went on. If your history class spent three
weeks discussing factors that led up to the American
revolution, and only a couple of days on life before
independence, it's a good bet the exam will have a
Now turn to your notes. If you've been faithfully
making notes in lectures, the number of pages on
each topic will give you a hint about the importance
of each area.
Your last crucial source for identification of key
points is your textbook, or other assigned readings.
Don't read them again now! Your purpose in this step
is to develop a rough map of the territory, not to
explore all the highways and byways. Scan the titles
and chapter heads to remind yourself of some of the
most significant areas.
Step 2: Identify the kinds of questions that will be
There are several ways to identify the kinds of
questions you'll find. Ask your instructor the most reliable source for
what kind of questions are and are not on the exam.
Often the subject will give you a clue as to the
type of questions you'll encounter. You're less
likely to find essay questions on a math test than
on a lit final.
If you've taken an exam from this instructor
before, review it. Were the questions
multiple-choice? Short answers? Analytical essays?
Chances are the instructor's style won't have
changed a lot. Check with the library or the student society to find
out if there is a file of old exams available. Don't
search for answers just for questions. Don't try
to predict which of the old questions will be asked.
That's usually a time-waster, since most instructors
change their exams. Instead, try to get a feel for
the way questions are asked.
But don't spend too long on step two. To be confident
answering the kinds of questions you'll be facing,
the real confidence-booster is writing some
Step 3: Develop practice questions and answers.
Start with the easy ones short answer questions.
Begin with the most important section of the course.
Look through that section of your notes, and course
readings. If you find headings like Three reasons
or Five factors
count yourself lucky. Questions
like What are the eight characteristics of a
successful marketing campaign," or List three
factors that prolonged the economic depression of
the 1930s, are found on many a midterm and final.