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The Library

Preparing for Exams
(Continued from 1)

Don't forget course definitions — your instructor won't. Especially in introductory courses, there are usually some terms to learn. You can call it jargon, or academic gobbledygook, but it's a sure thing that if your instructors have explained it, they will expect you to understand it well enough to provide a definition.

What do you do when you've found the examination questions? Write them down, and underneath, write the answers. You'll find the answers right where you found the questions— in your notes, and course readings.

However, don't waste your valuable study time making up multiple choice questions for the test. They're tricky for professionals to write, and you don't want to spend 3/4 of your time focusing on the wrong answers! Instead, write the questions that you think will be multiple choice as fill-in-the-blanks. Make yourself an answer key, set the questions aside for a couple of days, then take your stress-free prep test.

College essay questions are a little harder to write, which is only fair, since they are a harder to answer well. Here your instructor likely won't be looking for a simple definition, or a straight repetition of what you have written in your notes. You need to provide proof that you've read and understood the material, and can apply it in practice, or demonstrate the point you're making using examples.

So what does that look like as a question? The kinds of words you need here are words like “analyze,” “explain” and “demonstrate.” For example, a literature exam might ask you to analyze or explain a character's actions. In chemistry, you might have to explain what happens when two elements are combined in a particular way. Essay questions are often looking for the 'why,' not just who or how.

But remember, you do not have to make this stuff up! Go back to your notes and the college course outline. Can you phrase any of the professor's stated goals as essay questions? Can you think of an essay question that would be answered by a section of your notes?

When exam day dawns, of course, you'll need to answer the questions the instructor poses, not the ones you practiced with. But the work you've done in predicting and practicing with questions will give you confidence to follow all that other good advice for exam-writing: read carefully, manage your time, and enjoy showing your grasp of the course material.

Mary Wilson received her M.A. in Educational Studies (Adult Education) at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

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