Preparing for tests
Because the UW is on the quarter system, classes tend to move quickly! When it comes to preparing for midterms or finals, it's important to see this as an ongoing process that begins when you first open your textbook or take notes in a course. All lecture notes, reading notes, or class handouts should be set up to help you review for tests efficiently. If you get in the habit of looking at class notes daily and weekly, you'll learn the material over time. In addition to reviewing your class notes, here are some strategies you can use to optimize your studying as you prepare for midterm and final exams!
Predict Test Questions
Tests from earlier in the quarter are the best source of information, so hold on to them or ask your teacher if they will give you a practice exam! What subjects did the professor test you on? Which did they omit? What kind of question was asked (objective, short answer, essay, application)? Is the professor more interested in detail, main principles or both?
Other sources of information are:
- The professor's hints in class like "The most important point is ..." and "This will be on the test."). When a teacher notes that something will be important to remember, come up with a system to mark it in your notes i.e. stars, highlighting that section, or writing it in a specific section of your notes. Thill will help you find these hints when you're reviewing your notes for an exam!
- The way the professor presents material. Do they spend a lot of time comparing and contrasting political figures, theories, etc.? Expect a compare/contrast question on the test.
- The questions asked in lecture
- The teaching assistant's instructions during quiz section - oftentimes, the TAs work with the professors to figure out what the emphasize
- Study sheets, worksheets, and old exams provided by your professor.
- Review sessions provided by the professor or TA, especially on the day before the test.
Try this: Make note of the professor's questions during lecture or office hours, and test yourself to make sure you can answer them!
Review Your Graded Tests
Regardless of how you score on an exam, take the time to go through it and figure out why you got the wrong answer. For each question, try to reconstruct your thought process: Did you misinterpret the question or not spend enough time on a certain concept? On an objective test, if you wavered between two answers, and then chose the wrong one, why did that happen? What would you have needed to know to choose the right one? Do you need to change the way you study for the next test?
If you aren't sure why you're getting things wrong, ask your professor to help you figure it out, or discuss it with a study partner or friend. You can always a arrange a time to meet with your professor or stop in during office hours - this can also be a good time to discuss study strategies!
Try this: look for patterns in the problems you miss. If you're missing a lot of the multiple choice questions, it might help to meet with your professor or TA to discuss study strategies.
When You Study
- Study groups are very helpful when preparing for exams. You master something by teaching it to others, so spend some quizzing each other or explaining your thought process to others.
- Review material topic by topic. Synthesize information from diverse sources, and outline answers to possible test questions.
- Use study aids such as organizational charts, graphs, summary sheets, vocabulary sheets, and flash cards.
- To help your memory, recite the information you are learning, perhaps by reading an organizational chart aloud, or by writing a summary and then reading it aloud, or by simply summarizing as you speak.
Try this: Make a study guide or study sheet with main concepts and formulas. List the topics you need to review and organize the material that covers each topic, and refer to it throughout your study sessions.
Strategies for Different Types of Exams
- Essay exams: predict questions, make study sheets, outline answers, and memorize outlines
- Try this: Come up with a potential essay question, sit in a quiet room, and set a timer for the length of the exam and answer the question in an exam-like setting. Afterward, use a rubric from a past assignment or come up with your own to "grade" the essay. You can also do this with a study buddy and trade exams!
- Objective exams: learn important concepts in each unit and memorize facts
- Try this: Use flashcards using cards or a tool like Quizlet, and quiz yourself!
- Problem-solving exams: list different types of problems; work examples of each type, outlining each step of the solution and explaining the principles involved.
- Try this: For exams in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, work on free response problems for each concept - this will help you apply your understanding of foundational concepts and problem solving skills!
- Open-book exams: organize your materials so it's easy to look things up. Then study as for any other exam.
- Try this: Flag different sections of the book so you know where to find different material.
- Take-home exams: work out a schedule; map or outline an answer, synthesizing from various course materials; draft your answer; revise.
- Try this: If it's a take-home essay, create an outline for your essay with topic sentences and supporting evidence. Put together the essay over the course of the time you're given.
- Performance tests or speeches: have short, frequent practices
- Try this: Practice your piece in front of a friend, or even a stuffed animal! This will help you develop your muscle memory for the presentation.
Try this: Make a quiz or flashcard deck with potential test questions, and give it to your friend or classmate - the process of making a test can deepen your understanding of the material.
- Be sure to read the test's directions and questions carefully before responding - this can save a lot of time later!
- If you're answering an essay question, try to write a mini-outline with your thesis statement, topic sentences, and sources of evidence.
- Save time to review your exam to make sure that you answered every question.
Try this: Don't pull an all-night before the test! Focus on preparing for the test over the course of a few days.
Additional Test Resources
Adapted from Active Learning: A Study Skills Worktext by Rory Donnelly (1990).