Write an essay where you tell us what test preparation practices work best for you and why.
One of the most important responsibilities of being a student is simply to attend class. Though it seems trivial, the process of skipping even a single day of a lecture could potentially leave you sitting down for a test and seeing a whole page or multiple pages are dedicated to that one day you decided to play hooky. As with most students who were members of the gifted program growing up, I was able to retain the information handed to me all the way up to my senior year of high school with little to no trouble or effort. So, when I experience my first semester of college, I was bombarded with so much information that it was impossible for me to remember it all. Thus, those first few weeks I was forced to teach myself how to take effective and orderly notes rather than give my full attention to the class. However, having just gotten into the habit of writing notes I was naïve to think that it would be enough for me, as my classes got progressively more difficult, I was unable to retain the information even though I had written the majority of it down the class before. In order to combat this newly developed problem, I began to rewrite my notes in the spare notebooks I had lying around my dorm, cleaning up my chicken scratch handwriting and connecting thoughts and almost overnight I saw a remarkable improvement in my ability to recall information from the previous lectures. Having that repetition and active connections forming after the lecture was over in my own time seemed to cement those ideas in my head, thus allowing me to spend less time refreshing in lecture and more time paying attention to the new content flooding in. On top of being able to keep up in lecture, that deeper understanding of the subject made tests seem much less daunting and easier to manage.
Unfortunately, memorization of a topic holds little to no weight in the grand scheme of your overall education. In order to truly master a subject, you must also have a deeper understanding of the process. The most effective way that I was able to accomplish this understanding of the subject was to act as the teacher when studying. Putting yourself in the shoes of the instructor forces you not just to be able to solve the problem but to know exactly how the problem is solved. Whether it be to another student, a tutor, or even your pet, being able to explain to someone or something else creates such a deep understanding of a subject that there are no longer problems for you to solve and figure out, but formulas for which you just have to plug in the relevant information into. For instance, given a complicated and difficult math problem, using just memorization you can remember all the separate parts that you must use to find an answer, but without an understanding of the fundamental problem those values you memorized are just numbers with nowhere to be put. However, given that same problem but understanding the steps it takes to solve the problem allows you to find the answer without having to memorize all the parts, you can find and calculate them individually as you go. A good practice I personally like to do is to give myself a problem, and without assistance from an example or online answer source, work through it as hard as I can. I find as much information as possible until I am completely lost and have no clue as to where the next step is, then I will look at the example in order to find the rest of the way. After working these exceedingly difficult problems, I eventually force myself how to understand how the problem works, and so no matter what questions are thrown at me on the test I am prepared to answer them with the process I forced myself to learn.
Finally, and most importantly, in order to combat cramming for an exam, you much spread your study time out over many days. If you spend an all-nighter the day before the test cramming, not only will you forget almost half the information but you will be so exhausted that you will find it difficult to even make it to the end of the test, let alone perform effectively on it. Rather than spend eight hours of heavy, intensive study time directly before your examination, spread that eight hours over the whole week beforehand. Whereas one hour a day as compared to eight hours a day seems both less daunting and much more effective utilization of your time. Similarly, by spreading your study time over multiple days, you are giving your chance to rework problems and rewrite/reread your notes thus allowing you to memorize information and understand the process of problems to a much greater degree. Though you will find people who can indeed put all studying in the night before and do exceedingly well in their classes from day one to graduation, those few people are in the stark minority. Using myself as an example, I can cram a whole lot of information in my head before an exam and remember a fair chunk of it, but as your classes get more and more demanding that chunk you remember will continue to shrink until soon you will not be able to finish whole problems leaving you with no chance at getting credit. However, when I spread my studying out over many days the information becomes almost second nature to me and I am able to regurgitate and apply that knowledge on both the test and the lessons after the test. Without a doubt, the worst habit a person can form is procrastination, especially close to the end of the semester when you are tired and ready to quit. In order to be successful in exams, one must be willing to fight against procrastination and do things in a timely manner, even if it means working on it an hour a day.
Being an effective student in both high school and college is not easy, however, a student can make it exponentially harder on themselves if they are not careful. I am extraordinarily guilty of all three of the points I pointed out, I would not write effective notes, which would lead to me procrastinating and cramming before exams, and then inevitably I would do poorly on my tests. However, by utilizing these skills I was able to not only become more proficient at tests but also become a much more well-rounded student which in the long run will help me become a better worker and contributor in the job force. From rewriting your notes the same day after your lecture to becoming the teacher, and avoiding cramming by spreading out your studying days in advance to the test, the best way to study for tests is to find the balance that works for you, but if whatever you are currently doing isn’t working, then make the change as soon as possible.
Maximillian from Mississippi
University of Alabama in Huntsville