How to Study for Final Exams

final-examsFinal exams are approaching on college campuses around the world. Finals can be stressful, even for the most prepared students. Here are some tips to help you succeed:

Preparing for the Final

  • Find out what your entire final exam schedule is so that you’ll know how many finals you will have on each day.
  • Prepare a written schedule for yourself indicating when you will study for each test. Leave some time in your schedule for exercise and relaxation, too.
  • If the professor offers a study guide, use it.
  • If the professor offers a review session for the exam, go to it.
  • Know if the final is comprehensive (covering everything since the beginning of the semester or quarter).
  • Find out what kind of exam it will be. You’d study differently for a multiple-choice (Scantron) final than an essay (blue book) one.
  • If the final will be taken online, find out if you have to go to a specific computer lab on campus at a specific time, or if you’ll be allowed to take the final on your own computer. Also find out how many chances you will have to take the final. Assume it’s just one chance unless you hear differently from the professor.
  • If you have your previous exams available, scour the exams for things that you think will be on the final. Flag your notes by highlighting or using Post-It notes.
  • Don’t pull an all-nighter. (Though some people are successful with studying all night and then taking a test with no sleep, I wouldn’t recommend you try it for the first time on a final exam.)
  • Calculate your grades in the class. Determine what score you will need to get the grade you’re hoping for in the class. You may discover that you can’t possibly get an A, no matter how well you do on the final, but to get a B, you only need to get a few questions right.
  • If you’re an auditory learner, record yourself reading your notes aloud, then play the recording back several times. (You can use the free online service Utterli for this; simply register with Utterli and then call your assigned phone number with your cell phone to start the recording.)
  • If the exam is an open-book exam, this does not mean that you don’t have to study at all. In fact, one of the most challenging exams I ever took as an undergrad was an open-book essay exam.
  • ADDED ON NOV 22: Consider creating a detailed Final Exam Battle Plan.

On the Day of the Final

  • Eat a meal and drink water.
  • Don’t overdo it with the caffeine.
  • Know what to bring with you to the final. Do you need a blue book? A Scantron? (And if you need a Scantron, which kind do you need?) A pencil? A pen?
  • Are food and drinks allowed in the classroom where your final will be? Sometimes, the rules are different for exam days than other days.
  • Even if you don’t usually wear a watch, take one with you to the final. It’s unlikely you will be able to look at your cell phone during the final.

During the Final

  • For a paper-based exam, read through the entire final exam before you start answering any questions at all. This way, you will know what you’re facing.
  • If the final is an online exam, find out if you can revisit questions, or if after you click past a question you cannot go back to it again.
  • If you’re using a Scantron and you skip a question to finish later, make sure you’re answering your questions next to the correct answers. (When I took my GRE to get into grad school, I skipped a question on the first page of the booklet, but never skipped a number on the Scantron. When I realized it, I only had 10 minutes to go back and put the answers with the correct questions. Talk about stress!)
  • Keep a close eye on the time you have allotted.
  • Some students benefit from answering the most difficult questions first, while others do better completing all the easier ones. Do what works for you.

After the Final

  • Do not share with other students what was on the final exam. In most universities, this is a violation of the honor code.

Now it’s your turn: What final exam tips do you have to share? Please let us know through your comments below.

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Photo Credit: http://flickr.com/photos/shaghaghi/73645535/

Final Exam Care Packages

exam-weekThroughout the nation — and perhaps around the world — college students are preparing (or preparing to prepare!) for their final exams. I’ve been a college professor for more than two decades, and I am also the parent of a college student. To help my son with this stressful time in any student’s life, I’ll be sending him a Final Exam Care Package. Here are a few of the items that he’ll find when he opens this box next week. If you’re a student, you might want to share a link to this post with your parents.

My plan is to put this package together myself. However, if life intervenes, I may “cheat” and order a pre-packaged one from Tiger Surprise, which caters specifically to Auburn University students (where my eldest is a sophomore). Either way, my son will receive a tangible reminder that his mom and dad want him to take care of himself and do well on his first college finals.

Though I know he’ll be appreciative of the goodies in his care package, I know my son, and I bet he won’t call to tell me it arrived. This gives me the excuse to call him and see how he’s doing. I won’t grill him with tons of questions about his finals; instead, I’ll provide a listening ear and lots of encouragement. . . and a few of my best study tips.

Note: Parents can find the overall final exam schedule for most universities at the school’s website. However, you’ll probably need to check with your students to determine exactly when their finals are based on their class schedules.

So, what would you like to see in your own final exam care package? Do you (or your student) have favorites? Please share them as a comment.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/flippy/5137957/


Time Management? No, PRIORITY Management

For the deliverable for the module on Time Management (which I’d rename as Priority Management), this is what I’ll need from you:

Fall 2008 Semester at a Glance: Fill this out with every assignment, test, quiz, final, etc., that you have this semester. You can do it in Word or by hand (if and only if you write neatly). Bring a hard copy to class on Monday, October 6. Nothing is necessary in WebCT Vista.

An alternate: If you already have all of your fall semester’s assignments (etc.) entered into a planner, show me what you have. You may just be able to make me a copy of what you’re already doing.

To earn all 100 points on the Time Management module, you will need to also include milestones for at least one project in each class. For example, if you have a research paper due, list your internal deadlines for when you need to finish research, write outline, complete draft, and complete final version.  Without milestones for at least one project in each class, the maximum you can earn on the this module is 85. Or if you have a test to study for, indicate when you need to finish reading certain chapters, when you plan to study, etc.

10 Tips for Success on Assignments

College assignments may be different than the ones you completed in high school. Here are several tips that may help you succeed in your assignments.

  1. Read the assignment thoroughly. Ensure that you understand what the instructor is looking for as a deliverable.
  2. Use standard English grammar and spelling. Though abbreviations and lack of capitalization or punctuation may be fine in text messages or Twitter, they are definitely not acceptable in other written assignments. Need help with grammar? Check out Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.
  3. Use spell check. Don’t rely on it exclusively, but do use it.
  4. If there’s a minimum or maximum word or page count, write enough, but not too much.
  5. Consider writing a draft of your assignment for your instructor to review prior to the deadline. (Yikes — check the second definition included in the deadline link.)
  6. Post or turn in your assignment by the deadline. Many instructors (including me) do not accept late work. (See some views on late work at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website.)
  7. Thoroughly review your course syllabus. Many instructors include a weekly schedule of discussions and assignments. Don’t be surprised if when you ask when an assignment is due, your instructor replies, “You’ll find that in the syllabus.” Check WebCT Vista for due dates if they are not specified on the syllabus.
  8. When taking a quiz or test in WebCT Vista, make sure you are aware what the rules are for using materials to help you take the test, that you know how many tries you have, and how the final score is calculated. (In many of my classes, the quizzes are “open-everything,” at least two tries are allowed, and highest score counts. But that’s just me.)
  9. If your instructor specifies or indicates a preference for fonts and margins, use these when writing your assignment.

Hmmm . . . that’s only nine tips. What is one addition tip you could offer to complete this top ten list? Please comment with your suggestion.

Photo Credit: “Success,” originally uploaded to Flickr by kevinthoule.

10 Ways NOT to Prepare for College Advising

Spring semester, I had the honor and pleasure of advising undergraduate students who are in their first or second years of college at Georgia Southern University. Though several of them came to their fifteen-minute advising appointment extremely well prepared, most did not.

Below, you will find a list of ten things NOT to do when you are being advised.

  1. Don’t show up. That’s right, several students were no shows for their appointments. (That wasn’t really a surprise, but it was disappointing.)
  2. Come in and say, “Okay, tell me what I need to take next semester.” Whatever happened to being responsible for your own learning?
  3. Make excuse after excuse why you have withdrawn from class after class — and still expect that a professor might give you an override to get into a full class. Yes, there are definitely some reasons to withdraw from classes, but when it becomes a habit, it begins to reflect poorly on your ability to manage your schedule. For every class from which you withdraw, there probably was another student who wanted to get in before the semester started, but could not because the class was full.
  4. Spend more time looking for ways to avoid taking your core classes than actually taking the classes. Everyone in the university needs to take a core of similar classes. Even you. And don’t expect that your advisor will tell you “which ones are the easy ones.”
  5. Don’t look in the online college catalog to see what will be required for your major; expect your advisor to know all the details off the top of his or her head. It surprised me that several students “knew” they wanted to major in a certain subject, but did not have any idea what courses would be required for the major, or that a certain GPA was required.
  6. Don’t check out the online registration service in WINGS to see when your earliest registration date and time are. Find out when your registration time is, and make your advising appointment before this time, so that you can register at the earliest possible moment. Many classes fill quickly, and the earlier you can register, the more likely you can get in.
  7. Expect your advisor to be able to counsel you on which major you should choose AND help you choose classes for next semester, all during your allotted 15 minutes. Choosing a major is an important, perhaps life-changing, decision. Make an appointment with a professor or advisor in the majors you are interested in far ahead of the advisement period.
  8. Give your advisor a blank stare when he or she asks you, “So what steps are you taking to bring up your grade point average?” As the old saying goes, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Many majors have minimum GPAs required for admittance to their programs; make a plan to exceed that minimum by as much as you can. Utilize the many services your university has to offer for study skills, tutoring, etc.
  9. Respond to text messages while your advisor is talking. Come on, the appointment is only 15 minutes. Couldn’t that wait? And if it couldn’t, would it be so hard to say, “Please excuse me for just a moment. There’s something urgent I need to do”? 
  10. Leave your iPod earbuds in your ears so you can continue to listen to your music (and use your pencil and pen as drumsticks on the desk) while the appointment is going on. Seriously. As a 20-year career educator and parent of four, I don’t shock easily, but the rudeness of this took me aback. And it happened not once, but twice, with two different students. At least neither of them hesitated at complying when I asked them to focus on our meeting rather than their iPods.

Now, it probably sounds like I don’t ever want to advise students again. Not quite. . .

During my “dream appointment,” and I did have one of these, this is what happened:

A young woman walked up to me confidently, put out her hand to shake mine, and said, “Good morning, my name is Katey. Thanks for meeting with me today.” She and I walked back to my office, chatting about where she is from and why she chose her major. Katey sat down, reached into her backpack, and took out her planner. She turned to a page where she had marked up the core requirements sheet with classes she’d already taken and highlighted those she was considering for the next semester. Katey turned serious when she noted, “I know I need to take the second English class in the series, but I looked online, and the classes are already full.” Hmmm. This was intriguing! She had done some significant preparation for this meeting. We worked together to come up with an alternate plan that took into account what to do when Plan A wasn’t going to work. We looked ahead to required courses to her major and selected two that are prerequisites for many other courses. We briefly discussed how she could get involved on one or two campus organizations related to her major. And the whole meeting took less than ten minutes.

If only there were more Kateys! Maybe there can be if students can know what to expect of the advising appointment.

For another “what NOT to do,” see How to Fail a Class Without Really Trying.

Photo credit: Listening to Music, originally uploaded to Flickr by rjp-in-oz

My Freshman Year: 25 Words of Wisdom

Thinking back to your college experience, what do you wish you would have known about your freshman year? What did you do just right? What do you wish you could get a “do-over” on? Topics could include:

  • Studying (or lack thereof)
  • Alcohol consumption (or lack thereof)
  • Reading textbooks
  • Reading syllabi
  • Time management
  • Involvement in campus activities
  • Making friends
  • Using library resources for research
  • Maintaining a personal budget

Using the model created by Liz Strauss at The Successful Blog, share 25 Words of Wisdom for first-year college students in my Making Connections class. Use exactly 25 words, no more, no less. Full sentences are not needed. Here’s a slight adaptation of Liz’s guidelines and a link to her completed project:

  1. Think about your freshman year in college.
  2. Write a sentence about it.
  3. Count the words you have written.
  4. Edit the sentence until you have 25 words exactly. Notice how your idea changes as you edit and how your feelings change with each rewrite.
  5. Post your 25 words as a comment to this blog posting OR on your blog by July 31st.
  6. Link back to this post (from your blog) or leave a link to your post in the comments section. (I don’t want to miss yours when I compile all of them.)

Oh yes, if you have some wonderful thoughts and can’t make it fit into 25 words, that’s okay, too. I’d still like to know what they are. Simply comment below. No worries.

 

Photo Credit: Photo “seat number 25” originally uploaded to Flickr by Leo Reynolds