PulseHow to prepare for the first tests of the semester

Column: ways to start studying for exams with less stress and last-minute panic
Mathilde Le TaconSeptember 16, 2018285 min

As the semester picks up steam and students settle into their classes, some may find themselves soon facing the first tests of the year. For anyone who needs a fresh reminder of how to do well and crush exams, stay tuned: There are plenty of resources that Trinity has for students to take advantage of.

START EARLY AND GET AHEAD

I know — it’s the cardinal rule and the one that almost no one ever follows, yet arguably, it’s one of the most effective ones. Luckily, it’s not impossible to break a streak of procrastination. Change starts today. If a student’s test is next week, they should spend a bit of time each day before the test looking over the material. Not only is it easier to learn chunks every night than to learn five chapters in one night, but it also sticks better. Studies have found that cramming the night before is far less effective than a week-long retention period and should only be used as a last possible resort.

Sophomore Victoria Seliger, a finance and accounting double major with a minor in economics, has already finished her minor and has consistently done well on difficult exams. She has particularly excelled in her macroeconomics and banking classes.

“I make flashcards and carry them around and run them when I have time, like at Mabee,” Seliger said. “If you spread out the studying, it’s much more likely to stick than if you stare at the page for three hours and expect things to be memorized.

Hailey Taylor, a peer tutor for Organic Chemistry I, agreed with this sentiment.

“Give yourself time to study,” Taylor said. “Most of us need way more time than we think to absorb all of the information. Especially for the sciences, it is like learning a new language because everything builds off what you previously learned. This way, you can relax the night before a big exam and get plenty of sleep.”

So as soon as you know that a test is coming up, make a plan and stick to it. Your future self will thank you for it when you’re not awake the night before trying to learn a semester’s worth of course content.

GET HELP

Peer tutors are an integral part of Trinity University’s academic structure. Their job is to help students, so never feel afraid to ask them questions. It’s infinitely better to ask for help than to resign yourself to failure.

“If you have questions and you don’t clear them up, it’s just going to compound in the material because that’s how most classes are designed,” Seliger said.

The same applies to professors: Trinity professors are all hired to bolster student success, so if you have questions about chapter content, ask them — preferably before the last minute.

Willis Salomon, associate professor of English, shared some general advice for staying on top of one’s classes.

“I advise first-year students generally, from day one, to be sure not to miss any class, to check their TU e-mail regularly, to attend to the details of the syllabus in every class, and to make their First-Year Experience the place where, should any issues of any kind arise, they make contact with a professor or peer tutor who can steer them to specific counsel regarding that issue,” Salomon said.

Getting that one-on-one help can make all the difference leading up to testing periods. If you prepare your questions well and know what you’re struggling with, the professor can pinpoint strategies to help you most accordingly — leading to the next point.

STUDY STRATEGICALLY

Trinity is a diverse campus, and that includes the way students learn. Everybody is different. What may work for some may be ineffective for others, and learning strategies span far and wide. There is no shame in having a hard time learning from straight lectures or if flashcards don’t do anything for you. Find something that does work, develop it into a legitimate strategy and keep evolving it every year.

“One of the most critical aspects of my strategy involves what I call the double absorption method. What I do is I take notes by hand in class because it’s quicker and gives you more flexibility, and then I get home from class, re-read and type up my notes so I can reference them easier when I’m studying,” Seliger said. “They absorb twice — through writing once and then re-typing them.”

James Shinkle, professor of biology, had a study strategy of his own to share with students.

“One place to begin is to prepare from the top down, not the bottom up. Bottom up would be memorizing lots of terms and highlighting huge sections of text to reread. Top down is identify the big ideas — both for the class as a whole — and any given day or assignment, figure out how to explain those ideas. That will tell you what vocabulary you really need,” Shinkle said.

BE PRESENT

It sounds obvious, but it’s also the most valuable tip here. Attend your classes. Even the most grueling 8:30 a.m. deserves your presence. It’s a lot harder to learn the material when you’re not in class, and the best way to make sure you’re motivated to go to class in the morning is to set yourself up for success the night before.

“I also advise first-year students to get enough sleep — even if it means kicking people out of your room — to eat wisely and to beware of the allure of an over-use of intoxicating substances,” Salomon said.

Of course, it’s different when you’re sick, but if it’s a matter of a few hours in bed versus learning what you’re paying for, choose the latter. You’ll see the beneficial results in your GPA.

And now, for the dreaded moment, but perhaps the one that’s just as important to think about: What happens when you don’t do well on a test?

While it can be extremely demoralizing to get a bad grade back, there are strategies to learn and overcome that, too.

YOU’RE NOT ALONE

Everyone struggles at one point or another. It can be hard to struggle in a class when everyone else seems like they have it down, but others aren’t necessarily as put together as they seem. Many students before you have tripped up on exams or quizzes. They’ve done worse than they thought they would but have dragged themselves back up. Your journey to a bright future is not a competition with others.

FORM A PLAN

Understand where you went wrong. Did you run out of the time on the test? Were the study strategies you used the wrong ones? Did you procrastinate and try to cram last minute? Figure out where you slipped and make a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Seek out the resources that address the specific problems you experienced during your test, whether it be not grasping the course content or not employing the right techniques to apply it.

For example, Aamuktha Karla, peer tutor for Organic Chemistry I, knows that sometimes there can be a disconnect between the information students study and what they can actually retain and explain on an examination.

“Write out or talk through important concepts from memory. When reading the textbook or going over notes, it’s sometimes easy to have a false sense of security about what information you really understand,” Karla said. “Testing yourself without the information in front of you can help in figuring out what you know or don’t know, and that can help you better plan out the rest of your study time.”

Andrew Hansen, professor of human communication & theatre, supported this statement with one of his own.

“When you study, don’t just understand the material generally; know it so that you might teach it in detail to another,” Hansen said.

IMPROVE

Use the tips from earlier in the article to get back on track, and don’t fall into the same cycle of errors that led you to the bad grade in the first place.

Not doing well on a test isn’t the end of the world, but it’s only a learning opportunity if you actively make it one. Next time, give yourself your best chance.

Mathilde Le Tacon

| Class of 2021 | Majors: International Studies |

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