Welcome, Members of Parliament

Welcome, Members of Parliament. This blog is designed to act as a student forum for anyone enrolled in my classes at a Dallas-area proprietary college, former students, and/or others who find our conversations interesting. The Parliament will be moderated to ensure civility and relevance. The directions we take, the paths we follow, and the concerns we address are all up to you.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How to take an exam

Some of you are beginning to freak out about the midterm (in both classes), so I thought I'd offer some words of advice.

Keep in mind why you're being tested in the first place: to find out if you're grasping the learning objectives put in place for this course. Believe it or not, instructors do not test people for the fun of it, or to torture them, or to give themselves something to do in their copious free time.

Instead, we test you see whether or not the collaboration between teacher and student is working. If, for example, nearly everybody in my classes missed particular questions, I'd know that either the students were ignoring my presentation on those topics (not entirely impossible), or that I wasn't making the points I thought I was (fairly probable). I would then make sure to go over the information again, trying to make it clearer. I would adjust points accordingly--but only if the wrong answers were clearly my fault.

Sometimes it is my fault; I assume too much or I present the material in ways that don't get across the points I want to make. On the other hand, the "fault" frequently lies in lack of preparation on the part of the student. Since I provide multiple opportunities for students to arrange the information into learning-friendly forms (like slide lists, charts, maps, etc.), their inability to access that information, study it, and think it through comes primarily from not completing the tasks.

I know there's a huge amount of information. I also know that to many of you, I'm almost speaking a foreign language (all those terms from Greek and Latin and French and Italian!). But you are in charge of your own education, and you're paying a pretty penny to get it. As the NASA administrator famously said about the Challenger shuttle accident, "I can explain it to you again, but I can't understand it for you."

So, here are some tips on how to get through the midterm:
  • Read the material. This sounds like a no-brainer, but many of you rely solely on the lectures. Even if you take really great notes, reading the assigned pages in the book will help you make sense of what we talked about in class.
  • Complete the slide lists with images from the book and the supplementary web list, do the worksheets, and know the locations on the study map. I can't imagine why anyone would choose not to complete one or more of these items, because they help you learn the material and you get to use them on the exam.
  • Make sure you keep the materials in your workbook in order. If you go to the trouble to complete the items mentioned above, but don't have them arranged properly, you'll spend too much time hunting around and you'll miss the chronological context that's so important in these classes.
  • Read the instructions on the exam carefully. For each section. Make sure you understand what I'm asking you to do. If you don't ask, I can't explain it.
  • After you've read the instructions, make sure you follow them. All too frequently, when I go over the exam at the beginning of the test period, everybody's so anxious to get it over with that they forget my warnings about paying attention to directions.
  • Don't forget to think. Because I don't give true/false, fill-in-the-blanks, multiple-choice tests, you do have to interpret questions and materials in order to earn a decent score on the exam. Even if you're completely stymied by the question, take it apart--analyze it and try to figure out what I'm asking. If you really can't understand the question, be sure to ask. I might not be able to understand it for you, but perhaps my explaining it to you again might help. At least in terms of the question itself.
  • Finally, here's a little hint for those of you who actually read this blog. In many cases, the answer to a question can be found elsewhere on the exam. This is sneaky, but it also helps to get you to make connections.
I am, after all, the Queen of the Weasels.

PS: Get a good night's sleep the night before, and stay away from adult beverages until after the exam. Just sayin'.

Image credit: Things could always be worse. This is a photo of students taking an exam during the 1930s. At least y'all have desks . . . (it comes from Wikimedia Commons).


Ash said...

Thought you might like this.

Tony said...

Taking test are always a challenge for me, not because I don't understand the information (although sometimes that is the case) but also because I always assume that the answer could be something else.  Which, is why I enjoy short summary test. This gives me the chance to state what I know and hopefully not dig myself into a hole and just ramble about uncertain things.  I also believe this is helpful for the teacher because as you mentioned earlier it will let teachers know if students are actually grasping the information.  We are in charge of our education and we should put the effort in a class as we would in any other thing we do in life. I have always heard that school will prep us for our future, and that if we practice good habits now we will follow them throughout our life.  I appreciate the tips that you have written out for us and learned that I need to focus and relax!  I also enjoyed the quote, that sounds like a remark I would say.  

Antonio Rocha

Moi said...

I'm glad you realize that you do, in fact, give out a huge amount of information, but at the same time will give limited or "foreign" points on possible key terms and information. And I understand that we're paying a load to learn, but can you really expect us to spend so much time outside of class for just this class. You provide us with various websites, videos, worksheets, blogs, and such, which is great, but it's just an overload of information; it's never quite clear what exactly we need to know. I strive to, but I can't know everything. And it seems you are expecting us to know EVERYTHING within the realm of what you've even slightly just mentioned by the time the exams come up. Am I making any sense? Am I the only one that thinks this? Maybe I'm just trying to hard and having information overload.

Owlfarmer said...

You're actually voicing the frustrations of a lot of students. The only defense I offer is that I actually require much less of you than most comparable courses do (many fewer slides) and provide more resources: the slide lists themselves, the worksheets, etc., and a textbook that fills in many of the gaps.

I am painfully aware that you all have other classes, and that many of you have jobs and/or families. But most of us (meaning me and other faculty members) have been through the same situations and made it through to the other side.

You've chosen an accelerated program, which requires that you make choices. I'm not personally offended if you don't do well in my classes because you choose to focus on program stuff. Nor am I unsympathetic. But I've been trying for fifteen years to make this course do-able without dumbing it down. This is, in the end, the best I can do.

Owlfarmer said...

PS: The study guide might be a help in terms of deciding what you need to know. It's linked on both week 5 and week 11 (under "assignment")on the Weekly Schedule. If you're not doing the worksheets, you should be, because they're another healthy hint at what you should know--plus the information can frequently be transferred onto the exams almost verbatim.