Those who read yesterday’s brief ramble will know that I’m mid-mid-term season; it’s Reading Week, and over the course of the past few days, I’ve been running group cram sessions and organizing my thoughts where my upcoming eight assessments are concerned. Through all of this preparation (most of which I don’t typically effect, though I should – I’m putting pressure on myself this time around because all of these assessments are occurring near-consecutively), I’ve begun thinking about the assortment of ways in which one can work to prepare for tests both standarized and course-specific.
The below, then, is a brief list of things that I and those people I occasionally help out have found useful during prep. time; it isn’t at all extravagant, but some individuals I know claim that these suggestions have worked for them, so I figured I’d post.
N.b.: Some of these may appear to cater to less-than-praiseworthy modes of thought. It may seem that I’m encouraging you to objectify your learning by suggesting that you study with material rewards in mind. As someone deeply in love with academia, I understand that this is not optimal. However, I think we all have those days on which, for one reason or another, we just don’t want to keep going. At those times, which so often occur when pressure starts building around us, the short-term goal lies not in reshaping our thoughts, but in building enough motivation, however we may come by it, to execute useful actions. This list is designed to help you do that.
- Log on to Studentawards.com, and get a realistic glimpse of the rewards you could gain if you do well. Set your profile information to include your current average, and do a scholarship search. Then, set it to include the average you want to achieve, and search again. Note the difference, and you should feel some excess incentive to continue studying.
- Picture yourself on stage, winning a high distinction in your field. Allow yourself to daydream: think about what you’d say in your acceptance speech, whom you’d thank, whom you’d want to see in the audience. This should grant you some form of a rush; then, convince yourself that the first step lies in completing what’s in front of you.
- If you’re a performer (e.g., an actor, a vocalist, an instrumentalist), or if you participate in athletics, draw the necessary parallels! How nervous would you be if you began rehearsing your lines the night before a performance, first touched your RCM pieces a week before you needed to perform them, or started training two days before a game after a month-long pause? Though these things and exams aren’t entirely interchangeable in terms of prep. time, the idea holds.
- Make chains of opportunity, and identify individual links. Write out your long-term or short-term goals, research them, and draw out flowchart-esque diagrams showing you what you’ll need to do to attain them. For example, do you really want to go into software engineering? If so, perhaps a Microsoft scholarship would be of use to you. But you need a 3.0/4.0 cGPA to even be considered. So, maybe scoring high on your seemingly unrelated, rapidly-approaching thirty-percent midterm really is worth the study time. Want to do genetics research? Networking and prior experience are certainly helpful, but they sometimes may not suffice: you may, for example, be told that you nevertheless need at least a B+ in a relevant lab course, and an A- cGPA.
- If you know that you need to review, but you understand most of your material so well that you’re severely disinterested in going through the details, teach a friend! This person will profit from your knowledge, and you’ll be manipulating the material in a new way that demands your focus.
- Every time you see something you don’t understand, learn it! People often avoid the segment on the lecture slide that they can’t comprehend, marking it down for “later review”. Don’t! Browse the Internet, go through your textbook, or ask a friend, but do so right away.
- Look for puns, make your own mnemonics, and create bad jokes. Since I wrote that strange summation of Renaissance-period love poetry to the tune of Haddaway’s “What is Love”, I haven’t been able to forget those references. The entirety of our third-year physiology class laughed at Janice’s saying that “Rh- doesn’t want the D”, in reference to RhD hemolytic disease of the newborn, and far fewer people have forgotten the nature of the alloimmune condition since she posted the meme-esque joke.
- Make a project of your studies – write an informative blog post, make sample question sets, create a test review guide and send it to friends, or organize a group study session. All this things will, assuming that you announce your intent to create them ahead of time, keep you engaging in detailed review of your material well in advance of your tests.
- Familiar with higher-level material (e.g., related research), and quick to go on tangents? Allow yourself to browse interesting, slightly-material-relevant tidbits. Going through your physiology notes, you see that angiotensin II is of relevance to vasoconstriction. Bored of reading about its effects on a healthy cardiovascular system? If you’re a neuroscience person, go on Wikipedia and compare angiotensin’s neural effects to the ones you just learnt about. More into the biochemistry of things? Look through your textbook for the mechanisms behind cardiac cell growth stimulation’s activating a renin-angiotensin system in the cardiac myocyte. Really into developmental physiology? Find papers comparing maternal and fetal systems! Though this may seem counter-productive, it may be useful if you’re the kind of person who likes making broad connections, and who is willing to spend several hours interacting with the material. If this is you, you might just remember that angiotensin II does something where cardio is concerned because you know it does something else in the nervous system. And you may even find that your “tangents” aid you in understanding phenomena in the pages ahead of you.
- Struggling to finish reading something boring? Go through different, harder material. CS person, but stuck taking an intermediate course that you could pass without really studying? If you feel you want some review that you just can’t force yourself to do, and you’ve always effortlessly excelled where computer science is concerned, ask yourself – how’s your Latin? Go through those declensions you’ve never touched, spend a few minutes translating a piece of writing, or try getting through a linguistics puzzle. It’s quite possible that you’ll end up being grateful that C++ is the only thing you have to write in for marks.
- Write down a particularly complicated paragraph’s main point after just one read-through. You’ll figure out what you’re forgetting; often, the fact that you see you haven’t noted down something vital once prompts you to recall it when the same subject comes up later.
- Make connections – every time you see an allusion to a previous lecture’s contents, go back and find the reference, then try to see if the two instances of the concept are at all related. This can help you prepare for short- or long-answer tests, which frequently demand that you use all kinds of knowledge and connect it fluidly.
- Always prone to want to study for the exam after this one? Tempted to review that “worthless” lecture you know so well? Do so! Understandably, if you’re a day away from the mid-term for which you should be studying, this is a bad call. Stimulating your thought process is, though, better than logging on to Facebook when you feel yourself giving in to distraction. Spend a few minutes reviewing for your easy linguistics exam if you really feel like doing so, or look through that first easy lecture in your fourth-year continuum mechanics course, and then jump back to the sixth. You’ll at least have continued problem-solving of some sort in the time you took to divert yourself.
Though you may well already use these, I thought I’d note them down. And with this being done, I’m off to examine more PSL470!