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Exams: Helping Students Be Prepared for Success!

December, 2009
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Insist that your student doesn’t study for the exam! It is a sure recipe for counterproductive stress, and a waste of time resulting in short term memorization that will be quickly forgotten. It makes a mockery of education! Education is a lot more than getting good test results. Education is an attitude towards life manifested through understanding and perfecting skills. The test of a good student is not at exam time. A good student proves herself from the first day of class. The test is just her chance to show how well she has done.

But tests ARE a part of life, so we need to face this and learn how to do well on them. From the time we can speak until our last essay on “Why we should be promoted to the next level of management” we are being asked to show what we can do and our performance is being evaluated. Just as “learning how to learn” is a goal in itself so is “learning how to show what you have learned”. Time and effort spent on learning effective preparation and test taking strategies is an investment that will pay back time and again. So what are the successful strategies for preparing and taking tests?

Four different sets of skills are required. One set of skills focuses on maximizing the efficiency of imputing the information during the learning stage. The second skill set facilitates processing of information in order to fix it within the information storage areas of the learner. The thirds skill set is retrieval, which allows the student to access the information, related ideas and skills at the time of the examination. The fourth set of skills is the ability to package and deliver a correct response on time and as an aesthetically pleasing finished product.

Stage 1. Information collection

First, when your student goes into class rather than chatting with friends he needs to take out his book, pen, and notebook and review what was covered in the last class. A weekly perusal of the text book table of contents will give a review of the course and situate recent information within that context. The table of contents is an excellent place to begin review before tests and familiarity with it and the index at the back of the book can be life savers in open book tests.

Second, have an alert mind and simply pay attention. Most surveys show that students are not getting enough sleep at night and find it hard to concentrate in class. Your child should be aware that every day in class they are being given pieces of the puzzle. Their job, or game, is to try to catch which pieces are important and which are secondary. Teachers give lots of clues. They will write the important ideas on the board, repeat them and give hand outs. Teachers don’t hide important information. They stress it. A savvy student will pick up on these clues.

Stage 2: Information Processing

Hearing information can be like pouring water on a duck’s back. Nothing sticks. The mind is made up of webs of information strung out in a gel of shifting emotions. This is where the information must reach and be anchored to be of any use later. Our brains have some very useful matrices that help anchor information.

People with different learning styles learn differently. Find out which of the seven or eight learning styles (depending on the test) fits your learner best. There are free tests on the internet to discover your learner’s style. Do a Google search using “Learning Style Test” and many choices will come up. One is (www.acceleratedlearning.com/method/test_flash.html ). Understanding and favoring the style will help your learner more easily anchor information.

Stage 3: Information retrieval

We are blessed with both short-term and long-term memory. A smart learner will be able to draw upon both of these when given the test. By test day the long-term is fixed but by reviewing the course syllabus, the text book table of contents, index, images, course handouts and notes student will have a full refresher in the short-term memory of what the content has been and what points were stressed.Exam

Arrive at the testing point early!! Test takers don’t need the added stress of being late, missing instructions or loss of time.

It is almost time for the test. What to do? First, put things in perspective and calm the nerves and relaxed. You do not want adrenalin overload flooding your mind with too many responses to cope with. Life and death will not depend on one exam no matter what some parents say. You have done all you could, so take a deep breath and relax. Stress is a destructive force working against test takers. Managing it is a must.

Stage 4: Packaging and Delivery

Be sure you have all the required tools (with backups including extra pens, batteries for calculators, glasses, tissues, a watch, a dictionary) and comfort items such as water, a candy bar if allowed, even a lucky charm, before walking into the testing room. Go to the toilet. Choose a place in the room where the lighting, space and temperature is comfortable (another reason for arriving early) and there are the least amount of distractions. When given the exam be sure you have all the pages required and that the printing is clear. The number of pages should be told to you by the moderator as well as the rules for toilet use, calculators, dictionaries, scrap paper, etc. If you have any questions ask before beginning of the test but you may also ask during if you have a non-content related question. Look through the exam to get an idea of the different sections and an understanding of what each section is testing for. Start with the easiest part and work over the exam from easiest to most difficult. Most importantly though; READ THE INSTRUCTIONS!! The same is true for multiple choice papers. Get the ones you are sure of, highlight and come back to the ones you are not sure of and leave the seemingly hopeless ones for the end. The last thing to do on a test is to fill in all the multiple choice boxes on the probability that you will get some right by chance.

If there is an essay in the exam firstly reflect upon what the essay question really asks. Do not start writing until this is perfectly clear. Essays are a means of deciphering how well the test taker can analyze a question, and synthesize information into a logical, well written defense of a point of view and all this with style. Presenting opposing points of view also wins points especially in the IB program. Correct grammar, spelling, indentation and overall appearance ARE important as is style.

If you reach a point where you are blocked, stop. Put your pen down. Look up and catch the visual clues around the classroom. Class room posters and maps can help you remember during the exam what was discussed in class.

exam-9sLastly, after you have reviewed all of your answers and corrected the punctuation on your essay put your paper down and relax again. Think over the paper as a whole. Get an idea on how you think you have done. Identify the type of questions that caused you the most difficulty so you can better prepare for these the next time. Then turn the paper in and walk out and don’t look back. This has been another learning experience that can help you on future tests, because as we all know there will be a lot more. It is just a part of life.

By Patrick Donahue

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  1. February 22nd, 2010 at 08:42 | #1

    Very interesting and amusing subject. I read with great pleasure.

  2. February 28th, 2010 at 15:41 | #2

    I read blogs on a similar topic, but i never visited your blog. I added it to favorites and i’ll be your constant reader.

  1. December 31st, 2009 at 23:31 | #1
  2. December 31st, 2009 at 23:45 | #2