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The Anatomy of an Exam

I often get asked by prospective students what tests are like in college. Well, here’s your answer.

They kinda…suck?

In all honesty, tests in college end up being CONSIDERABLY more significant to your G.P.A. and graduation track’s well-being than high school tests are. Oftentimes, classes will be structured around the idea that the ONLY grades you have are a midterm, a pape, and a final or some situation along those lines. Most classes I’ve had have more assignments and attendance grades than that, but often times, it’s all about that big test.

With so much pressure on knowing the information for that one fleeting moment, how can you possibly study without getting an aneurysm? Well, I just so happen to have come off a three-test-week (OK, two tests and a project, but it was basically three tests) and I can tell you exactly how I studied for each.

1. Teach someone else

I’m pretty darn good at music theory. It’s a subject I’ve always had a knack for. As a result, I don’t always study for tests in the way that I should, so I sometimes end up getting a test and thinking, “Oh no! I forgot all of this new stuff” because I didn’t bother to go back and review. So, I’ve found that by offering tutoring in a subject you’re really good at, you both make money and get free review time. The questions people ask help you to further understand concepts, and discover the quickest way to recall how to solve problems. This seems to be especially effective in applied subjects, like math and science, where formulas and solutions are key. By teaching someone how to do a problem, you learn more about the concept.


This is a big one for me. For all three of the tests this week, I procrastinated on studying because I was so worried about all three that I didn’t know where to begin. The best method is to literally just dive in and accept that often times, you know NOTHING or very little about what’s going to be on the test. It’s OK – people forget things. Human beings aren’t built to retain every ounce of knowledge we are taught over our lifetime. That’s why it’s important to just jump into the material, and get it back to the top of your head and live in the world of your subject for the days leading up to the test. If you start cramming the night before, no matter how good you are, the test will probably eat your lunch because you simply can’t get what you learned back into the front of your mind that quickly, and it’ll inevitably slip back into your subconscious when the test rolls around.

3. Make a plan

Probably the best one I can think of. If you have a list of materials and test format for a test, this is very easy to do. Schedule time for making flashcards, review things that are rote memorization on the treadmill or on the way to class, and set aside a night to write a practice essay or two. It’s all about thinking ahead a little and realizing that Rome wasn’t built in a day. A little forethought goes a long way – just not procrastinating a TAD makes a huge difference. It’s the difference between one night (three to five hours of studying plus stress) and three nights (eight to 10 hours plus the time you’re thinking about the material after you stop studying) of study.

I’ll get back to you on how the tests actually ended up – but everything seemed to go well. :-) Good luck UT students, midterms are fully upon us!! And finals are coming……

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April 12, 2009 | | Comments are closed for this post
photo of Paul