Thursday, December 18, 2008

Studying for Final Exams without the Pain

Well, 14 years of teaching high school biology makes me a bit of an expert. 'Tis the season of the dreaded exams before the fun of Christmas can really start! I thought I'd offer a few tips for those of you studying this week.

1. An organized student will usually make better grades than an unorganized student. How can you spend quality time studying if you cannot find the materials to study?! Several days before the exam, spend your time organizing your school work. Locate the notes you will need and put them in the order they were taught to you. Organize school work, previous quizzes and tests in the same manner. Use the study guide or exam review sheet and highlight areas in your class notes that you will need to focus on. Highlight quizzes, classwork and any other papers that you can use to help prepare you for the information. If you are missing notes due to an absence or because you lost them, ask a classmate for their work to copy. This is legal, because you are not trying to pass their work off as yours, you just need it to study .

2. Use the Review Sheet/Study guide to make a "To-Do" List of items to learn. This can be a great motivational tool for some students. It feels great to be able to check an item off and see their progress.

3. Sit down with your work when you are feeling focused. Begin reading through them, if there is any information that is not making sense to you, now is the time to pull out your textbook. Look up the exact information topic, read it and fill in the blank on your notes.

4. A great way to learn information is to illustrate it. This works fantastic for a subject like science. Do not worry about your artistic skills, that isn't the point. An example would be learning the 3 parts of the Cell Theory. Turn the parts into little pictures that remind you of the theory part. Your brain will have an easier time remembering the pictures than memorized words. If you are trying to learn a "process" trying drawing a diagram. Even some of our great scientists had to make models to illustrate what they were trying to learn such as Watson and Crick (discovered the structure of DNA).

5. You can rarely go wrong with flash cards/note cards.

6. Recopy your notes. It is very difficult to stay focused reading class notes. To keep yourself on track rewrite them or type them. This tactic in particular got me through my college classes.

7. Make analogies. My favorite teaching tool while studying the structure of a cell is to make analogies. Students would write down the cell part, its function(s), then compare that cell part to a job/place in a town. Such as the Golgi apparatus is like the post office. The post office packages items, sorts them, and ships. The Golgi apparatus does the same thing with proteins.

8. Make concept maps of your notes. The term "concept map" is known by a couple of different names, but trust me, if your child is 4th grade or higher, they have made one. They look like this.

9. DO NOT SIT DOWN FOR 3 HOURS AND READ YOUR BOOK! This is an extremely ineffective method of studying for a final exam and should not be used. Most textbooks are boring anyway. You will be spending your time learning information that you do not need to know. Reading your textbook is a lazy man's way to study. It takes very little brain work.

10. Ask your teacher for study suggestions. If anyone knows the subject, they do. They also know what's on the test and may be able to offer suggestions that will work best for that subject area.

10. Switch it up. Try all the methods above, don't just stop at one. Keep it fresh and your brain alive. Get at least 6 hours of sleep and eat a good breakfast. Don't worry, you'll be fine!

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