500 Words At A Time: Exams And You

Going back to school? Get ready for a lot of exams. Every single stinking test is called an exam. Even when the professor calls it something else, such as a quiz or test, they mean exam. The word exam is supposed to send shivers of stress and fear through students. That is my theory because that is how many people react to the word. Exams are nothing more than a way to measure what you may or may have not learned. Or they should be, there are many types of exams.

Here is the best piece of advice that you will ever get about taking exams in college:

Know the professor, know the exam

I did not write, know the professor and pass the exam. I wrote know the professor, know the exam. What does that mean? It means if you know the professor likes to trick students in class, they will do the same on an exam. Professor scatter brained and disorganized, same with the exam. Professor like to demonstrate how smart they are, same on the exam. See what I mean?

This does not guarantee a passing grade, if you care about those things, but it will prepare you for the exam. Minimize surprises during exams. Want to get a passing grade, know AND understand the material. Regurgitating facts is nice, but being able to apply information is prime-some parable about fishing.

Over the past five years I have taken many, way too many, exams:

Long exams: There is some damn formula where X question equals X amount of time a typical student will spend on the question and the professor has X amount of time, which bus gets to New York first? Seriously, some professors try to make exams that take up the entire class period. If I am not done in a half-hour something has gone wrong.

Short exams: What would normally be called a quiz. Quick, to the point, and often given in pop or surprise forms.

Timed: Timed exams seem to be relegated to online exams. Most of the time (ha), there is more than enough time to complete the exams.

Cumulative: I have only taken on cumulative exam since being here. I am told that there is one this semester. I like the idea of testing what we have learned over the entire semester. Unfortunately, the one I have taken was more about regurgitating factoids and less an application.

True False: I despise true-false questions and really despise exams composed of true-false questions. I am sure that some educator can explain to me the value of true-false questions. I will stand by my belief that true-false questions have little value and are used to trick students, especially me. Worse than the standard true-false, is the true-false with double negative or double positive aspect. Just stop it and ask me what you want!

Multiple Choice: I am ambivalent towards multiple choice questions and exams. I don’t mind them because they show what I know, unless the professor is trying to demonstrate how smart they are, disorganized, or being tricky. I do mind entire exams of them because they get repetitive and there are better ways for me to demonstrate what I have learned.

Matching: I have gotten to the point where if I cannot quickly match items I give up. Why, because matching exams are insidious. If you get one wrong you have actually gotten two wrong and mistakes add up quickly. Plus, I have yet to take a matching exam where the professor was able to make either column make complete sense. Too often information has to be “modified” so that not too much is given away. The modifications screw things up quick.

Fill in the Blank: As far as I can recollect, the only places I have taken fill in the blank exams is online. The one place, at least here, where they should not be taken. Why, because the program looks for exactly what the professor typed in as the answer, thus if your answer is not the exact same, you get it wrong. UGH!

Short Answer: I like short answer, one to two sentences to explain a concept or give a definition. The best way to demonstrate you know what you know.

Short Essay: Honestly as much as I write I couldn’t tell the difference between short answer and essay other than add a sentence or two to any short answer. Mostly fluff, because you should be able to explain/define most things in one or two clearly written sentences

Long Essay: Long essay is another favorite of mine. Give me something to work with and let me go. Long essays are usually saved for big topics, something that the professor spends a few weeks on and wants you to demonstrate that you got most of what they were saying. Bullshitting is common and guess what, the professor know, you are not getting away with anything other than cheating yourself out of knowledge.

Beginning and End: These exams have only cropped up in philosophy classes and I think they should appear in ALL classes. Day one, write what you know or think you know about X subject. Right or wrong does not matter, just write it down. Last day, write down what you have learned. Compare. See, you have learned something and the professor can see that. Philosophy exams for the win!

Exams are a pain in the ass, because they break up the flow of the class. However, they are necessary for the professor to see what you are learning and able to apply. Good professors will use exams to shape following class sessions. Other professors…well, they move on and that is that. I prefer the good professors, I would rather learn something than push through all of their planned material just because that was their plan.


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