Preparing for an Exam

Preparing for an Exam

Your goal in studying for an exam is to understand the larger goals and themes of the course as well as the facts, events, and details of the different topics discussed.  This means that you need to study both the “big picture” course concepts as well as the details within each unit that make up this picture. For example, it is not enough to know that the course units thus far have developed themes such as the persecution of the “other” or the role of fear in the propagation of terror; you will also need to have specific examples (names, events, dates) from the different modules to illustrate these themes. Conversely, you need to do more than simply memorize every key term listed on the lecture outlines; you need to be able to explain how these terms demonstrate the larges themes within the course.
If you are looking around at your messy desk and wondering where to begin studying, fear not, you are not alone.  Your first task in studying for exams is to gain control over what it is that you need to learn for the exam; in other words, you need to know WHAT to study. Here are some tips for how to begin:
    • The first way to survey the course is to READ THE SYLLABUS (one of the most overlooked documents in the world!). Look for themes and connections. How is the course organized? What thought questions are associated with each module?
    • Organize your materials by finding and stacking together your lecture notes, reading notes, and seminar notes for each module. You should have a separate stack for each unit.
    • Create a study guide and/or chart to help you synthesize major ideas within the course and identify what it is that you need to learn.
A study guide is a document that attempts to identify the major themes and synthesize information from different modules of the course. In the study chart, you listed separately the information that you needed to learn within each module. In a study guide, you list information from different units together under different thematic categories. Here are some tips on creating a good study guide.
    • Read through lecture notes, reading notes and list the main themes or divisions of the class. This is not a list of facts, dates, events, authors, but themes or ideals, such as terror and the state, religion and terror, and the “other,” for example.
    • Now go back and read through notes again. This time, you are looking for details – key terms, definitions, events. Use the details to flesh out your study guide and to show how the details build your understanding of the themes.
After completing a study chart and guide, you should have a very good sense of what it is that you need to study for the exam. Now, you need to find ways to do your studying. Below, you will find some excellent study techniques and activities.
On the exam, you will be asked questions that ask you to explain how larger themes have played out in different time periods and events. You will need to be able to write at length about these themes and understand how they apply to different modules. The following activities can help you by promoting synthesis and understanding. All of these techniques work extremely well as activities for a study group or an individual.
    • Try to guess the questions. What have been the most important themes? What topics could be combined into a question? If you are working with a study group, have each member write one question and then let the rest of the group try to answer it.
    • Pretend that you are organizing a conference or a museum exhibit on the topic. What displays and panels would you have? What order would you put them in? What would be the title?
    • Pretend to explain a concept to a 10-year old. Remember, a 10-year-old’s favourite word is “why”! Keep explaining yourself without using vague terms. Try to spell out exactly what you think something means.
On the exam, you will need to use specific examples such as names, events, and dates to illustrate and support your points. The more specific you can be, the more knowledge of the course you will demonstrate, and the better your answer will be. This means that you will need to commit information to memory. Here are some techniques that can help you to do so.
    • Flashcards – This is a tried and true method. Write a term on one side of an index card and its definition or explanation on the other. Test yourself on the cards daily, putting aside those you miss and going through them an additional time.
    • Study Questions/Answer guides – Write questions about each unit on one side of a paper and the answer on the other. Quiz yourself throughout the day!
    • Picture/Symbol associations – This can work especially well for visual learners. Draw a picture to represent a concept or idea on one side of a card, next to the term. Write the explanation of it on the other. Test yourself often!
    • Mnemonic devices – This can work especially well for auditory learners. Create a sentence or a song to help you remember something.