Tuesday, May 4, 2010


College students will be returning home soon, signaling the approach of high school final exam time. Around this point in the semester, if you are like I was, you feel your brain is already full and there is little motivation to learn any more before summer break. So here are three strategies which will improve your final exam scores and simultaneously provide valid excuses to avoid studying until the last minute.

1. Since final exams are frequently cumulative, you will need to collect data from the entire semester or even the whole year. Do that now. Rummage through your closet, your backpack, under the bed. Find all old homework assignments, class notes, study guides, tests & quizzes (if you're allowed to take them home).

Create a separate "bin" for each subject. I use sweater boxes because they're wide enough to hold an 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper without folding and tall enough to collect a lot of stuff. When you run across old work, drop it into the appropriate bin.

2. I'm a visual, creative sort of person, especially when I'm avoiding doing any real work, so I like to "decorate" my bins. I recommend card stock since it holds up well. A different color for each bin can be stimulating, but I generally steer toward plain white so I can color the sign with magic markers which takes longer but looks like I'm preparing to study. I write the subject in fancy script and add things that remind me of the subject matter. Math, for example, lends itself to formulas written in elaborate calligraphy or to geometric diagrams illustrating concepts like "if sides, then angles." History suggests a time line or caricatures of historic figures. Science might involve terminology, molecular diagrams, or physics diagrams. English could include the novels discussed with reference to setting, characters, or actions. The options are limitless as long as they relate to the subjects covered during the semester. Check out textbooks for suggestions.

3. Ask the teacher for the Final Exam Study Guide. The one from last year is probably what will be used again this year, so it's in the classroom file somewhere. Start asking for it now so the teacher has a warning to locate it and have it printed. Since this will take at least a week or so, you won't have to actually work on it for a while but you've demonstrated to the one person who evaluates your grade that you are a conscientious, dedicated, hard-working, well-organized student (and that can't hurt your grade).

Keep reading ONLY if you really ARE that hard-working student who wants to start preparing for finals now. The activities described above are, in reality, the basis for study. By collecting old work, you have the chance to review what has been learned during the semester. The next step might be to create a list of the concepts that will probably appear on the final exam. To get ahead of the next blog, organize the collected material into topic, unit or chapter. You might even create a cover sheet that lists the concepts that were addressed in each unit or add the information to your decorative subject sign (which is your personal study guide in disguise).

By spending time designing your "sign" you are moving related concepts to the creative side of your brain where they will be more readily available for solving new problems. Keep adding things and periodically review what's on the card -- a strategy for getting details into long term memory.

Asking the teacher for the study guide really DOES create the impression that you are committed to earning a remarkable grade! You might become a self-fulfilling prophesy!!

Don't tell anyone that you're already studying for finals, though. Let everyone (except your folks) think you're just killing time until a cramming session the day before the exam.

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