Friday, September 17, 2010


We’re coming through the four-week mark in the semester. This is an important benchmark in terms of studying and grades; almost everyone has had at least one quiz and most likely a test in the past week. These grades are needed because teachers are generally required to identify failing students halfway toward mid-term grading periods and prior to parent night when Mom and Dad will probably ask how their student is doing.

This is also a great time to review the steps needed to take control of your grades in every class. Here are some tips on using quiz and test grades as learning devices, not just third party assessments over which you are powerless.

1. Save all tests and quizzes that are not recollected by the teacher**.
  • a. You should already have highlighted class notes and homework prompts in studying for the test. Add any concepts from the test which do not already appear in your personal notes.
  • b. Now, with a new color, highlight the information which was tested. I like using yellow and pink as my two highlight colors because the combination is a distinct orange that makes it easy to see the intersection of what I thought was important and what actually was.
  • c. Analyze the thinking that went into your study for the test and determine how to prepare more effectively next time. I know my weaknesses, so I’m especially vigilant to watch for names and dates, and I use mnemonic devices for anything that requires memorization.

2. Get into the teacher’s head.
  • a. Look at the actual questions on the test. Try to figure out where the questions came from. Some teachers will take test questions directly from homework assignments. (This is a no-brainer study notice -- redo old homework.) Others might use the questions from the textbook, but only those which were NOT assigned as homework. (Again a no-brainer -- answer the NOT ASSIGNED questions.) Still others use the published assessments supplied by the textbook makers. (A little more challenging, but usually the tests will mirror the Chapter Reviews in the text.) Many teachers make up their own questions, but will probably have a unique sentence structure similar to their speech pattern and will design questions that mirror the topics and emphasis expressed in classroom lectures. (The most difficult challenge -- as the framework for study, rely on topics the teacher addresses in the classroom . As an example, if the History teacher is constantly telling little stories about the PEOPLE involved in an era, I would suspect THAT as the major test issue also.)
  • b. Look specifically at the instructions on the test. Identify similarities and differences between test directions and homework assignment prompts. Are the homework answers essay format, short answer, fill in the blank, multiple choice? How does this match with the test questions? (Check out other blogs about how to study for the specific types of questions that could appear on a test.)

3. Don’t neglect error corrections. Find your errors and plan to fill in any concept gaps and avoid any silly mistakes. (In Math, for example, rework incorrect problems until you can complete them quickly and without error. Also try identifying the algorithm and you might discover that certain problems are always solved by using identical steps.)

4. What if you can't keep the tests?
This can happen, but don't let it rob you of the opportunity to use every assessment to improve your study plan. Get out pencil and paper. Copy down questions that were wrong. Write down a list of concepts tested. Make notes about what you did RIGHT, especially in questions that you thought were especially difficult. In another week or so, ask to review the test paper again so you can spend more time analyzing the issues suggested above.

Using tests, quizzes, and homework assignments to prepare for future assessments will get easier with practice. By the time you are in college, you should be able to "read the instructor" and go into any test fully prepared and confident. If you can predict what will be on a test and center your study on the truly important issues, your grades will reflect a mature, effective study plan.

**A brief word about recollecting tests and quizzes. Did you ever wonder WHY? If you are not allowed to keep scored evaluations, it’s probably because the same assessment devices are given over and over, year after year. In a few cases, it might be the result of several teachers of the same course using the same tests but working on different schedules. If the latter is the case, you should be able to acquire you old papers in a week or two, so remember to ask for them before the next test. If yours is a class that is taking last year’s tests, you might be able to review your work under teacher supervision, on your own time, and in a secure location.

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