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Guide 1-4. Preparing for and Taking Tests

First, about academic honesty and tests...academic honesty demands that you don't share any information about the test with students who haven't taken it, and that you don't ask students who have already taken it to share information with you.

Here's something that's frequently overlooked.

Be alert and healthy on the day of the test...

  • Get to sleep early the night before. The longer you stay up, the worse you'll do on the test.
  • Have a good breakfast.
  • Come to the test relaxed.

All the above implies that you need to be making study a daily habit rather trying to cram 5 weeks of study into a single night.

Here's another very important tip.

The Most Important Strategy for study...tests are about solving problems. Therefore, you should prepare by doing practice problems from the ends of the chapters. You should be doing these on a regular basis rather than waiting until the night before the test. When you do practice problems, draw diagrams, write givens, formulas before numbers, etc. (You can do checks mentally.) On tests, you'll be expected to demonstrate the same problem-solving methods as presented on the problem-solving guides. These methods should be second nature so that you naturally carry out the steps while solving problems.

More things you should be doing as part of your regular study

  1. Review the objectives of each chapter.  The objectives tell you the key concepts that you need to know and the problem types that you need to be able to solve.
  2. Review the concepts by revisiting the Conceptual Questions at the end of each chapter. Answer enough questions to feel confident that you remember how to use the concepts.
  3. Check the feedback from the instructor. You should be doing this whenever an assessment is checked or a key posted. Avoid making the same mistakes twice as a result of not checking your feedback. In particular...
Revisit the tutorial-style problems. They're intended to lead you through the steps of a problem in much the same way as the instructor would do an example problem in a face-to-face class. You should have already transcribed the solutions into your notebook for study.

 Now about equations...

What equations can you use as starter equations?  The equations you may start your solutions with will be provided on the cover page of the test. Any other equations that you may need to solve a problem must be derived from starter equations. Otherwise there will be a point penalty.

What kinds of problems are on tests?

Free-response problems are those that require you to show your work in order to receive credit. If you get stuck on a part of a problem, skip it and go on to the next.  If the next part requires the answer to the previous part, you can make up a number for that part and use it from then on. Or you can simply use algebraic symbols. Solutions for consecutive parts are scored based on the consistency of your methods. By the way, if you do make up a number, write a brief note to the teacher to that effect. In order to save time on multiple-part problems, don't redraw diagrams and rewrite givens from a previous part. If you derive an equation for one part, you don't have to derive it again for successive parts.

For conceptual questions, explain your answers in sentence form in the same way as expected for conceptual questions that you do as homework.

Lab problems are those that require you to do such things as design a mini-experiment, carry out measurements or use data provided to you, derive an equation that applies to the experiment, and carry out a calculation. Lab problems may also require you to use methods of analysis from labs that you've done.

While taking a test...

...be aware of time. It's a good idea to bring a watch, since you may not be in a position to see the wall clock easily. Don't get bogged down in a problem and then be unable to finish the test. The most common mistake that students make on the first test is not finishing because they spend too much time on one problem and don't leave themselves time for the others.

...check your work before you turn in your paper. Check that you've done all the problems. Check for sign and algebra mistakes. A quick way to identify algebra mistakes is to check that your units work out. Make sure that your starting equations are correct. You'd be surprised how many students transcribe equations incorrectly from the approved list to their papers. On a test, you don't have to show your checks unless the test instructions say to do so.


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