Thursday, December 25, 2014

How to Ace Tests

How To Ace Tests By Mary Ann De Neve Slavcheff, M.A. It’s mid semester and chances are you are getting ready for mid terms. Finals are coming up fast. If you have been following my suggestions, you have chained or pegged the new learning and reviewed it a few times. You probably feel much more confident than in past semesters.

Most students, even prepared students, hate tests and instructors don’t like them either. It would be great if we could get beyond tests. But discussions and essays are even harder to create and to grade. Most students don’t like essays. Essay test questions are even worse than term papers because the student has limited time to work on them. So expect to put up with old-fashioned tests for many more decades.

If we have to take tests anyway, let’s get more comfortable around them. Think of tests as a chance to show off your learning.

What can we do to be better prepared for tests?

We can write our own tests for study practice. This does not have to be elaborate. Start with the obvious. If you are studying a short story ask:

Who are the main characters?

What items play a part in the story?

Are any of these items symbolic? Explain.

What is the order of events? List them.

Are flashbacks used?<[> In whose point of view is the story told?

Did the instructor stress plot? Historical significance? Author’s biography?

Those are all good review questions for review.Now ask what questions lend themselves to essay questions and what questions will most likely be short answer. Write down the answers to all your questions. Look up any that you need to look up and then chain or peg the answers to each one. Review your questions and answers a few times.

Now you have the information memorized, write out an answer to each essay question as you would answer it in an essay question. Have a main point and support for your main point. Organize your answer. This will save you time and frustration if you get a similar question on the teacher’s test..

Not all information lends itself to an essay question. What parts of the quiz will be simple answer like multiple choice or fill in the blank? Write your own test for the material that will be covered here..

After you have tested yourself on the material, and have determined that you know the answers, quiz a classmate. Ask the classmate what questions she thinks will be asked. Have her quiz you..

You will discover that often you will come up with the same questions as classmates or as the instructor. Correctly guessing the test questions is as good as having an advance copy and guessing the questions is NOT cheating. It is just a successful study technique..

Think like the instructor. As you guess multiple choice questions, use it as an opportunity to learn unusual spellings or difficult terms. In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, the character Dee has changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. That is a lot of name to learn. But if you can include the name with the correct spelling in an essay question or fill in the blank, your instructor will be impressed. Divide the name into syllables..

Wan Ger O .

Lee Wan Ik A .

Ke Man Jo.

Spell the name out with your fingertip on your arm. Write it a few times with the fingertip and also with a pen on paper. The instructor will be proud you got the name right and may even give you extra credit points. Also look up the possible meanings of unusual names or words..

The presidents name provides an interesting example. Barack means soul of the sun from the sea mother; Hussein means blessed and Obama means man soul of the sea mother.. Adding a little learning just for yourself is okay.

Know that sometimes in multiple choice questions, instructors try to confuse the student with similar spellings or words that look alike. If you learn the material well, you won’t be tricked. If there are similar spellings or soundalikes in a multiple choice answer, then one of those answers is the correct one. In multiple choice questions, the correct answer is most often in the middle and “C” is the correct answer most of the time. That might help you some time when you just don’t know.

The longest and most complete answer in a multiple choice is most often correct. Think of answers from the instructors view. She won’t write out a long involved answer unless she has to do it..

Also read all the choices in a multiple choice questions. Here is an example:.

Mullien is: a herb that can grow anywhere in the U.S.

a cure for hay fever..

a herb used by Native Americans to treat conditions in all areas of the body including respiratory ailments, burns, swellings and wounds..

found in North American meadows..

Thus answer “c” is correct and is the one that should be circled. The other answers are all also correct, but “c” is the most inclusive. Note it is also in the middle and is the longest answer. This question would be labeled a trick question by students, but it is easy to figure out if the student has studied and read the question and answers carefully..p> Sometimes answer “d” reads “All of the above.” I used to find many incorrect answers in a question like this because instead of reading all the choices, students selected the first correct answer they saw. When taking a test, use clues like these to find the answer when you are not sure, but always go in prepared having learned as much as you can from the assigned material..

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Understanding Difficult Material

Memorizing is a great skill for new information, but what if the information is uninteresting and hard to follow? What do you do?

I never could concentrate on the “Illiad" or the “Odyssey.” In high school I just didn’t have the self discipline to read them. In college, I read both, but my mind kept straying. I could not stay with the story. Sure there have been movies, but they didn’t interest me either. Here are some strategies for understanding difficult or seemingly uninteresting material.

I could have gone to a study guide. I would still have to read the stories because even the best study guides sometimes have theories or off information. Many students think reading the study guide is enough. It isn’t.

One semester I was teaching, “Hamlet.”. We were discussing Ophelia’s suicide. One student said Ophelia was pregnant. That was an interesting take on the story, but inaccurate. Yet other students agreed. What was happening?

I asked a student where in the text it said Ophelia was pregnant. She rushed up with a copy of “Cliff Notes,” which usually makes very good study guides to important literature. One paragraph suggested that a pregnancy might explain Ophelia’s odd behavior.

Ophelia wasn’t pregnant. In fact, her dad thought she was a virgin. Ophelia was a romantic, but Hamlet didn’t have much interest in her, and according to her dad he never would. The study guide was wrong. So use study guides as a tool to better understanding, but read the story, so you know when the guide is off target. There are hundreds of study guides online, so these are not difficult to obtain.

One advantage of famous plays like “Hamlet” is that they can be taped or seen as live performances. Sometimes when we watch a very good actor read the lines, they make more sense than just the text on a page. Some novels have also been made into great movies. When I assigned “Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest Gaines, I showed students the HBO movie starring Don Cheadle and Micah Phifer. But beware, not all films are that good.

“Hart’s War” is a great novel. The movie changes the plot and would be of no use to a student.

Talking books are wonderful tools for understanding novels and those shorter fiction and non fiction pieces that have been recorded. free public domain audiobooks has thousands of free recorded titles. The readers are volunteers, but the quality is generally very good. One can put on a pair of ear phones and read the assigned text while doing housework, running or driving.

I sometimes make movies in my mind when I am reading books. I imagine the scenes as they would be presented. I cast the story with actors I know from film and television. It is fun and making the story into a movie does make it more understandable. How would Martin Sheen or Johnny Depp read that line?

Another method is to follow the arc of one character at a time. This is easy with a play that has dialog tags. When following a character arc in a novel skim looking for the character’s name and scenes. Read the chapters out of sequence. Start with the last chapter and read the chapters in reverse order. Skip every chapter. When I do this I usually have to go back and reread everything in order, but I have a better understanding of the story.

Some subjects like math require learning to be in a certain order. In those cases, I look for not only study guides, but for explanations online. Youtube and iTunes U are overlooked resources.

Some short stories are read on youtube. Others are acted out. In teaching, “Sonny’s Blues,” I found scenes from the story on youtube. While the entire story was not there, these scenes helped students and increased their interest. I had the students read dialog from the story in class.

When I was teaching grammar, I found youtube very useful. I found a site on youtube where the apostrophe sang and danced. The students loved that. It saved what was bound to be a boring lecture. For home study, youtube singing punctuation marks can break the boredom.

Annotating books is the best technique in studying most courses. When I was in college, I would pre read all my textbooks and mark them up with different colored highlighters. That way during the semester when I was very busy working and studying, I could just read the highlighted main points and support. It made the study and the understanding go faster.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t like or just don’t get a famous story or poem. We all have different tastes in movies and television programs. It is only natural that we have different taste in all forms of fiction, nonfiction and school courses. When the story is about a distant place or time frame, it helps to go to an encyclopedia or other reference book, but don’t beat yourself up if you still don’t like the story.