Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Art of War for Test-Takers

Taking tests has always been a fairly basic experience for me.  I've been in school almost my entire life, pre-school to graduate school straight through, no years taken off.  So all in all, I've taken a lot of tests, one pretty much like the next.  The key to my success: memorize, memorize, memorize, take test, dump all information in order to ready myself for the next test.  It worked merrily my entire undergrad career. One step into graduate level Gross Anatomy, it became fairly obvious there were limits to my prior technique.

Limitation 1: I can only memorize so much.

Sadly, I do not have a photographic memory.  When the notes became available for the upper and lower limb, all in all it came to about 80 dense pages.  This did not include the anatomy atlas, the textbook, and the dissector.  Pretty much, my study method had met its match.

If you can memorize this...  you are a much smarter person than me.

Limitation 2: Don't understand information, just regurgitate it correctly.

I like taking a few short-cuts in the learning process.  Mainly, I limit the actual "learning" part.  It's not that I don't enjoy having knowledge, I just like to play to win more.  And when grades are involved, suddenly it is war!  To get the highest grade possible it's no longer about your mind, it's about understanding the enemy (teacher-the person grading you), seeing what stands between you and success (A), and knowing how to exploit these barriers.

Limitation 3: Test questions are basic.

My test taking strategies rely heavily upon bubble tests.  There are many tricks in correctly answering bubble tests, first of all, the answer is already on the page!  You just have to know how to narrow it down.  Lab practicals are my achilles heel.  You pull words out of thin air.  There's a limited time, there are no tricks, you see something you identify it.  You can't cross out a few answers, use other test questions as an information source.  No, it's just you and your brain.  Luckily, I found my way right around that little issue with the beauty of digital cameras.  I took photos of everything in undergrad labs.  Everything.  Not just dissections, models, book pages, everything that could be tested over.  There are many little ways to memorize the very specific models or slides or dissections by seeing the exact object over and over again.  The important part is that what you memorize from HAS to be the EXACT model or slide you are test over.  This way you don't have to know why, you can remember the exact shade of color or placement next to a little scuff mark.  Maybe not in the exact way a teacher was hoping I'd learn something, but boy, could I answer their questions correctly.

How Gross Anatomy could have potentially kicked my ass:

So for Gross Anatomy it was too much information to straight memorize, the questions asked were not straight forward and involved multiple steps of knowledge to get to an answer, and we could take no photos of the models.  What was I to do???  Actually learn?  Well, yes, I suppose I did, but I still have some tricks up my sleeves to ease the process.

Trick 1: Listen to the teacher.

I mean REALLY listen.  Not just to the lectures, listen to who the teacher is.  The key is to know how your teacher thinks by test time.  When I sit down to take a bubble test, I don't take it as myself, I take it as my teacher.  What are their quirks?  What terms do they love to use?  How do they try to "trick" students in questions?  What information do they give in one question that could be used to answer another?  Is every "E" option a throw away?  Is every questions that has a "A and B" option have that as the answer?

That certain tone of voice they use when talking about a concept a little more enthusiastically than others.  Repetition is very important to key into.  When a teacher flat out says, "I test this," highlight, star, write it down 5 times.  Seriously, never let free points go.  I've developed a 6th sense about these things, and you can too.  Every practice quiz a teacher gives, all the extra notes given straight from the teacher, those are the bible.  Yes, I'm sure there is book reading assigned but honestly, don't waste your time.  Use it to supplement the teacher's notes if necessary, but it's going to limit your understanding of what your teacher thinks is important.  It really doesn't matter what you think is truly important, if your teacher does, they are going to test it and in the end, that's the score that shows.

Trick 2: Follow your teachers instructions.  Go into lab.  All. The. Time.

If your teacher tells you how you should approach it that way.  Just do it.  So when Gross Anatomy professor says the students who get the best grades spend the most time in lab, GO INTO LAB.  Because I couldn't take photos, I had to get hands on more often than my usual technique.  Work in reviewing the teachers notes at the same time you're in lab.  Check out things the teacher specifically stated and pointed out the most, then review everything else.

Trick 3: Study at home with purpose.

Bone Box!  Like a mini lab at home.
It's extremely easy to get lost in a pile of reading, notes, and recorded lectures when studying outside of the lab.  Three hours of studying can turn into very little knowledge of the next dissection.  I'm all about studying the least I can with the most point-getting information learned.

One, review the notes for the next lecture beforehand.  That makes the required lecture turn into study time with the potential of the teacher to tell you what to specifically know for test questions.

This little beauty was for anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.
 Second, use physical props and drawings of your own creation.  The bone box pictured above is the best connection I had to lab without actually going in and putting on scrubs.  I could actually learn my muscle attachments better at home and focus on other things during lab.  As for drawings, there is no need to make "good" drawings.  Make drawings that explain something to you easily.  Drawings to me are the honest way to cheat.  You can keep information stored in little lines and boxes easily recreated on your test.

Don't waste your time impressing anyone with your artistic skill.  Unless it's going to up your grade, it does not matter.

Final Trick (kind of): It helps if the teachers like you, but not too much.

This doesn't always matter.  I've done well in classes where I barely knew the teacher's name and they sure as heck didn't know mine.  But in a lab situation, being able to pull your favorite lab instructor over and have them pretty much hand you the answers is nice.  They will stay longer with engaged, interested familiar faces.  But please, do not become annoying.  Before you ask a question, please, please, please look at least 3 different places for the answer on your own.  Self-reliance is an important skill in the war of test-taking.  Don't show weakness!  If you do have a question you can't figure out yourself, you want to be prepared for the teachers answer and the faster you understand it in your conversation the more time they have to drop you hints.  I find it most helpful to be the "smart, quiet one," not the "obnoxious, clingy one."

This extends to classmates.  Classmates are your competition but not your enemy (that's the grade-giver) and they also hold many answers.  It's impossible to hear everything.  Alliances help everyone up their game.  Never withhold from your alliance!  As I said, not your enemy.  Use your alliance to help you stay focused, go to lab, and get bits of info the teacher dropped when you weren't around.

So overall, I'm a little crazy.  I think that has become very apparent, but I get results.  Find your own motivation, and you will do well.  For me, it's competition, for you, it could be gaining true knowledge or other more honorable things.  In the end, we are all on the same grade scale.  And that opens up an entirely different story of how much do grades matter?  Save that for next time...

1 comment:

  1. If we're the Allied Powers I call dibs on Great Britain. You can be The Soviet Union :P