By Ramona Neferu
Engineering Chemistry, ’13.
It is that wonderful time of year, namely exam time. It can be stressful for some, but not for all. For example, my favourite times of the school year are actually frosh week and exam time. Why would anyone like exam time? Well, for first years, it means you get your long-awaited GPA’s, and get to kick them all the way home. But for all of us engineers, exam time means no more 35 hours of class a week, and no more time-consuming labs. This is prime time to get into study mode. Time is such a luxury these days, so if it is used well and efficiently, those dreaded exams will be aced with style.
So, as a second year Engineering student who has gone through exam time last year, here are a few tips that I found are imperative to exam success:
1. First, gather your info! For each class, make sure you know the format, marks breakdown, and how much the exam is worth. Will your exam be multiple choice? Short answer? Long answer? Problem solving? Sketching? A mixture? Multiple choice questions will show up in a lot of your exams, and some courses (such as Geology) will deduct partial marks for wrong answers. Knowing this can help you decide if it’s worth guessing some answers.
How might you find these things out? There are many ways, such as asking your TA or professor and doing past exams found on ExamBank (http://db.library.queensu.ca/exambank/) . ExamBank is such a useful tool and helps show what detail you have to know for each concept, as well as the major topics usually covered. Most professors provide a course outline or syllabus. This is extremely helpful, as you can cross off each concept that you successfully understand as you study.
2. Second, make an exam study schedule. This should be done as early as possible, allowing for smaller, more frequent study periods rather than one huge full-day study period on only one subject. Since all of your exams are at 9:00 am, it is best to study for that subject at 9:00 am for a few days before your exam, so that your brain gets used to studying for that subject at that time. The week before the first exam should be the time that most studying should happen, for all subjects, not just your first exam.
In first year, I used that week of no classes to mostly study for my first exam, so I was very prepared for that Geology exam. However, the rest of the exams were every other day after the first one, so what I did was study intensively for 2 days before the next exam, and then I repeated that cycle for each exam. I still did well, but if I were to do it all over again, I would have made a study schedule for that week before the first exam, and would have stuck by it, varying the subjects that I studied so that I could have more time to relax after writing each exam.
A good tip is to study for one subject during each of the three 3-hour blocks that exams are held in. These 3 hour blocks are from 9 am to 12 pm, 2pm to 5pm, and 7pm to 10pm. For example, in one day, you would study Graphics at 9am for 3 hours, Physics at 2pm for 3 hours, and Chemistry at 7 pm for three hours. These 3-hour blocks should be split up into 50 minutes of work and 10 minute breaks so the brain can be at its highest capacity for retention. In the 2-hour breaks between study sessions, take time to relax, exercise, and de-stress. This is why I love exam time – because I actually have time to go for runs and sleep! Sleep is EXTREMELY important because that’s when the brain filters out the insignificant details and keeps the good information. It is recommended to sleep about 7 to 9 hours each night for great memory retention and focus.
3. Third, know how to study for each exam. Again, past exams are one of the best resources out there, as the formats are usually very similar from year to year. Doing past exams can help you with multiple choice, short answer, and problems. Timing yourself while doing past exams simulates the upcoming exam, and lets you know if you need to be faster at completing the problems.
In Engineering, doing problems is usually more effective than reading the textbook cover to cover. In first year, textbooks are great for Chapter Summaries and referring to the Sample Problems. However, we engineers simply don’t have time to sift through literature when this 10-step Physics problem is staring at you and begging you to decipher it. So, do lots of practice problems, and when stuck, consult the textbook, work in a group, or ask your professor. Speaking of professors, listen carefully to what they emphasize when they teach. Chances are, the more time they spend on a topic, the higher the likelihood that it will show up on an exam.
Finally, for courses that require a formula sheet, familiarize yourself with it well in advance so that you don’t waste time looking for the formula, but more importantly, make sure you know what each formula is used for and how it is used.
If these tips are followed, exam period should be a rewarding time when you feel productive, healthy, and ready to rock your exams!