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Quizzes and Exams


The typical student studies by performing rote review – the reading and rereading/writing of assignments and notes as many times as possible. The idea behind this strategy is that somehow, if the material cross before your eyes enough times, the key ideas will stick around long enough to be later regurgitated during the exam. This is horrible. First, it doesn’t work. Methodically trying to reread every source covered in class is an incredibly inefficient way to prepare. And, because it’s boring, your mind quickly fatigues, and once your mind shuts down, it stops learning. To successfully learn even a modest amount of information using this technique requires an absurd number of hours. Second, it’s painful. Cramming is mind numbing, especially when you have a hopelessly large amount of material to review. There are many, many ways to study (and rote review is not one of the better ones)


Always go to class; if you skip class, it’ll take twice as long studying to make up for what you missed. If you attend class regularly, you will significantly cut down on the amount of studying required.
Gather the right materials. Increased detail and readability makes it easier to study. Keep a separate notebook for the most important points. Ideally, have one folder for each class/subject (if you don’t, don’t worry).
Every piece of paper you receive during a lecture – outlines, assignment descriptions, reading excepts – should be dated and put in this folder. The folders will make it much easier to find materials when you need them for later review.
First, let’s start with taking smart notes in non-technical courses (WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA). A non-technical course is any course outside of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).
The key to doing well in these courses is straightforward: identify the big ideas. These courses (generally) require you to explain, contrast, and re-evaluate them in the light of new evidence. Formatting your notes aggressively helps, this can include:
1. Dating your notes and recording the title of the day’s lesson. If you are defining a word, make it bold. If you’re writing down an exception to the last observation you recorded start with: However.
2. Developing your own shorthand. For example, ‘esp.’ for especially. Make sure to have fun and do whatever helps you visualise and remember the important concepts.
Some students attempt to record notes from a textbook, class etc. verbatim (the same). Don’t do this. Instead try to use the following structure
Question Evidence Conclusion
Most big ideas in non-technical courses are presented in this structure. Why? Most concepts are taught in terms of questions. To find the big ideas, you must first find questions and then follow a path of evidence, to a corresponding conclusion.
The basics of the approach are simple. All the information you write down during class should be associated with a question, each question with a conclusion.
Finally, it’s important to read over your notes right after class to absorb them and make corrections/additions, otherwise you’ll be susceptible to entirely forgetting what was covered. Second, let’s go over taking smart notes in technical courses (WHERE’S THE PROBLEM). The key to taking notes in a technical course is to record as many sample problems as possible.
In a perfect world, you would successfully capture every single problem discussed in class as well as every single answer, and all the steps in between. Don’t expect this to happen, instead prioritize your notetaking.
Record the problem statement and answer. Even in the fastest class, there should be time to jot down the questions and final solutions.
Question the confusing. Students who do well in technical courses are those who closely follow the problems being presented and then insist on asking questions when they don’t understand a specific step. Is this annoying? A little bit. Does it really improve your understanding of the techniques being presented? Absolutely. If you can’t ask a question, then at least clearly mark where you got confused.
Record the steps of the sample problem. Pay particular attention at the beginning of the course/lesson, and don’t get discouraged if subsequent questions fly by too fast for you to record it all.
Annotate the steps. If you get ahead of the teacher on a given problem, and you have time to kill, annotate the steps with little explanations of what they accomplish or why they’re important.


Trust the quiz/recall method. The most effective way to imprint a concept is to first review it and the try to explain it, unaided, in your own words. This not true if you merely read over something. Passively reviewing a concept is not the same as actively producing it.
First, how should students use QaR for non-technical courses?
1. Construct a practice quiz for each topic in your study guide
• The quiz for any topic can simply contain all the questions from your notes because of the QEC method
• If your notes contain broad questions break them up into smaller questions that cover all the relevant points
2. Once you’ve built your practice quizzes, go through them one by one
• For each question, try to articulate the matching conclusion and provide some highlights from the supporting evidence
3. Here’s the important part: don’t do this only in your head
• If you’re in a private location, say your answers out load using complete sentences
• If you’re forced to review with other around people around write out your answers
4. Next, put little marks next to any questions you had trouble answering
• Now, repeat the first step, except this time you only need to answer the questions that you marked during your first run-through
5. Repeat this pattern until you complete a run-through without adding any new check marks. At this point you’re done.
First, how should students use QaR for technical courses?
1. You have already constructed the mega-problem sets; now you simply need to solve them.
• Start with the technical explanation questions – thinking about the general concepts first will make it easier to solve the specific sample problems
• Try to provide an articulate (with all steps) answer for each problem. If you can explain it out-loud, if not, simply write it down
2. Be honest with yourself: if you’re just regurgitating memorised solutions, you aren’t prepared to handle new questions on a test
3. As before, mark the questions that gave you trouble. Review the solutions for these questions. Take a break.
• Repeat the process, except this time try to answer only the questions you marked on the previous attempt.
• Follow this method until you finish a round with no check problems
Finally, memorise over time. If you have material that must be truly memorised (verbatim) you just must keep working until you have no trouble providing the right answer.
To make it easier, spread the work out over many days, and never dedicate too much time to any one sitting.
This concept also applies to eliminating your question marks – topics you don’t really understand. The key is to start well before the exam.
If you leave all these question marks unanswered until you start studying, you will end up spending many extra hours looking up the required explanations. Thus, try to knock off question marks as soon as they arrive.
4 strategies to start the study process include:
1. Asking questions during class. The more question marks you eliminate on the spot, the less work you will have to do later.
2. Develop the habit of talking to your teachers briefly after class
3. Ask classmates
4. Come prepared to exam review sessions (if offered)

Other Informations

A topic does not equal a thesis. A topic describes an interesting subject or area of observation. A thesis presents an interesting specific argument about that subject or observation. So how should students choose a research topic? They is to choose a topic, within the constraints of the assignment, that excites you. The best to identify a topic is to start searching for one early.

    Follow this approach:

  • On the first day of class, read the description of the research paper(s) that will be assigned
  • The syllabus should describe each paper’s topic parameters and the professor will usually discuss these assignments briefly early in the term
  • Once you know the parameters of the paper, you should constantly be on the lookout for a particular subject or observation that interests you
    If one reading assignment really grabs your attention, jot down the topic so you’ll remember it later If you have trouble finding a topic, you have two options:
  • Approach your teacher with some ideas you have and let the teacher recommend some appropriate readings
  • Read your primary sources carefully (textbooks or encyclopedias)

Good students realise that the bulk of the work required to ace an exam is already accomplished in class and extracting arguments. By the time the test date rolls around, all that’s left is a targeted review of the ideas that you have already mastered.
Good students understand that if you’re studying hard, then you’ve done something wrong. Preparing for a test should not be painful. And it should not require a lot of time. When facing a looming exam, you should only have to do two things:
1. Organise your material intelligently
2. Perform a targeted review of this material
How should students go about this? First, they should ‘Define the Challenge’ – you need to know what kind of information the teacher wants you to know. To accomplish this, answer the following questions:
1. Which classes and reading assignments (problem sets) are likely to on the test
2. What types of questions will there be, and how many of each?
3. Is the exam open note/book?
4. For a technical class, will formulas be provided, or do they need to be memorised?
5. How much time will be available?
Second, build a study guide (a) or mega-problem set (b) for non-technical and technical courses respectively.
a. After you find out of which classes/material/topics are likely to be on the exam:
• Look over the corresponding notes
• Cluster these pages into piles, separated by topic
• Label each of the piles
• In doing this, your final study guide should contain notes for each topic that might be covered on the exam
b. After you find out which problems are likely to be on the exam:
• Match the lecture to the problem set that covers the same material
• Copy these same problems onto a blank sheet of paper (Just the Questions)
• Label the blank sheet of paper with the topic
• Attempt to the do the questions without looking at completed notes

The potential pitfalls during an exam are numerous but the most common are:
Running out of time and
Providing answers that, although detailed, don’t fully answer all parts of the question being asked
To avoid this pitfalls TLP recommends five key strategies:
Review first, answer questions later. Read through the exam first. This familiarises you with the length and difficulty of what lies ahead
Build a time budget. Know the maximum number of minutes you can spend on the current question before moving on to the next. Do this by, taking the time allotted for the exam and subtract 10 minutes; next, divide this amount by the number of questions.
Proceed from easy to hard. The most effective way to tackle an exam is to answer the easiest questions first. Skip questions you don’t know the answer to immediately and let the answer hopefully come to you as you complete the questions.
Outline essays. First, reread the question carefully. Outline the mini questions. Record key words for each point. Next, go back and check the question you underlined in the first step
Check your work. Go through the essay or questions again and again until the exam is over. DO NOT leave early, it is NOT COOL. Instead, it is the quickest and surest way to get exam regret.

  • Target a Titillating Topic. Start looking for an interesting topic early.
  • Conduct a Thesis-Hunting Expedition. Start with general sources and then follow references to find the more targeted sources where good thesis ideas often hide.
  • Seek Second Opinion. A thesis is not a thesis until a professor has approved it.
  • Research like a Machine. Find sources, make personal copies of all sources, annotate the material, and decide if you’re done (if not loop back)
  • Craft a Powerful Story. There is no shortcut to developing a well-balanced and easy-to-follow argument. Dedicate a good deal of thought over time to getting it right. Describe your argument in a topic-level outline. Type supporting quotes from sources directly into your outline.
  • Consult your Expert Panel. Before starting to write, get some opinions on the organisation of your argument and your support from classmates who are familiar with the topic. The more important the paper, the more people who should review it.
  • Write Without the Agony. Follow your outline and articulate your points clearly. Write no more than 3-5 pages/weekday and 5-8 pages/weekend day.
  • Fix, Don’t Fixate. Solid editing requires only three careful passes: the argument adjustment pass, the out-loud pass and the sanity pass.