How many times has your lecture been interrupted by a student asking, “Will this be on the test?” Unnerving as the question may be, it does demonstrate that the student is thinking ahead to the test. Though their focus may be short-sighted, you can nonetheless use their motivation to teach your students how to prepare for the test and then deal with different testing formats such as objective or essay exams.

Preparing for exams

In her book, Orientation to College Learning, 7th Edition, Dianna L. Van Blerkom addressed how students can master necessary college skills such as preparing for and taking exams.

The text emphasizes well-defined goals, regular class attendance, good work habits, sufficient background knowledge, appropriate study strategies, time management, and motivation as the key factors that contribute to college success.

Chapters in the text relating to testing include:

  • Preparing for exams
  • Taking objective exams
  • Taking essay exams
  • Succeeding on finals

College students often use the same methods of exam preparation that worked for them in high school without realizing that college exams will cover ten to twenty times more information. In her chapter on preparing for exams, Van Blerkom described the five-day plan to help ensure that students will spend the eight to ten hours that Van Blerkom advises they invest if they want to earn an A or a B on the exam.

Types of exams

Generally speaking, exams fall into two broad categories:

  • Objective exams: students must choose the correct answer from a list of alternatives; multiple choice, true/false, matching, completion
  • Subjective exams: the student must organize and present an original answer; short essay, extended essay, problem-solving, performance test

Each exam type requires a specific set of skills to successfully execute the exam. When taking an objective exam, Van Blerkom recommends the following strategies.

  • Answer the easiest questions first (the ones you know)
  • Use problem-solving strategies to figure out the harder questions
  • Don’t leave any blanks

The strategic approach to dealing with harder questions begins with eliminating answers that you know are wrong. Then think back on the material and try to determine whether the answer came from the lecture or from the text; whether you saw it on the page or in your notes. These memory jogs might help to recall the information.

Most students prefer an objective exam because they know that the answer is there somewhere on the list and it’s just a matter of finding it. Essay exams require more thought and recall. They test the student’s understanding at a deeper level.

If you give the students an idea of what the essay questions might be then that gives them a start on preparation. Students can also gain insight by studying sample questions and past exams. If this information is not available, then they must not only predict the questions but organize effective answers as well.

According to Van Blerkom, “Study guides provided by your professor, major topics in your lecture notes, and end-of-chapter questions are valuable sources of possible essay questions. “

After predicting the essay questions, a procedure for completing essay questions included the following steps:

  • Gather information
  • Organize information
  • Outline the information

Success on any exam is based on preparation. By helping students understand its importance and how to practice good preparation skills we can increase their success skills set.

Reference:  Van Blerkom. 2013. Orientation to College Learning, 7th Edition, 7th Edition. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.