Student Responsibility, Expectations about Exam Content, Organization
Keep this thought in the back of your mind - you are responsible for your own learning. You are responsible for knowing when and where tests will be given, what material will be covered, and what supplies to bring.
You alone are responsible for the quality of your exam preparation. Remember that the amount of time spent studying is not nearly as important as what you do during that time. Don't expect instructors to be sympathetic to pleas like "But I studied for 14 hours for this test and I failed!" They have no way of monitoring or evaluating student preparation. When you come right down to it, what counts is the information you put on the exam.
So, you need to take responsibility for making the most of your study time. This may involve becoming well-versed in strategies for organizing information, managing time, remembering information, and staying focused on a task. Evaluate how you spend your study time. Do you understand and remember what you read after spending two hours on a chapter? Can you identify the main points of the lecture you just reviewed for an hour? If the answer is no, seek help to identify your problems and to learn appropriate strategies. When you know you are prepared for the test, you are in a better position to fend off feelings of anxiety during an exam.
Be cognizant of instructors' penalties for arriving late to an exam. Some will refuse to let students take a test after it has started. Others will deduct points or will not let students complete those parts they missed. Don't expect to be given extra time if you arrive late. And don't expect instructors to make exceptions to their policies for you. All of these things can create anxiety in the back of one's mind. You may lie awake at night worrying that the alarm will not go off or the car will not start in the morning. To put your mind at ease, set two clocks (one battery powered in case the electricity goes off) or have several friends call to make sure you're up in the morning. Plan to leave an hour early in case you experience car trouble, and have a back-up plan (bike, taxi, bus, another student's car) for getting to class in case the car won't start.
Expectations About Exam Content and Organization
One reason some students experience test anxiety is uncertainties about the content and organization of the exam. They do not know what to expect on the exam. Some of the most common concerns are listed below (D. Applegate, CAL).
- When and where will the test be administered?
- Which topics, chapters, and readings will be covered on the test?
- What proportion of the questions is from lecture? From readings? From lab?
- What are the most important ideas?
- What kinds of questions - essay, identification, multiple choice, etc. - will be asked?
- Is the exam open-book or closed-book?
- Do students have to memorize formulas, or is a "cheat sheet" allowed?
- What ancillary materials - blue book, calculator, ruler, etc. - are required or permitted?
- What level of detail does the instructor expect in the answers?
- Does the instructor look for accurate regurgitation of memorized facts or for interpretation of information?
- Who will administer the exam - the instructor or a teaching assistant?
- Who grades the exams - the instructor or a teaching assistant?
- How will the questions be graded - full or partial credit, by hand or by machine?
- Does the instructor deduct points for spelling or grammar mistakes?
There are a number of ways to answer these questions. The following tips are based, in part, on Lunenfeld and Lunenfeld (1992) and Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson (1981).
Examine the syllabus.
- Many of the aforementioned questions can be answered simply by checking the syllabus. Most instructors describe testing procedures, including the types of questions and the ancillary materials permitted, in the syllabus. Look at the course schedule; topics listed here will probably appear on the test. Check the syllabus before meeting with the instructor; he/she may be put off if you ask questions whose answers are clearly indicated in the syllabus.
Ask the instructor.
- One of the best ways to clarify expectations is to consult with the instructor well in advance of the test. It is better to get information "from the horse's mouth" than from a secondary source. Ask for clarification during or after class, or better yet, make an appointment to visit the instructor during his/her office hours. Have a list of questions ready to ask when you meet with the instructor.
- In some cases, the instructor will reward you with information just for coming to see him/her. But if the instructor seems hesitant to answer questions related to the topics or ideas on which the exam focuses, don't press him/her. Similarly, if he/she says "you should know everything" and when pressed doesn't offer more clarification, check the syllabus, old exams, the book, or talk with other students for insights. Instructors are sometimes unwilling to divulge too much.
Analyze the instructor's behavior.
- If the instructor offers few hints and you've never had a test from him/her before, try analyzing his/her behavior for clues. Consider the types of information emphasized in lecture, the nature of assignments, and the manner of lecture presentation. Ask yourself: Does the instructor focus on details? Does he/she emphasize facts or ideas? Would he/she ask "trick" questions? What's his/her goal in teaching and attitude toward testing? Has he/she encouraged students to evaluate and interpret concepts?
Look at old tests.
- Old exams are a valuable source of information concerning the topics or ideas emphasized, the types of questions asked, the way questions are worded, the level of detail the instructor expects in answers, and grading procedures. If copies of old tests are not available, say on reserve at the library, ask the instructor if this accommodation is possible. Some instructors will do this, but only if asked.
Consult with other students.
- Talk with students who have taken the class before. Not only may they have old tests, but they may provide insights into instructor expectations, main ideas, and grading procedures. Current classmates may have ideas about the major topics to study.
Use the textbook.
- Most texts provide review questions at the end of each chapter or unit. These should give you ideas of what may be asked on the test. Or try turning the chapter headings into questions. Check the index listing of people and concepts; the more page references, the more important the idea.
Use text workbooks.
- Student workbooks that accompany the text are an excellent source of review questions for the reading material. They can give you an idea of what topics might be covered on the exam and what the questions may look like.