Strategies for Open-Book Tests and Number Problems
Number problems most often appear on tests in science, math, statistics, and some business courses. They require that the student know special symbols, formulas for solving problems, and the correct sequence of steps for solving problems.
One of the best ways to prepare for number problems is to practice solving sample questions. Find out what types of problems will appear on the exam. Then look at old tests and student workbooks for those types of questions. Examine sample problems in the text book, and work through extra problems not covered in homework assignments. Change the numbers given in homework problems and rework them. Problems in the textbook and/or workbook are particularly useful because the answers are often provided, so one knows if the problem was solved correctly. If answers to problems are not available, ask a tutor or the instructor to check your work. Practice making and interpreting graphs and other visual aids as well.
Review Procedural Steps
Review the steps required to solve different problems, and be sure to understand how each step works. Sometimes it helps to list the steps for solving each type of problem, record the steps on paper or audio cassettes, review the steps, and then practice sample problems. Use mnemonics and try to identify a key word in each step that may act as a memory trigger. Use flow charts and other visual aids to remember the correct order of steps.
Review Symbols, Formulas, and Equations
Students should understand clearly the symbols used in all formulas and equations. Record symbols and formulas on flash cards or in lists for easy review.
The three things that must be remembered for most number problems are the steps for solving the problem, the formula(s) to be used, and the symbols in the formulas. Sequential steps are best remembered using strategies like mnemonics, peg words, and chaining. Formulas may be registered and recalled using rhymes or grouping strategies. Association strategies are useful in remembering symbols and their meanings.
If formula sheets are permitted on the exam, prepare them ahead of time. Make sure the information is organized, legible, and easy to find. Include what the symbols in the formulas mean as well as the formulas themselves.
Study groups are useful in practicing problems, reviewing procedures and formulas, and sharing memory strategies.
Know the Calculator
If calculators are permitted on the test, become familiar with the keys available and where they are, the order of operations for inputting data, scientific notation displays, and special function keys. This is especially true of borrowed calculators. Have an extra battery, and know how to change it if necessary.
Attend to Mental and Physical Health
Try to avoid negative feelings toward number problems and try to block out bad experiences from the past. Successful practicing should bolster confidence and mental attitudes. Get plenty of rest and eat well before the test.
Even though books and/or notes may be used to answer questions, open-book tests require preparation. In fact, preparation may be the factor separating students who finish on time and those who don't, or students who do well and those who do poorly. The nature of preparation, however, will differ from that of objective and subjective in-class tests.
The best way to prepare for open-book tests is to organize information so that it is easily located. For the textbook, mark important pages with paper clips or labeled post-it notes. Learn how to use the index to find information. For the notes, logically organize them by topic or temporal sequence and then number the pages. Make up a personalized index, complete with page numbers for different topics, for the notes. Arrange the information in a three-ring notebook for easy access, incorporating class handouts and other materials as well as notes. Mark important pages with paper clips or labeled post-it notes.
Make Summary Sheets
Reduce the exam information to main ideas and supporting details, organize it logically, and record it on summary sheets. Paste the summary sheets in the book or notebook. This is especially helpful for tests with formulas, dates, and people.
Develop an Appropriate Attitude
Resist the temptation to "blow off" preparing for open-book tests. Some students think that, because they may use books or notes to answer questions, open-book tests are easier than closed-book exams. Not necessarily. Instructors often expect to see more details and more interpretation of concepts on this type of exam. There may be more questions to answer as well. Take open-book tests seriously.