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Test Taking Skills and Exam Preparation
Reeducating for a Better Future...
In order to succeed in today's economy, a proper education is critical. With literally thousands of jobs being lost at an historic rate -- thus yielding a plethora of competent and highly-skilled people searching for emotionally and financially-stabilizing work -- hordes of people are retraining, yours truly included. Retrain. Reeducate. Rearm. No matter how you say it, the process is hard work, and, depending on what field you venture into, a tad stressful. Trust me. I know!
Now that I'm currently ankle-deep into my pursuit of a physical therapist assistant degree (which is a GREAT career by the way), my journey back to the hallways of academia has been peppered with nuggets of learning and unlearning. The pursuit has thus far been positive, but I must say this: college the second time around is much different that it was a mere twenty-odd years ago. Gone are archaic motivations of whatever and in their void are honest, integral, and highly-focused ambitions of providing for my family and myself: spiritually, emotionally, and financially! Less I digress...
The scope of this hub, I hope, is to provide a few lessons relearned, as well as to reveal a few freshly-unearthed truths along my path of reeducation -- primarily in the arena of test preparation, study tips, and exam taking skills. Even though today's classrooms are eerily dissimilar to those I've attended in the past, (i.e., the Internet and its accompanying bag of goodies), the basics of learning and test taking skills are the same: reading for comprehension, preparing and answering self-guided questions, reviewing your notes, and repetition of all the above. Of course you'll need to sprinkle in a necessary amount of self-discipline to be good to go, so to speak. In general, however, I feel if you adhere to the following reading and studying tips, your test taking skills should/will improve.
The Most Important Test-Taking Skill:
By far, the number one test-taking skill in order to prepare for exams is the ability to read for comprehension. It cannot be overemphasized. Simply put: Do NOT procrastinate on reading! Read often and then read some more. If you know what texts will be covered on an upcoming exam, make sure you have read them and have taken adequate notes; which leads me to part two of reading for comprehension: taking notes while reading. This is how I do it (which doesn't mean that it's a good fit for everyone). However, it works for me.
Read and Highlight:
When I read a text I know I will be tested on, I make it a point to read slowly in order to isolate main points. This is basically self explanatory. As you read, make highlights of all major topics, definitions, and examples of practical application. Once you finish with a particular section or chapter, write (or type) each point in your own words in a separate study guide. A laptop works best for me since the copy is easier to edit, but you may find that writing points out long-hand works just as well. Next, write out any questions you come up with and make it a point to answer them in your study guide too.
Why is reading the number one step in test preparation? Because in the majority of cases, test questions are extracted directly out of an assigned text. Trust me, it happens!
Textbooks, however, are not the only sources you should be reading and taking notes on. What about your class and lecture notes? Should you include them? Absolutely... ten times over! Remember, the key to learning for many people is recurring exposure to material. Simple logic tells me that the more you read, write, reread, and rewrite information, the more embedded it becomes in your brain and the easier it is to recall; which will give you great confidence come test day! Trust me. It happens!
My final bit of advice is this: Make it a routine discipline to read your assigned text before you arrive for lecture and then again within a few hours after lecture. Odds are by doing so, the information is fresher going in and fresher coming out. Reading is huge. Critical. Paramount. And you MUST do it!
Writing is another crucial, test-taking skill? Yes!! Big time...
I define writing to learn this way: write primary points of information, pertinent questions, and relevant examples and place them in a well-thought-out and organized outline. By placing summarized key points in outline form, our brains can embed and sort the principle ideas easier and recall them quicker; which after all, is a primary goal of test preparation.
Here is a quick example from one of my textbooks:
Study Guide: Chapter 7
- First academic discussions concerning degree requirements took place in 1955.
- In 1960, the degree to practice PT was the BA.
- In 1977, the APTA became the sole accrediting body for PT and PTA programs (CAPTE).
- In 1980, the degree to practice PT was augmented to the MA.
- Vision 2020 is heading toward the DPT as the degree of choice.
Professional Education: All education programs preparing students to practice PT regardless of degree.
Post professional Education: Advanced education beyond professional education, typically at the MA or PDT level. The majority of PT programs are currently post professional. However, students need a BA to further professional education.
Transitional DPT Programs: Established to allow practicing PTs to advance their skills while still practicing. However, the DPT prepares an individual for practice, not an academic career.
Continuing Education for the PTA:
- Encouraged by the APTA.
- PTAs may use skills learned in CE under the direction of a PT only.
Interventions allowed only for PTs:
- Those that call for immediate and continuous examination.
- Spinal and peripheral joint mobilization/manipulation.
- Sharp, selective debridement.
Although the details are limited, the basic idea of outlining is presented. Find your main points, then your sub points, and so on. For me, bullet points are the bomb! I use them all the time. My basic suggestion is to always outline and then find your own way to embellish with sub points. You'll be amazed at how the added details, as well as those you don't include in your outline, come to the surface [of your brain] once your primary topics are staring at you in black and white.
And that's about it on writing...
Remember, you're not drafting a 10,000-word treatise, or even a term paper here. Your goal is to maximize your main learning points and minimize the manner in which you learn them.
Outlining works. Trust me on this one.
Review, Review, Review...
Although this sounds like common sense, the principle cannot be trivialized. By reviewing your highlighted texts, studying your outlines, answering your self-guided questions, and doing so on a regular basis, your confidence level, as well as your recall level, will soar. Believe me. It works!
In closing, I'd like to list a few highlights and additional study tips that I feel every student either young or old needs to learn and practice. For simplicity's sake, I'll keep the list brief.
- Read lecture material before (if possible) attending lecture and then soon after.
- Highlight and outline your required texts then type (or write) your outline for future study.
- Compile a list of questions you need answered then set out to find the answers, which can then be added to your outline.
- Review all your materials over and over....
- DO NOT procrastinate, or try to learn test material in one day or less!!
- Form a study group and test each other.
- Stay as far ahead as possible and remember that learning is a process; many people don't learn concepts or information the first time they see them.
- Get a good night's rest. Eat well. And kick some test!