About Tests

This is a prescriptive handout: for more on tests in general, consult the webpage at http://www.math.usf.edu/~mccolm/pedagogy/TESTlong.html.

Nowadays, the primary motive for a test is to test how much the student knows, and the most effective way to prepare for a test is to practice (i.e., study). This means reading the texts carefully, taking and reviewing notes, doing homework problems, and generally familiarizing onesself with the material. This may seem a waste of time to people used to preparing for tests by cramming for a few days before the exam, but cramming does not seem to work as well. One recommended kind of test preparation is to practice dry runs. Get a stack of problems, and try to do them all in fifty minutes, without peeking at your book or your notes. This may give you an idea of how you are doing.

Second, try to be in good physical condition for the exam.

  • Get at least eight hours of sleep the night before: even if you do not feel very sleepy, a sleep deficit will seriously undermine your performance.
  • Have all your meals that day. If you skip a meal, your blood glucose level goes down, and glucose is what your brain runs on.
  • Do not psych yourself out about an exam. When studying, do not think about studying (i.e., how much time you've studied, how much you think you know, etc.), but think about the material. If you tend to obsess over exams, you might want to seek help.

During the exam itself, pace yourself.

  • First, read the entire exam, so that you know what you are facing.
  • Second, get the easy problems out of the way.
  • If you get tense, try relaxing with stretching exercises.
  • And do not obsess over how you are doing, and whether you are going to pass, and what you can do if you don't, etc., etc.: these obsessions are distracting demons, up to no good, and it may help to try to just displace them with mathematical thoughts.
People who have better organized answers tend to get higher grades: clarity, organization, and even penmanship helps. And it rarely is a good idea to turn tests in early.

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