Okay current and prospective Badgers, I have a confession to make…
Although it’s only the beginning of February, I already have exams on my mind.
Now before you label me a major keener, let me defend myself.
To tell the truth, exams have been on my mind since the very beginning of the semester. Don’t get me wrong – I’m just like every other Badger (or student for that matter) who dreads the thought of writing final exams. Nobody enjoys the pre-exam stress and anxiety that marks the end of each semester and I am certainly not the exception. What I do enjoy, however, is entering that exam room in April feeling confident that I know my stuff and that I can prove I’ve done the work, which brings me back to my first point. I’m sure we all strive to get a high mark in every course we take and so thinking about exams or other finals well in advance is beneficial for a number of reasons.
First, knowing that there is in fact a final exam for a particular class changes the way we take notes in lecture. If there isn’t an exam, students might spend less time obsessing over specific details mentioned in lecture and spend more time making sure they actually understand the larger concepts and can apply them in a meaningful way for a final project or paper. Alternatively, students who do have a final exam will want to take neat and thorough notes that can be easily accessed at the end of the term. In addition, the prospect of an exam means it will be important to ask a friend to catch you up on any notes that you may have missed throughout the semester.
Second, and similar to the first point, is that an exam affects the way we approach our required readings. If there is an exam, students might want to complete a brief summary of each article or textbook chapter (or whatever it may be) as they read. Trust me when I say it is a lot easier to look over twelve one-page summaries than it is to re-read all twelve articles in the few days leading up to exams. Plus, summarizing the readings in your own words can help to avoid plagiarism and can help you to understand the larger picture without having to work your way through all the technical lingo yet again. And if you can’t bring yourself to write a whole summary, try using post-it notes or writing in the margins – they all make studying a whole lot easier!
Third, it is important to distinguish between midterm and final exams. For full-year courses, a midterm exam usually happens in December and it is crucial to remember that this is not the be-all and end-all of marks. There will be plenty of other chances to improve as the course goes on. Moreover, you’ll also want to ask your professor if the final exam will be cumulative. In other words, will you be required to remember information covered throughout the entirety of the course, or just the material learned after the midterm exam? Again, this may impact your note-taking.
Fourth, being aware of the breakdown of marks can have a huge impact on our attitude toward exams. In the event that there is no final exam, students will want to focus their efforts on the other assignments, presentations or activities that make up the bulk of the mark. If there is an exam, students will want to pay attention to its weight. Maybe your group presentation is worth 30% while the exam is only worth 15% – if this is the case, you’ll probably want to make sure you nail that presentation! Why stress over exams more than we need to?
Fifth, the presence of an exam (or lack thereof, if you’re lucky) gives students time to plan their schedules accordingly. In-class exams take up less time, eliminate some of the stress associated with walking into the gym-turned-exam room and ultimately translate into a longer Christmas or summer break. Knowing when and where your exams are can be helpful if you’re trying to organize a vacation or summer job. Your professors mean it when they say they have no control over the scheduling of exams so don’t get caught having to switch your plane tickets at the last minute!
Let me wrap up by saying that final exams do have advantages and disadvantages. Some students actually prefer an exam over a paper as it is a way to just “get it over with,” much like ripping off a band-aid. I don’t want to scare any prospective students into thinking that exams are just a way for professors to trick their students. This is not the case. The reality is that exams are just another part of post-secondary education so it is best to prepare for them in every way we can. Whatever your summative assignment might be, it is always a good idea to have finals in the back of your mind, even if we’d all rather just forget about them entirely. It’s better to be proactive as opposed to being reactive, right?