How to Study at University

Practical tips and general thoughts on how to study at a Western university

Practice doesn’t make perfect

Posted on | December 28, 2011 | No Comments

Point: Prepare for tests by practising writing answers

Exams test two things.

They test what you know; and they test what you can do with what you know.

Most students – and maybe you – prepare for only one of these two aspects of tests. They – and maybe you – work very hard to know as much as possible. That’s great. Learn as much as you can before the test.

But a test is something you do.

Your lecturer is not going to open your brain and look in to see what is there. I hope!

In any case, simply having knowledge is not much good if you can’t do things with it.

So your lecturer asks you questions, and you respond.

Practise practising

Which means, of course, that when you prepare for a test you not only learn as much as you can but you also practise responding to questions. Don’t you? Yes, of course, you do. You would be silly not to.

Just to be clear, by ‘practise’ I mean you sit down with a question and you write an answer in the same time you will have in the exam.

In order to do this well, you will have to do a few things first.

  • Find out how long you have to answer an exam question. (Ask your lecturer.)
  • Find some typical exam questions. (Look at past exam papers, or ask your lecturer.)
  • Find a quiet desk that you can occupy for the right length of time.
  • Have a watch or some other way of keeping time.
  • Have a strong enough will to do it and to stick to the allowed time.

It’s obvious

When you think about it, it seems obvious, doesn’t it? You don’t prepare for a tennis match just by reading about tennis. You also practise. You don’t prepare for a driving test just by learning the road code. You also practise. And you don’t prepare for a history or mathematics or engineering or sociology test just by reading in those subjects. You also practise.

Don’t worry that you might write a bad answer when you practise. The main point of the exercise is to get used to the conditions of the test. Do your best, of course, but there is another benefit of practising writing tests. You learn what you don’t know.

After practising a test, you will put your pen down and say to yourself, “I should have done better. I didn’t know enough about X or Y or Z.” And then you will go away and learn more about X, Y and/or Z.

That’s efficient study, isn’t it!

They say practice makes perfect. They may be right, if you have loads of time and you practise a lot, but even then I can’t guarantee it.

I say practice makes better.

And that I can guarantee!

(akeeris)

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