Reviewing for examinations is a complex process involving many decisions. Do you re-read? Do you just review your notes? Do you read papers you’ve written? Just what exactly should you do to review? These questions are on my mind for two reasons lately. The first reason is that my own students sent many e-mails asking these very questions prior to their first exam in the course I am teaching this semester. The second reason is that the time avaiable for study prior to my own qualifying exams quickly approaches and I am readjusting my study methods to suit the time remaining. So today I am talking about the process of reviewing.
My responses to my own students were somewhat simple: look at the study guides provided. Study guides are a pretty good bet when an instructor gives them to you. If the instructor gives you something as a study guide you can be certain that the majority of the exam will come directly from that listing of “things to know.” In classes where this isn’t given you should either ask your instructor or perhaps other students who have had the instructor in the past. Typically, after the first test you will know (quite clearly) what types of information the instructor finds valuable. Does the instructor want you to answer a long essay question or simply identify things from multiple choice, or a word bank. Is it fill in the blank? Typically there is no such thing as over-preparing.
Except, perhaps, when re-reading 15,000 pages of material learned over 4 years (which is what I’ve been doing over the summer). I talked to some previous students who have passed these exams and most of them did not even attempt to re-read anything. I, however, tend to enjoy a broad overview of everything. It makes me think more clearly of the connections between things. At any rate, as the time frame rapidly approaches I am switching to this earlier tactic. I’ve re-read most of the books I felt I should re-read. For the remainder I will rely on my notes and highlights while compiling short synopses of what I’ve already read. This, hopefully, will allow me to quickly (relatively) review everything I’ve read prior to taking the exam. I’ll let you all know how it goes after it’s went.