Mid-term exam filter - help!
October 15, 2005 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Returning college student ISO mid-term exam study help.

I'm in college after a 20-year hiatus from school. Mid-terms are looming, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to study - specifically for an 'all essay question' exam. In high school, I did well without really trying, but I can't skate by like that anymore.

It will be a closed book, closed note, 'pick two of three essay questions' type test. We'll have an hour and twenty minutes to complete both essays. I'm current on my reading, and kept pretty good notes - the professor said he wants to see the lecture topics tied into the reading material to show a good understanding of the subject. (Gay & Lesbian American History)

How on earth do I prepare for this type of test? Bonus points for quick solutions + long term planning for next semester. Thanks!
posted by Space Kitty to Education (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In the short term: look over your lecture notes and readings and make a three- or four-point list of main ideas for each lecture or text. This will refresh your memory about what, exactly, there is to talk about in your class. In many essay examinations, it's very helpful if you have a lot at your fingertips.

In the long term: every week, write a short two or three page response paper that covers the most recent material. Come up with some thoughts. Think of the response papers as opportunities for thinking. Then review these responses before you sit for exams or write papers. Again, it's all about having your own thoughts collected and at hand.

Good luck!
posted by josh at 1:25 PM on October 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

Try and think of possible essay questions and outline your answers. This may help get you started.
posted by LarryC at 1:32 PM on October 15, 2005

Josh and Larry are suggesting exactly what I used to do -- I'd create little practice essay questions of my own, essentially, which helped me organize topics, details, examples, etc. in my mind ahead of time so that I could recall them more easily and smoothly during the exam.

These practice questions for myself generally fell in three categories: topics or concepts that the professor clearly was emphasizing in class, which obviously I could expect to show up on an exam; topics or concepts I found difficult, either from lectures or from my reading, which I wanted to try to push myself to understand better; and topics or concepts that I already enjoyed or felt confident with, just to be ready in case a "dream" question popped up. this actually happened when I took the Literature GRE to get into grad school -- the essay question just happened to be about my favorite Yeats poem ever, and I was so relieved (having had a nightmare the night before that it was going to be about a novel I'd never read) that I started laughing outloud. So you never know, it can happen!
posted by scody at 1:40 PM on October 15, 2005

And oh yeah: good luck! I know you'll do well!
posted by scody at 1:43 PM on October 15, 2005

In addition to the advice above, you may want to try to think about themes that occur frequently across numerous readings. When a substantial amount of coursework is tested using 2 or 3 questions, each question has to cut across topics. You should think about how different readings conflict with one another, as well as how they support the same issue from different directions.

Once you have some ideas about potential topics, outline your potential arguments.

Having taught college students of varying ages, I think you have an added advantage on an essay test. Younger students tend to respond to the questions in a very literal and atomic fashion (with answers that are little more than glorified lists in essay form), while older students often are able to see the general theme the instructor is after. gross overgeneralization, so sue me
posted by i love cheese at 1:50 PM on October 15, 2005

Also, this may go without saying, but bone up on the standard five paragraph essay just to give you an idea how to organize your thoughts. If you have the structure in your head in advance, then when it comes time to write the essay you can focus on figuring out just a few sentences first off [thesis, examples, big finish] and then you can fill in the rest with details.

In any essay assignment that is timed, it really pays to spend a few minutes before you start to write making a tiny outline [in your head or on paper] so that as you write you can figure out where you're going and gear what you are writing towards that. I spent years grading essays for standardized tests and if you have the format down, even if you have a hard time remembering examples, or even if your words are a little off, just the appearance of organization and the structure to your argument will be helpful to both you in writing it and the professor in reading it.

A big problem that adults have sometimes writing for college is that they overthink what they're being asked to do. Think of a few good examples from your reading to highlight what you want to say and explain them succinctly with a few sentences, don't feel that you have to spell out every part of the plot to your prof. Generally conflict, and hidden meanings/parables are good jumping off points for topics, so think about the conflict points in what you have been reading and think about ones that seem similar to each other, and what themes they represent.
posted by jessamyn at 4:06 PM on October 15, 2005

I'll throw in some different notes.

Go through your existing notes. Look for things that you go "shit, I forgot that". Make a set of notes from your notes.

For the essay...after you read the question, immediately...

Sketch out your (minimum) three basic premises on the side of a page. The kernels of the ideas you'll have. feel free to add to it. Do the same with the second essay.

Now as your write, you'll find that your essays are mildly organized and cohesive.
posted by filmgeek at 8:39 PM on October 15, 2005

It always helped me to re-copy parts of my notes that I thought would be relevent to the test. Really the only way to prepare for an essay test is to go to class, do the reading, and take good notes. Since you've done all that, all you need to do is (as others have said) refresh your memory.

Another important thing is getting lots of sleep before the test, eating a good meal, and trying not to stress about it too much. Then all you have to do is BS a lot. I don't know your professor, but tiny details were not the important part of essays as much as main themes and concepts.

Good luck!
posted by Kimberly at 9:28 PM on October 15, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great advice! *crosses fingers for luck anyway*
posted by Space Kitty at 10:01 PM on October 16, 2005

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