How to maximize my chances of passing?September 7, 2023 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any tips or tricks for making the most out of my study time and/or keeping myself in the right headspace for exams for a must-pass class?

I am currently taking a course for the second time that is a requirement for the grad program I'd like to take.

I also have two kids under 6 and a full time job and a house to take care of and a spouse who is also working and also in school.

I have my first exam (out of 5 total) in a week and I am feeling... not great... about it.

Does anyone have any tips or tricks for making the most out of my study time and/or keeping myself in the right headspace for the exam?

More details: The class is a graduate level probability class starting with complex counting problems and then proceeding through discrete and continuous distributions and moment generating functions. The exams typically have at least one proof and tend to have much harder questions than the ones in the homework. I am allowed any calculator that doesn't connect to the internet, plus 2 pages of notes. The last time through I got a C.
posted by anyone_really to Education (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: Speaking as someone who aced statistics in grad school (also while working) after getting an abysmal grade in the stats in college, I really focused my study time on deeply understanding each type of problem and making the best study sheet possible. This is what I did for all my problem-based courses:

Prep: The instructor textbook with problem results was in the library, so I took pictures of all the answers at the beginning of the course.

1. I would do an assigned problem and check my results. If I didn't get it right, I would work to understand why, using outside resources like youtube if needed.

2. Next, I would write down how to solve this type of problem as if I were explaining it to someone else.

3. After writing these notes, I'd try a similar problem with my notes and see if I got the answer correct. Repeat as needed, fixing the sheet to clarify if you're still not getting it.

In the end, I had a stellar study sheet and a good understanding of how to use it.

I was so scared of that course based on my past experience, but at the end of a semester of working like that, I was the person who finished the exam first with total confidence and got glares when I walked out of the room early! And I didn't necessarily spend tons of time studying.
posted by beyond_pink at 7:53 AM on September 7, 2023 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Good news! lifehacker has been doing a series on this!

https://lifehacker.com/use-the-feynman-method-to-study-1850809398
https://lifehacker.com/use-distributed-practice-to-better-retain-what-you-st-1850808691
https://lifehacker.com/overlearning-can-force-important-information-into-your-1850797539
https://lifehacker.com/the-best-ways-to-beat-the-forgetting-curve-while-studyi-1850791645
posted by evilmonk at 8:21 AM on September 7, 2023 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I can't speak to stats but I do have testing advice. Your exam is in a week. You mention that your spouse is working and in school. This week is the time for them to step in a give you some help so you can get into the right headspace.

Let the house go for a week, order pizza or eat blue box mac and cheese every day, and get yourself to a quiet place where you can review. Also make sure you get in a brief walk outside every day to clear your head. Your job this week (outside of full time work hours) is exam prep and rest, everything else can wait.

It's really hard to get into professional headspace when you are also thinking about the dishes, and the kid laundry, and the dinners, and the home repair. You need your spouse on board with you for giving you the time this week, just as you would do the same for them if they had a critical exam. Can they do all the bed times? Can they take the kids out to the playground for a few hours both days this weekend? The best way to study is having time to study.
posted by donut_princess at 10:50 AM on September 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh and also, I always plan not to study the night before an exam. I skim an overall outline of the topics to be covered, spend 10 minutes thinking about what will be easier among those things, and then I do completely unrelated things and let my brain rest and absorb before going to bed on time.
posted by donut_princess at 10:56 AM on September 7, 2023

Best answer: Can you get hold of past papers? I found those very helpful.
posted by meepmeow at 9:56 PM on September 7, 2023

Best answer: What did you struggle with the most last time?

I did a math test recently and for me the most difficult part was time. I can do the work but I am very slow. The first time I took the test, the only managed to finish about half of it. I was five marks off passing. Luckily I got to resit the test.

Before the resit, I did at least one practice test each day at close to exam conditions.

One goal was to get really fast at the easier parts of the test, so that I had a little bit more leeway for the harder questions.

Doing the practice tests helped me identify which areas I needed to improve on. I worked on learning that under normal conditions and refined my notes.

I read an article the other day which suggested that the best way to learn is to read/do the work, sleep or meditate, and then review after the rest.

I agree with the comment about not doing much studying the night before. I will review my notes or watch YouTube videos on the topic, but mostly try to rest and not stress.

Good luck!
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:46 AM on September 8, 2023

I think you've got great comments on the substance of the subject. My comments are more for memorization (sciences).

* Note. Cards. *

Physical cards, handwritten, even if v messy. A question or 3 on one side and answers on the other. If you do multiple questions, they must be unrelated, or you'll chain knowledge and won't be able to retrieve it out of order.

The most important thing is *making the cards*.

I often finished making the cards the night before exams and had time for one complete or even a partial review of my cards. While nerve wracking, making them is the magic, not reviewing them. Bonus is you can use them to prepare for the final, assuming your exam is cumulative.

Other than that, figure out when your brain works best and dedicate that time to study, even if you have to take leave or make up work time.

Figure out what environment works best - coffee shop, library, alone on a weekend at your desk at work, etc. And what's your optimal 'assists' for that environment? Post-run, one cup of coffee beyond your usual, headphones and snacks, what kind of music? This is all "learning how to learn" shit, but it comes down to controlling your environment to maximize cramming this stuff into your brain. It's individual, but you're looking to artificially set up your environment to put you in a highly motivated flow state.

Post emam, I'm not kidding, but make concrete plans for some sort of decompression. Scream in your car, go for a run, call a friend and cry about how horrible you're sure you did, take a nap in the library, etc. Preferably loud and or very aerobic and physical - you're 'completing the stress response' (a la Burnout research).

Expect nothing of yourself, including being there for kids/spouse, until you've done something to burn off the stress (research is in Burnout book). Then go home, start to pick up the pieces of whatever you dropped that doesn't take a lot of thinking (for me this was cleaning, but no fam). Reconnect with loved ones, immerse yourself in that and pick up the stress from your partner while they go do what they need to do.

Have a very long sleep (usually takes more than 1 day to calm down enough to sleep properly for me but ymmv) before you log onto the program website, look at your grade, or start planning for the next exam.

Life: meal plan and batch laundry at the same time. Cook once a week and eat a lot of bean-focused leftovers. Have a go-to like black bean and cheese tacos that everyone likes and won't kill anyone to eat for a week straight. Don't do that, but have those foods in the house because you'll need them at some point. If you can, try to keep this on the less-processed side for your brain/performance, but that's bonus points (ie if it's hot dogs or corn dogs or frozen pizza, that's what it is, don't beat yourself up over it).

Your kids are learning life skills from you that they'll need for the next 10-20y of their lives (studying) and for successful relationships (communication, balance, how to do hard shit together), and work (balancing work with demanding post-work things plus hopefully physical activity for stress). It doesn't matter if they eat mostly beans and cheese for the next 2 years, because they're learning important skills from you - including how to take a setback and keep going,take a break for a run around the park/playground, etc, do unconventional things and be creative about money.

I'm trying to say to work with your spouse and kids to drop some balls so you can all be successful. You're teaching them valuable shit even if you aren't doing Disney world and playdates and lazy weekends with no responsibilities (ie still good parents).

You can do it! It's hard, but you'll figure out what you need to do to succeed in school.
posted by esoteric things at 2:16 PM on September 11, 2023

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