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Preparing for a problem solving exam

Preparing for an exam starts from the beginning of the semester.

Here is how you prepare yourself starting about three weeks before the exam:

  1. Get the big picture
  2. Practice doing problems
  3. Connect concepts and procedures
  4. Study with others in the class

Get the big picture

Go over your course outline, chapter topics, and class notes: make a list of the main topics or concepts in the course

  • Review topic by topic; using the semester planner, plan your studies to make sure that you can cover every topic before the exam
  • Prepare summary sheets for each topic: list concepts, different procedures based on each concept,  procedure steps, exceptions, tricky bits, etc.
  • Test yourself on these summary sheets: explain procedures in words, recall formulas, exceptions, etc.

Practice doing problems under exam conditions

  • Do lots and lots of problems without using your notes or textbooks
  • If you get stuck, work out what you didn’t know and do more of the same type of problem.
  • Photocopy problems from all the chapters you are responsible for in your text, cut them up and put them in a box; then pull problems to do randomly without notes
  • Do old exams, if you can get them, without accessing your notes and with a time limit. If not, ask your classmates to design exam question
  • Solve questions that your classmates have designed (and you have not seen) to simulate an exam situation

Connect concepts and procedures

Try to make hierarchies, flow charts or other types of visual aids to show how one concept can be used in various ways or to compare similar procedures. Most of us have strong visual memories which can kick in when intuition fails under the pressure of an exam

Study with others in your course

  • Explain to each other how to do difficult problems.
  • Predict/design exam questions on the most important concepts.
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