How do I learn stuff for in-class exams?

Deciding what to remember may sound easy, but in a school setting, it has pitfalls at both extremes. Imagine the student who highlights nearly every passage in a textbook; this student thinks everything is important (or he or she can't tell the difference between what's important and what's not). The result is simply having too much to try to remember. Or take the student who highlights very little; he or she assumes that little is worth noting. Unfortunately, the instructor will likely have a different point of view and the student will be unprepared for the exam.

 Somewhere in between lies the magical zone of determining what and how much to remember. But how do you determine the proper amount of what to remember? Ask these questions:

  • How much of the exam will come from the lectures or the readings?

  • What kinds of information will be stressed on the exam?

  • How detailed will some of the test items be?

  • Will the test include items on only the material covered since the last exam? Or will the exam cover all material in the class so far?

You can find the answers to these questions in a variety of ways:

  • Watch for clues from the instructor. Whatever he or she writes on the board, underlines, repeats, or emphasizes in some other way is likely material for the exam.

  • Be an alert listener and reader. Often, an instructor tells the class important information about exams, or he or she will distribute a handout.

  • Ask the instructor. General questions about the scope of the exam are usually welcome, but remember that no instructor will tell you exactly what's on the test — no matter how hard you try.

  • When you take a test in a course, note the kinds of questions being asked as a reference for future tests.