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Five Ways to Ace College Exams

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Wouldn't it be great if college classes were pass/fail, and students could focus on learning rather than competing for grades? Let's get back to the real world for a second, as I propose what I would do as a student to prepare for college exams:

1- Ask your professors to give practice quizzes. Each semester is a feeling out process for students to figure out what types of exams a professor gives. Practice quizzes, with no attached grade, can relieve stress and reveal a lot about upcoming exams. I give a ten question practice quiz prior to the first and second tests so students can see my style and tricks. While my exams are "closed book," I give students the option of taking the practices quizzes with or without notes, with the belief that students haven't fully studied at this point. After the quiz, we go over the answers together.

2- On essay exams, ask your professor if you can write answers in an outline format. It is a difficult task for professors to write objective essay exam questions. Except on open-ended questions, they are usually looking for some specific responses. Why make that professor search all throughout your flowery paragraphs for those answers? Organize responses in an outline form and underline key terms. This method will make grading faster for the professor, and thus you have a happier grader.

3- Prepare flashcards for straightforward multiple choice exam questions. Make a flashcard for each term or concept discussed in class. Put the term on the front, with a definition and example applying the term on the back. For example: the legal term, Duty to Trespassers goes on the front of an index card. On the back: In general, homeowners may be liable for creating dangerous instrumentalities on the property. E.g., Jane surrounds her home with a mote filled with water and alligators to make sure Tom stays off that freshly cut lawn. Make sure to study the flashcards in reverse. (look at the back of the card to see if you can identify the term on the front) Sample easy exam question:

Harold's home was broken into three times this year. So he dug a huge hole on his lawn near the window that robbers seek entry. Then he placed a bear trap at the bottom of the hole and cleverly covered it with small branches and leaves. One night while sneaking up to Harold's window, Tim the Robber fell in, got caught in the bear trap, and was seriously injured. The next morning, Harold went out for the newspaper and to see what he'd caught. Tim screamed: "My leg. I'm hurt!" In Tim's lawsuit for injuries, Harold will likely:
a. win because Tim was a trespasser and landowners owe no duty to trespassers.
b. lose because landowners owe a duty to keep the premises free from unreasonable dangers they create for trespassers.

I know which answer you'd like to pick. Choose the other one for exam purposes.

4- For "application" multiple choice questions, talk the material out with a study friend. A well written college exam will make you go beyond the mere memorization of material. Another sample exam question:

This morning on the way to our exam, Marcel purchased coffee at the drive-through window of a local burger establishment. With the car stopped, he placed the cup between his knees and opened the lid to add cream. Accidentally, he knocked the contents of the cup onto his lap, and hot coffee soaked through his sweat pants. He screamed: "Help me, I'm burning, and I've got a
test in 20 minutes!" After completing his exam, Marcel headed straight to the hospital, where doctors treated his third degree burns. He then sued the burger joint for failing to warn him that extremely hot coffee can rip through flesh. A jury awarded Marcel $100,000 in damages, but also found him to be 75% responsible and the defendant 25% responsible for the accident. How much money would Marcel be permitted to recover if the defendant does not appeal this verdict?
a. $100,000
b. $75,000
c. $25,000
d. $0

If you chose letter "c," then you understand the legal concept of comparative negligence. In most states, a plaintiff's award is reduced by the percentage of fault assigned by the jury for an accident. However, in my state, if a plaintiff is found to be 50% or more responsible, then that plaintiff would recover nothing from the $100,000 verdict. Thus, the correct response would be letter "d."

5- On take-home exams or term papers, your computer's Spell Check is not the same as proofreading. True story: In a legal document, an attorney asked the judge for a delay in his case because he was undergoing a delicate medical procedure on his back: Disk surgery. However, he mistakenly typed a different four letter word that looked like DISK, inserting an unfortunate "C" rather than the needed "S." Spell check didn't pick up the error, since the word was spelled correctly. The take-away: Please proof your take-home exams and papers!

Pace yourself on game day. Flip through the exam before starting, to see what you've gotten yourself into. But before taking that test, try to get on the same page with your professor, because s/he really wants you to succeed.

Excerpts taken from Perry's book, Unlocking Your Rubber Room: 44 Off-the-Wall Lessons. Follow Perry on Twitter @Perry_Binder and join his Facebook Group.