I have to admit, my middle school survival strategy was generally just to memorize everything for the time being and forget it all so I could "learn" more in the next unit. In hindsight, this was a terrible idea, but as long as we're accepting the reality of public schooling we must accept that I'm probably not the only one who got through middle school this way. For this reason I think finals are a great idea. Well, in theory.
In theory, finals and midterms serve to reiterate the concepts that we learned throughout the entire semester, allowing us (or rather forcing us) to remember all of those lessons we learned so many months ago. In practice, however, finals and midterms generally only serve to stress students out during the month (or less) before exam week.
I mentioned on twitter that "the only thing I've learned from studying for finals is that I have a school-induced lack of self-worth." I think this negative opinion of myself regarding my personal intellectual ability that is enforced (if not caused) by exam stress is significant enough to receive its own post, but I think it's worth mentioning here that all of the studying I've been doing and the trial and error (and more error) I've endured has only made me question my ability to do anything at all. And like I said in my tweet, I think that's disgusting.
I also mentioned on twitter that "I don't even know HOW to study, let alone WHAT to study." In my experience, teachers generally just tell you to "manage your time wisely," leaving what to do with that wisely managed time a complete mystery. I take an awful lot of courses, but not a single one provides any sort of instruction on how the heck we're supposed to deal with them all.
I've spent a lot of time on Google searching "how to study" and the results generally resemble what teachers will commonly tell you: manage your time (don't cram), form a study group, make flashcards, all of those run-of-the-mill tips that are basically common knowledge. But I take 7 courses with approximately 4 units each and when I sit down to study, I don't even know where to start. About here is where I usually provide some input on how to actually implement change in the way things currently are, and while I can't provide any sort of advice for students (I'll tell you once I figure it out), I think I can lay down some sort of idea of ways I wish teachers would help.
- First and foremost, the way a couple of my teachers have helped students study was to give out study sheets and packets with a general idea of what will be on the test. In many cases, this is a lot of help, however without the actual answers to the questions, the point is basically moot. It's just another assignment. Questions without answers are better than nothing, but the best thing to do is probably to actually review the answers before the test. The only thing worse for a student than having no answers is having the wrong answers. Or maybe they're just the same thing: worthless.
- Another good strategy that I've seen is to provide a sufficient amount of time during class to review rather than to just go on with another lesson. Probably the most stressful part of this whole concept is keeping up with studying for finals and whatever new unit the teacher has in store for us that won't even be on this exam.
- The last idea I have, one which I've never seen done, is to not wait until the finals are approaching to review previous material. Maybe it would be a good idea to have a test that combines everything your students have learned in the past units once after every unit. A test after unit 2 that combines units 1 and 2, a test after unit 3 that combines units 1, 2, and 3, so on and so forth. Your students might hate you for that, though. Maybe it's not such a good idea.
*Personal note: I don't know if I've spent this entire blog post just complaining about midterms. If I have, I apologize wholeheartedly. The general point that I'm trying to make here is that midterms are very stressful and I think that this could be prevented by more thorough preparation. To be honest, I've been struggling with thinking straight for the past month because of stress. And before you ask: yes, I should probably be studying right now.