Exam Strategies for the under-prepared test takers

I hope you’ve taken the advantage of the brief respite from the grueling university schedule to catch up and prepare for the onslaught of midterms. If you’ve managed your time well, then congratulations! You know, your capability on self-management tends to increase in a snowball fashion – being able to discipline yourself on one occasion gives you the confidence to better manage yourself in the future as well.

On the other hand, If you came out of the reading week having hardly touched a single page of reading, well, what’s done is done, and beating yourself up over it isn’t exactly going to help anyone. The spirit might be willing, but the flesh is weak; instead of studying and catching up on your courses, you might have devoted more time to catching up on your favorite shows on Netflix than doing anything else. In this case, it’s likely that your body desperately needed that break after months of intense studying and no amount of self-discipline can deny the body’s needs indefinitely.

Whichever case you might find yourself in, you still have to face the one fact that is as immutable as the gravity itself in every student’s life: the exams are coming.

You can't change a bad situation, but you can always choose how you'll face it.
You can’t change a bad situation, but you can always choose how you’ll face it.

I sometimes like to think of exams as a hunt for the answers, in a manner not so different from the way a detective trying to piece clues together to hunt down the criminal. So, if you’ve studied hard, you have more information, or more clues you can use to hunt down the answer. These extra clues can make your hunt much more efficient, as they reduce the amount of gaps you have to fill in to arrive at the correct conclusion.

That’s why adequate preparation is highly recommend by all professionals for dealing with an exam.

However, sometimes, detectives don’t have a whole lot of clues to work with at the beginning, which is a situation similar to writing an exam without a lot of preparation because, say, you’ve watched Netflix instead. Without many clues, the detectives have to synthesize a lot of information and theories to fill in the gap in order to catch the criminal; making this process much less efficient. However, being less efficient doesn’t mean you won’t get the right answer, it simply means that you’ll need to compensate for the lack of clues by using clear thinkinggood logic and extra time to take the extra steps required to arrive at the answer.

That’s why some people only need to study a few hours to do well on an exam – they can synthesize/deduce all the extra information they need from a few basic principles on the fly.

So, for my Netflix people, solid deduction and cool logic is your best bet to finding that elusive answer on the exam. Unfortunately though, they also tend to be the ones to cave in psychologically on the exam – they tend to panic at the first sight of a word they don’t know – and we all know that panic and logical deduction mix about as well as lemon juice and toothpaste. So here’s my take home message, don’t let your feelings of guilt and inadequacies lead you to panic – that’s about as good as disarming yourself of only line of defense left to you. Instead, try to accept the fact that although you’re limited in the amount of clues given to you, you’re not limited in your ability to deduce and reason, which you can still use to great effect – if you can remain clear-headed enough to do so.


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