3.10.2011

exams suck and i am nervous

I have an exam next week, the most dreaded part of my most dreaded course. This will be the first real exam I've taken since university, some 30 years ago. I had one exam last term, but it was open-notebook. This is closed book, part multiple-choice and part short-answer. It's 35% of my grade. And I am nervous.

I don't care about getting a good grade. My only goal is to pass. But I do have to pass.

I understand the concepts of the course - most of them, anyway - but I am worried about my recall. My crappy memory. My fuzzy brain. Like many people, I find it very difficult to absorb material that I'm not at all engaged with.

The whole thing just seems so stupid: trying to force this stuff into my brain so that I can regurgitate it to prove I've learned it. I'd much rather write a paper.

In addition, I'm nervous. That isn't helping!

Test-takers and test-givers, I have a strategy question for you, bearing in mind I'm aiming for a B-minus, the lowest possible passing grade. Of 10 course units, I have a decent grasp of eight and a poor grasp of two. Do I spend more time trying to get a better handle on the weakest two? Or should I focus on trying to do well on the less-shaky eight, and consider whatever I manage to recall on the troubling two a bonus?

27 comments:

Amy said...

Multiple choice and short answer tests are crazy. Is there an essay portion to it also? Sounds like a lazy professor to me, though writing good multiple choice questions can be very challenging. I tried once, and my questions were either too obvious or too obscure. Never did that again!

As for your strategy question, I hesitate to say because I have no idea what the prof will cover on the exam. Has the emphasis of the course been on the 8 or the 2, or is everything more or less equally emphasized? If the latter or the emphasis on the 8, then I would say focus on the 8. OTOH, if the professor is sneaky and unfair, he/she might test on the 2 just to "catch" those who thought that they could ignore the 2. Or might use the 2 harder points to weed out the A's from the B's.

Is there a curve? What percentage get below a B-? What is the other 65% of the grade based on? These are all relevant questions to the question of how important this test is to your ultimate grade. Do you need a B- on this test or in the course itself?

Anyway, just remember that you have always done well in this program and in school generally and that even your fuzzy brain is probably smarter than most of the other brains taking the test!

Steve said...

A well written assessment would be derived from well written learning objectives.

If you were able to figure out the learning objectives of the course, you could theoretically figure out what is on the test.

Is the exam summative or formative?
If you could figure out where the emphasis on instruction was, ie. if you spent 50% of your class time on 4 of the 10 modules, then you should expect 50% of the questions to come from the 4 modules.

I looked in The Systematic Design of Instruction, p 154, and Dick, et el, suggest Multiple Choice are good for more low-level knowledge assessment.

-Test designer.

laura k said...

She's not lazy. This material doesn't lend itself to essays very well. Our papers are mock research projects. There's not really much you could write an essay about.

What I said here is the whole test: half multiple choice, half short answer (3-4 sentences).

The exam will be on the whole course equally. I don't believe she's sneaky or trying to trick us. If anything, she wants to see everyone pass and do well. She continually tries to assauge our anxiety and tell us what to expect.

So you think focus on the 8. I'm leaning towards that, because I have a better shot at doing well on 80% than I do of learning that 20%.

laura k said...

Sorry, I missed the rest of your comment!

Is there a curve? What percentage get below a B-?

No curve. You get what you get. 50 multiple choice q's worth 1 pt each, 10 short answers worth 5 pts each.

What is the other 65% of the grade based on?

Two papers. One was a proposal for survey design, the other will be an ethics protocol.

Do you need a B- on this test or in the course itself?

The course itself, but I don't know if I can fail this test and still pass the course. I got a B+ on the first paper and don't expect more than that on the final paper.

Anyway, just remember that you have always done well in this program and in school generally and that even your fuzzy brain is probably smarter than most of the other brains taking the test!

Thank you very much. :) Not sure if that's true, tho. My writing ability has given me a huge edge on papers. That won't apply here!

laura k said...

Steve, could you translate that a bit? I know what will be on the test, but I don't know what your comment means.

Amy said...

Given what you said, i.e., that she is fair and wants everyone to do well, I would assume that she will emphasize whatever she has emphasized in class. I always try to write my exams that way, and I like to think I am being fair.

I don't know how skilled she is writing at multiple choice questions. Does she use her own or some test bank? Like I said, I was not good at it at all. Hopefully these will be good questions that test your knowledge, not your ability to game the questions.

Your writing skills will help with the short answers, even if only because you will be able to express yourself clearly.

Oh, and good luck! That always helps, too. Especially with multiple choice...or multiple guess, as some students call them. :)

laura k said...

Thank you :)

She writes her own test. It's new for this class.

I thought the grading on the 1st paper was pretty easy. I don't think my paper deserved a B+, but almost everyone in the class got that grade. Maybe they'll go easy on the multiple choice. :/

laura k said...

Uhhh... I meant go easy on the short answer. Yeesh.

allan said...

I know L is nervous, but I don't see how she will fail. She understands the concepts and she contributed to class discussions. Plus it sounds like a lot of other students are worried, too, and I cannot see how 1/3 (or whatever) of the class could fail this course.

I predict a future post in which L says sections of the test were tough, but not too many parts, and she thinks she probably did well enough. And she will have, and the class will be passed. And all the information learned therein will then be forgotten forever.

Cool Hand Luke said...

Relax. You'll do great!

Amy said...

Allan, I am sure Laura appreciates your faith in her. Harvey would always say things like that to me when I was in law school. And though I truly appreciated his confidence in me, it did almost nothing to make me any less nervous!

impudent strumpet said...

What kind of a percentage is a B-?

If a B- is 70%, then you have to get 70/100. But if you're writing off two course units, then you lose 20% of the possible points (assuming course units are evenly distributed), so you have to get 70/80 to pass. 70/80 = 87.5%.

How close are you to getting 87.5% on the eight good units? How much better a mark would you get if you studied exclusively those? What kind of a mark would you get on the bad units if you studied?

johngoldfine said...

Have you ever read 'Understood Betsy'? Wonderful book!

"Cousin Ann," she said unhappily, "the Superintendent visited our school this afternoon."

"Did he?" said Cousin Ann, dipping a thermometer into the boiling syrup.

"Yes, and we had examinations! " said Betsy.

"Did you?" said Cousin Ann, holding the thermometer up to the light and looking at it.

"And you know how perfectly awful examinations make you feel," said Betsy, very near to tears again.

"Why, no," said Cousin Ann, sorting over syrup tins. "They never made me feel awful. I thought they were sort of fun."

"Fun! " cried Betsy, indignantly, staring through the beginnings of her tears.

"Why, yes. Like taking a dare, don't you know. Somebody stumps you to jump off the [Page 142] hitching-post, and you do it to show 'em. I always used to think examinations were like that. Somebody stumps you to spell 'pneumonia,' and you do it to show 'em. Here's your cup of syrup. You'd better go right out and wax it while it's hot."

Elizabeth Ann automatically took the cup in her hand, but she did not look at it. "But supposing you get so scared you can't spell 'pneumonia' or anything else!" she said feelingly. "That's what happened to me. You know how your mouth gets all dry and your knees . . . " She stopped. Cousin Ann had said she did not know all about those things. "Well, anyhow, I got so scared I could hardly stand up! And I made the most awful mistakes–things I know just as well! I spelled 'doubt' without any b and 'separate' with an e, and I said Iowa was bounded on the north by Wisconsin, and I . . . "

"Oh, well," said Cousin Ann, "it doesn't matter if you really know the right answers, does it? That's the important thing." [Page 143]

This was an idea which had never in all her life entered Betsy's brain and she did not take it in at all now. She only shook her head miserably and went on in a doleful tone. "And I said 13 and 8 are 22! and I wrote March without any capital M, and I . . . "

"Look here, Betsy, do you want to tell me all this?" Cousin Ann spoke in this quick, ringing voice she had once in a while which made everybody, from old Shep up, open his eyes and get his wits about him. Betsy gathered hers and thought hard; and she came to an unexpected conclusion. No, she didn't really want to tell Cousin Ann all about it. Why was she doing it? Because she thought that was the thing to do. "Because if you don't really want to," went on Cousin Ann, "I don't see that it's doing anybody any good. I guess Hemlock Mountain will stand right there just the same even if you did forget to put a b in 'doubt.' And your syrup will be too cool to wax right if you don't take it out pretty soon." [Page 144]

She turned back to stoke the fire, and Elizabeth Ann, in a daze, found herself walking out of the door. It fell shut after her, and there she was under the clear, pale-blue sky, with the sun just hovering over the rim of Hemlock Mountain. She looked up at the big mountains, all blue and silver with shadows and snow, and wondered what in the world Cousin Ann had meant. Of course Hemlock Mountain would stand there just the same. But what of it? What did that have to do with her arithmetic, with anything? She had failed in her examination, hadn't she?


Good luck but I don't think l-girl aka Laura K will need it.

impudent strumpet said...

But what are they doing with the syrup?

Amy said...

I usually think of a B- as an 80. If the teacher is really not curving the grades, then according to IS's math, you would have to get 80/80 of the questions on the 8 topics you feel confident about to get 80 out of 100. But as you said, you don't need a B- on this test---just in the course. So there is some room for error. Plus that assumes you would get nothing right on questions about the other two topics.

It also assumes that there really is no curve at all. The professor may very well decide that 80% on this test is a B or even a B+, depending on how the class does overall. In a high school math class, I once got 40% correct, and it was still a B- because the best grade on the test was something like 60%.

johngoldfine said...

"But what are they doing with the syrup?"

You take the hot syrup out and pour it in curlicues on nice fresh snow--it freezes instantly, making maple syrup lace-candy. When I make syrup--remember I have six dogs hanging around--there is no way I would ever pour fresh syrup on the snow around here.

Sorry to go off-topic, laura k--but it is sap & syrup season here in Maine....

I haven't taken a serious exam in over 40 years but still have nightmares about them, even though I was always a good taker of tests.

laura k said...

Hey, thanks everybody. Much appreciated.

There might be some kind of curve in terms of what percentage equals a B-, B, etc. Because I notice on the first paper, there was one B- and no one failed. So they could have used a curve for that.

So while it is "you get what you get" numerically, there may be a curve to calculate what the numbers translate into. (I don't know the technical terminology for that.)

From what Imp Strump says, I think I'd better learn the two difficult units somewhat better than I do now, to give myself more breathing room on the other 8.

I appreciate your confidence in me, my friends.

I haven't read about Betsy yet, have to wake up more.

laura k said...

I predict a future post in which L says sections of the test were tough, but not too many parts, and she thinks she probably did well enough. And she will have, and the class will be passed. And all the information learned therein will then be forgotten forever.

I will visualize that first part. The 2nd and 3rd parts - passing the class then forgetting everything - I can almost guarantee.

And though I truly appreciated his confidence in me, it did almost nothing to make me any less nervous!

I think Allan is underestimating the fuzziness of my brain and the sleep-inducing quality of the material.

Last night he helped me study, and that made me less nervous, made me feel better. We're going to do more on Monday (test is Weds, but I have another class on Tues, so Monday is last big study day).

johngoldfine said...

Knock 'em dead, break a leg, show 'em who's boss hoss!

johngoldfine said...

You met the enemy and--?

allan said...

You met the enemy and--?

... allan was right.

Amy said...

And we all knew he would be, didn't we? :)

laura k said...

I was waiting to update this until I got my grade, but clearly a faster response is called for!

The test went all right. I'm sure I passed, and I might have done pretty well.

You know, I appreciate everybody's confidence in me, but it kind of comes off sounding like I was making a fuss over nothing. The material was not easy or intuitive for me, my memory is not good, and the experinece was very stressful - not without reason. Hmph. :/

Amy said...

I don't think anyone who has ever taken an exam or given an exam would think that you were making a fuss over nothing. I think our confidence was in your ability to work as hard as you needed to in order to do as well as you needed to. I know from my experiences as a teacher that hard work is the biggest key to academic success.

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy. :)

Allan might disagree, but he had to live with the fuss! I felt a bit vindicated when he was quizzing me and he said, "This stuff is so boring!"

allan said...

Allan might disagree, but he had to live with the fuss! I felt a bit vindicated when he was quizzing me and he said, "This stuff is so boring!"

The fuss was intense, but I have no doubt it was real. As far as the quizzing, Laura did seem to have a grasp on 85% (or whatever) of it, and it was impressive. I question whether I could summon the brainpower to give a damn or insist my brain retain the information. I imagine having arguments, telling my brain to just hang onto it for another 4 days. That's probably what L was doing.

laura k said...

Aw, thank you, sweetie. :)

OK, sorry about that earlier. I was misinterpreting.

John, I meant to say I appreciate your following up. I updated Amy and others on Facebook but didn't think to do it in this thread. It was nice of you to think of me.