If you haven't already done so, read the General Midterm Notes
for general information about preparing for the midterms. Then read the notes specifically meant for your next exam. Pay careful attention to the reading assignments, both in the text and on the web site, and read all that material at least twice -- once to become familiar with what is there, and once to make sure that you understand the basic concepts. For some students, this may be enough to guarantee a passing grade, but for most students, it will require more work to master difficult concepts.
Refer to the midterm/final notes to find out which essay questions will be covered on the exam, then look at the list of essay questions
, both the actual questions, and the more detailed breakdowns which state exactly what topics are covered by each question. If, after doing this, you still aren't sure what you need to learn, contact me
for more specific instructions.
Refer to Preparing an Answer for Essay Question 1
for an example of how to prepare an A-plus answer for essay question 1, and to Essay Question Notes
, or as noted above the links to specific questions (which leads to the same page, but at the specific question under consideration) for a detailed breakdown of the other essay questions. If you carefully examine that material you should get a good idea of how to study for any similar exam. I will also make comments in my lectures about which material corresponds to a given essay question, and will sometimes indicate whether I am covering material which is especially important for the exams, or is only background information. You are expected to answer every part of any question which you are asked. If you only study part of a given question, your answer will be marked as incomplete, and your grade will suffer for it.
After reading the questions covered on the exam, and the topics they will cover, reread your study materials, noting where the material which is covered by each essay exam is located. If there is any part of a question which doesn't seem to be covered anywhere, contact me. Everything should be in the book, on the web site, or in your notes, but if you are having troubling finding it, I'll be glad to help you. Once you've found the material, go over it again and again, until you are sure that you understand it. (Most people need to read something three or more times before they can accurately remember it, let alone properly discuss it.) During this stage of your preparation, notes and outlines of the topics can help you organize your information, and help you better remember it (reading aloud, writing things down, and organizing them are all useful memory aids). If, despite all this you still can't understand the material, contact me, or ask questions at the start of class. If you understand the material but can't remember it, try a different approach to learning it, or go to one of the tutorial sessions at the Library for help with study tactics. etipsforagrades
provides an interesting and informative look at study methods (if you can't easily access that link, here's a PDF version
stored on my site).
Because there are several questions to study for each exam, some students skip some of them in the hope that they will not get those particular questions on their exam. This is an extremely dangerous thing to do. I often receive tests with an apology for not having studied one or more of the questions. Since any unanswered question receives an F-minus grade, I am sure that those students truly were sorry that they didn't study all of the questions.
Sometimes a student will, instead of answering one of the questions on their exam, answer a completely different question in the hope that I will give them partial credit for their answer. However, no matter how wonderful an answer you give, if it is not relevant to the question you were asked, all it tells me is that you didn't study that question, or completely misunderstood it. Either way, the appropriate grade is an F-minus. You must answer the questions you are asked, whether you've studied them or not. If you are uncertain as to what you need to cover on a given question, look at the breakdown discussed above or talk with me or both, before the exam.
I have no objection to people trying to study together, or seeking outside help as long as they do so in an intelligent way. In fact, getting together to discuss your ideas and problems can be extremely useful. You should, however, be wary of assigning study material to another student, then relying on their answers without also learning the material on your own. If you don't know the material well enough to evaluate the quality of an answer, accepting someone else's work is a risky way to prepare for an exam. Besides, if you rely on someone else to prepare an answer, what will you do if they drop the class?
I strongly recommend writing your answers prior to the test, then carefully
reading what you wrote, to see if your answer makes sense and properly conveys what you meant to say. Practicing for the exam will reinforce what you have learned, and make it easier to remember the material and put it down in a clear, correct form on the day of the exam.
Although you are encouraged to make thorough notes in preparation for the exam, you cannot use them on the day of the exam. When I grade your exam I want to know that your answers were actually in your head and understood by you at the time of the exam, so all exams are closed-book, closed-note tests.
When you answer an essay question, don't waste time writing down the question. You will turn your question sheet in with your exam, so I know what questions you were to answer. All you have to indicate is the number of each question at the start of the corresponding answer.
Some students, having learned how to prepare for an English essay exam, feel that they need to follow a particular format for an essay, with a beginning, middle, and ending. I don't want you to waste your or my time doing this. Cover each part of the question as thoroughly as possible, but with as little repetition as possible, so that you can cover more material in the same amount of time. In particular, I expect you to use tables and simple diagrams wherever possible, so that it is fast and relatively easy for you to answer those parts of your answers which can be answered in that way. Also, as you will see in class, I can't properly explain some topics without the use of diagrams, and in such circumstances you should certainly use similar diagrams in your answers. However, a diagram doesn't tell me what you know unless you explain its significance, so explain all diagrams in as much detail as possible. Please note that a simple diagram that only takes a few seconds to draw is just as good for test purposes as a complex or "pretty" diagram which takes a long time to draw, and is a waste of your limited exam time.
Try to do the following, to make it easier for me to follow your answer: (1) For exams which have more than one question, start a new question on a new page, or otherwise clearly mark its beginning. (2) Separate topics by starting a new paragraph. Do not run different ideas together without any separation.
Finally, I will be happy, if I have time, to look at notes and answers which you have prepared, and to make comments on where they can be improved, prior to the actual exam. (As an example, see Additional Notes for Question 2
, which was my reply to a question about a tentative answer to essay question 2.)