2014-05-02

Preparing for a Final Exam

What's the best way to prepare for a cumulative Final Exam? That can be a little ominous, and the "best" way to study can vary considerably from person to person. At this point, you've (hopefully) found something that works for you, whether that means a quiet corner in the newly remodeled library or a lounge with a little more "white noise". Go with the method that works for you!

With that as a foundation, what should you study? It's probably not a good idea to just sit down with the textbook and start reading on page 1. Use the tools you have available to focus and prioritize your studying time and energy!

1. Start with the exams you've already taken!
Look back at your exams. There are things that you knew very well when you took Exam 1 that have gotten a little foggy over the past few months. The good thing is that you knew that material fairly recently, so it'll probably just take a little review to freshen up those concepts and problems.
What about things you didn't do well on earlier exams? Chemistry (and many other fields...) is a cumulative subject. We tend to look at things from a bunch of different directions, and we often approach a concept or problem 2 or 3 different ways over the course of the semester and year. In the past few months, we might have looked at something differently in a way that suddenly makes perfect sense to you.
Use your exams to jot down and prioritize things to study. It won't be a perfect list, but it will give you a good starting point.

2. Review notes from class
Once you've identified the things you need to review, look back at your notes from class.(Sometimes this serves as a reminder to take better notes in the future!) For some topics, a brief reminder from your notes will be all that you need to bring these concepts and problems up from the cold, dark storage room of your memory. For others, it's a good way to once again identify and prioritize your study topics.

3. Use the book
For topics that are still fuzzy, look up key words in the index to help you find a good place to start. Not sure you remember integrated rate laws? Look it up in the index and hit those pages!
It's also not a bad idea to skim over sections that you're pretty sure you understand. Once you're fairly comfortable with a topic, it becomes easier to pick up some of the more subtle points.
End-of-chapter problems can also be helpful because they present information a little bit differently than I do. I'm not talking "better" or "worse" here, the book just uses different wording to ask the same questions I ask. At the end of my class, I don't just want you to be good at answering questions that I write, I want you to understand chemistry, even if someone else is asking the questions.

If you get through all of those steps and still have time, energy, and a thirst for more knowledge, use your favorite tool to search the World Wide Interwebs Net or stop in and chat with me. This isn't a perfect list of study tips, but it's a good place to start. Identify topics, prioritize your studying time and energy, look for connections and common themes in the material, and good luck. You can do it!

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