Took my other final today. I’m done with Summer Session ‘12!
I was going to audit some more classes before the fall, but I can feel I’m getting burned out a little, so better to study casually until Sept.
Speaking of studying, the way I go about it now is different than when I started with classes this past September.
LECTURES: In the beginnning I would sit in lecture, take notes, and “listen for what I thought I should remember”. You know, like when you go to a Digital Conference. Jesus, really? It took me two quarters to realize that I was sifting the course’s information like that. In the spring, I decided (rightly so) that EVERYTHING coming out of the professor’s mouth was something I should remember.
Most of my adult life (the past 10 years especially) I have utilized a kind of “mental triage”. All adults do, I assume, especially if they have kids or are in any kind of managerial position. You look at a situation (or a tumble of many situations) and you quickly decide what needs attention immediately, later, or never. I think I’d brought that kind of thinking into lectures in the beginning, but now I know better.
EXAMS: When I sat down to my first college exam, I was stunned. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t easy at all. Hell, I’d jumped into a college-level coding class with no previous coding experience; of course the exam was going to be hard. And the next one and the next one and the next one. My “test-taking skills needed work”, to say the least.
So I changed a few things:
I start studying for the mid-term on the first day of class instead of a couple of days before the exam.
I assume the test will be harder than anything else we’ve done in the homeworks. (Hey, if I’m wrong, bully for me).
I try to understand the concept forwards AND BACKWARDS. (NOT doing this has caused me to do poorly on CS exams. If I understand how to do something one way, I can be sure that the related question on the exam with ask me to use that concept upside-down and twisted, so I’d better know how it works/looks from all angles.) (BTW, It’s really telling that CS exams are “open book/open notes”. I mean you can bring in whatever information you think your’e going to need and STILL not do well on the exam.)
I start making my “cheat sheet” (the page of notes most professors allow you to take into the exam) about two weeks before, gradually placing concepts on there with which I’ve noticed I’m shaky, ditto with doing all the related odd-numbered problems in the text book (beyond the ones assigned for homework). (The odd-numbered problem answers are usually in the back.)
Go to as many Professor and TA office hours as I can. (I was already doing that before. It’s excellent.)
Search the Internet for any tutorials on whatever concepts I still don’t have solidly. (Was already doing that. TheNewBoston.org for basic C++ programming and KahnAcademy.org for calculus have been great.)
Get a hold of 2 or 3 old exams from that professor either on coursehero.com or through the UCLA Test Bank. Was alredy doing that before, but the difference now is that I get myself to a point where I could answer any of those TYPES of questions right away. (OK. As close as possible.) Any areas I’m weak, I do the odd-numbers questions in the text book. (See above.)
If the exam is on a Thursday, I study intensely starting the week before and finish that “cheat sheet” over the weekend as if I am taking the exam on MONDAY. Monday through Thursday, I can really bone up on anything that comes up in lecture/discussion that I realize don’t know well enough.
And generally, I always have my lecture notes with me in the car in case there’s traffic and I can use the time studying instead of yelling “I’m wasting time here!” in my car. For an exam where the Professor does not allow a “cheat sheet”, I still make one and stare at it constantly so my brain can take a picture of it.
Look, I’ve only taken a year’s worth of exams, but thank God I was lucky enough to learn how to better take them before the start of my freshman year coming up.
STUDYING: I really want to know all this stuff, so I pretty much study all the time. Some people don’t like that, but shit, I’ve got one chance to make this happen and I’m not going to miss it.
Pandora on the laptop? Check.
Bag of carrots (in case I get hungry so I don’t have to annoyingly pack up all my crap, leave the library, and get in line at Subway)? Check.
Candy? Check. CHECK.
STUDY SPOTS: I like the UCLA libraries over a coffee shop (ick) or my house for studying. Too many distractions at the house even if there’s no one else there. Bills to pay, etc, etc. Better to just have the studying to do and that’s it.
There are three libraries I like at UCLA. Science & Engineering (top floor of Boelter Hall), Powell, and YRL. In that order.
S & E is always quiet and has the most studious people in there. There are no distracting people in there. My favorite place to study.
Powell is a good place to study if you get one of those partitioned desks (seen above!!), especially by the window. If you get a spot at one of the communal tables, you risk sitting next to someone “dramatically studying”. (More on that later.)
YRL is a really nice library. The Reading Room is very cozy and the other study areas are very modern and colorful, BUT, a bit too much “dramatic studying” going on there. What I mean is that someone will sit next to you (or opposite you—the worst) who is huffing and puffing through their work, like they want you to know how hard they are studying. Listen, I applaud anyone studying, but this is a bit like sitting next to someone on an airplane who you can feel is just tingling with a desire to have a conversation with you. Very distracting.
That’s it on the topic now. I’m sure I’ll have some more painfully obvious “revelations” about exam-taking in the future.
(EDIT: A couple of other things have helped a lot over the past year; buying the books ahead of time to a class about which I’m concerned and getting familiar with the text AND auditing a class beforehand that I know will be hard. Auditing has saved me. You can sit in on virtually any class, but if you want to also take the tests and turn in projects to be graded, e-mail the professor and ask them if you can audit in that manor. I haven’t had one refuse me yet. Even if you just sit in on a few lectures, you’ll be that far ahead when you “take it for real”.)