Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Believe it or not, I’m teaching chemistry again. Not for money, but I’m creating a series of videos available on my video sharing service. The course is a college-level pre-chemistry course, that is, the kind of course non-majors and students with no previous chemistry experience would take. Of course, it’s not backed by any educational institution, and cannot be used for college level credit even though it is a college level course. I mention this because this week, if it were an official course, would be midterms. Now, of course, I’m not giving exams for this course since it’s not an official course anyway, but it got me to thinking about when I was in college.
The other students didn’t really like me. I would always show up to class early, and as all of the students around me would have books open and notes out getting in last minute cramming, I would just sit with a stupid grin on my face watching them. What’s worse, I always finished exams at least ten minutes early, and usually more. No, I wasn’t an “A” student, but I was fast. I think that I ticked off my chemistry professor by doing this, though.
One day, he walked in with a rather thick exam, and told us not to worry about finishing it. Part of the test, he said, was to see how far we could get on it in the allotted time. Well, I, of course, took this as a challenge. Tell me I can’t do something, and by Cthulhu, Imma do it. So I set off on the exam, and it did take me longer than usual, but sure enough, with five minutes left, all eyes were on me as I walked down the isle to turn my completed exam in to the professor. He looked at me incredulously. “Are you giving up?” he asked. “Well, no, it’s finished,” I replied. “You finished it? You answered every question?” “I don’t know if the answers are correct,” I responded, “but there’s an answer for every question.” I smiled as I walked out.
Maybe it wasn’t the brightest way to approach academics. I’ve been told that a student should take the entire allotted time and go over the answers as long as possible, but that’s just not me. I get bored double checking my work, as you may have noticed the typos in my blogs. Once it’s done, in my mind’s eye, it’s done, and I’m willing to accept the consequences of my actions. It’s okay. But around midterms, I started another routine.
I’ve never liked cramming. I think it’s common for students to hold off on studying for final exams until the last possible minute, then put in “all-nighters” in preparation. I never liked this. It just seemed like too much stress, so I came up with a scheme, and it worked like a charm. As such, I stayed with it every year for the remainder of my studies.
Around midterm, I would come up with a study schedule for finals. Yes, I would still do my regular assigned homework at the same time, but every night I studied for finals for two hours, no more and no less. I actually created a schedule, giving more time to the courses I struggled the most with and liked the least figuring that they were the courses that I needed most help with anyway. Every night I would study one subject for two hours, or two subjects for one hour each according to the schedule. The nights before a final, I still limited myself to just two hours as per the schedule. If there was one exam the next day, that subject would get two hours. If there were more than two exams (which happened but rarely), the subject I was most confident about I didn’t even study.
There were a couple of marvelous benefits to doing my studies this way. First, I had fabulous reviews for the exams, because I’d been studying for them for many weeks already. Second, I actually got sleep the night before an exam. Since I only studied for two hours, I could go to bed at a reasonable time allowing me to be alert and fully awake for the exam. Finally, my self-confidence was sky-high. I’ve no doubt that this approach to studying for exams was the only reason I graduated. So, yes, I’m going to make an actual recommendation for you. If you’re taking classes, mark out two hour blocks every day, weekends included, to begin your reviews for the final exams. You can thank me later.