Multiple-Choice Exams

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Hey guys! Today’s short-but-sweet post is about the best ways to study for and take a multiple-choice exam. So without further ado…

1. STUDY APPROPRIATELY

Multiple-choice exams generally focus on facts and little details, so your studying should be adjusted accordingly to reflect this. My favorite way to study for multiple-choice is to use flashcards. Space out your study time into short, regular review sessions so your brain has time to absorb all the new information. Make up your own practice tests (it’s relatively easy to predict multiple-choice questions), find some online, or have a friend quiz you. Acronyms, mnemonics, and making creative associations (i.e. putting vocab words into funny sentences) can also help you memorize faster.

Make sure to pay special attention to these things when studying for a multiple-choice test:

  • important people
  • significant events and their dates
  • vocabulary and definitions
  • theories
  • formulas

2. AVOID TRAPS

Formulate an answer before looking at the choices. This will prevent you from being thrown off by deceptively worded answers.

Read all the choices before answering. Oftentimes, all the answer choices are technically correct, but you’ll have to compare them together to determine which one best answers the question. You might also miss out on an “All of the Above” option if you latch onto the first answer without looking at the others.

Identify the differences between answer choices. Many choices look similar except for a few subtle differences. Watch out for absolutes such as “always” and “never”, similar words such as “hypotension” and “hypertension”, and opposites such as + and -.

Check to make sure you’ve answered the right question. Especially for math questions, test-makers will try to trick you by asking for the value of, say, 2x, as opposed to x. Always double-check to see if your answer actually answers the question. If it’s a fill-in-the-blank question, read the question and the answer together to ensure it makes sense.

3. TRICK THE TEST

Use the test to take the test. Sometimes you can get hints from information contained in other questions.

Watch out for grammar. Look for pronoun-antecedent and subject-verb agreement issues. Sometimes careless teachers only read back over the correct answer without also checking incorrect answers. You might be able to eliminate a few choices if they don’t make sense in the context of the question. Disclaimer: this will only work for in-class assessments, not standardized tests. I also don’t recommend this strategy unless you’ve got a very solid grasp on grammar already– don’t go looking up what an antecedent is for the sole purpose of “tricking” a test.

Choose B or C when in doubt. Again, this will not work on standardized tests, where all the answers are distributed randomly, but studies have shown that teachers tend to make the correct answer B or C more often than A or D.

4. SAVE TIME

Watch your time. Look up at the clock every so often to make sure you’re on target to finish in time. Give yourself the last 5-10 minutes to check your work.

Skip it and move on. Usually all questions on multiple-choice tests have the same point value, so don’t dwell on one question for too long, or you won’t have enough time to get to the rest. If you read a question twice and still have no clue how to go about getting the answer, leave it blank for now. You might be able to come back to it at the end.

But don’t skip around too much. Try to complete the test mostly in order so you don’t waste time shuffling paper and turning pages.

Mark questions as you go. If you skip something, need to double-check an answer, or want to come back to that question for any reason, make a mark on your paper (a star or question mark works nicely) so you can easily find that question later.

Thanks for reading! All of my reader interactions and personalized advice can be found on my Tumblr. If you have questions, feedback, or post requests, feel free to drop a Tumblr ask or contact me.:)

—Sophia

Spaced Repetition with Anki

Hi guys! Today I’ll be sharing an app that’s drastically improved my active studying process, increased the rate of my learning, and saved my butt before countless vocabulary quizzes— Anki. Anki is essentially a flashcard app, but what really separates it from others such as Quizlet and StudyBlue is that it takes advantage of the concept of spaced repetition to maximize the effectiveness of each review session.

WHAT IS SPACED REPETITION?

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The graph above shows how your retention of learned material declines over time when you don’t review it again. The more you review something you’ve learned, the slower you’ll forget it, and the more likely it is to become permanently ingrained in your memory.

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Each time you answer a flashcard on Anki, you rate how difficult it was to come up with the answer: Easy, Good, or Again. If you answered correctly and quickly, choose Easy. If you were incorrect, unsure, and/or took a long time answering, choose Again.

The key is that rather than going through all of the cards in the deck in order, Anki will have you review each card at the specific point in the forgetting curve you’re most likely to forget it. So the more challenging a particular card, the more frequently you’ll review it. If you labeled a card as Easy, you won’t see it again for a while, because the curve of forgetting will be less steep for that card. Focusing on the cards you struggle with most, instead of devoting equal time to all of them, allows you to spend less time studying and/or to learn more things.

For more information about the science behind spaced repetition and instructions for the app itself, click here.

PROS

  • Extremely efficient: Thanks to the spaced repetition algorithm, I’ve noticed a definite improvement in my vocabulary test scores, as well as a reduction in study time.
  • A form of active learning: Great for long-term retention!
  • Highly customizable: Anki can be as simple or advanced as you need it to be. It can handle decks of 100,000+ cards. There are lots of add-ons available to extend its capabilities. You can add pictures, audio, different colors, and scientific markup via LaTeX within your cards. You can adjust the algorithm to change the frequencies of cards. If you know how to code, you can even change the cards completely to suit your needs. For example, with some basic code, I changed the default “see answer” to a field for text where I can actually type in my answer and check my spelling, which is super important while learning foreign languages. (see picture below) But it also works great immediately upon downloading with the default settings, so don’t be intimidated by all the customization options if you don’t need them.
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  • Tons of decks of cards already made by other users that you can download
  • Very easy to search, edit, replace, and delete cards
  • Save time + paper with digital cards
  • Syncs between all platforms for easy on-the-go access

CONS

  • Not ideal for cramming: Spaced repetition works best when you’re consistently reviewing a few cards every day over a long period of time. While Anki does have a “cram” setting if you’re in a rush, the app in general is not made for last-minute studiers.
  • There’s no social component with fun games like the type Quizlet has. However, you can make your cards in Quizlet and use an add-on to easily import them into Anki if you want the best of both worlds!

GET ANKI

Note that the Anki software is open-source, so there are many versions made by different developers. The above links are to the ankisrs.net apps I personally use, which I’ve found to have the best spacing algorithm and the least bugs. But a huge drawback is that their iOS app costs a whopping $25. If you want a free iOS app, consider ankiapp.com, but keep in mind that Ankisrs and AnkiApp will not sync between each other, and AnkiWeb is only available for Ankisrs!

Thanks for reading! All of my reader interactions and personalized advice can be found on my Tumblr. If you have questions, feedback, or post requests, feel free to drop a Tumblr ask or contact me.:)

—Sophia

Active vs Passive Learning

Not all studying is made equal. There are actually two different types of learning, active and passive. This post will discuss the differences between them and explain how you can use active learning to get the most out of your study sessions.

PASSIVE LEARNING

Passive learning is when you’re merely sitting back and absorbing the information, like a sponge absorbing water. This includes:

  • reading a textbook
  • rereading/rewriting notes
  • highlighting
  • listening to a lecture
  • watching a documentary or demonstration

All of the above methods essentially involve just exposing yourself to the material and naïvely hoping some of it will stick. This is not effective for long-term retention or critical analysis.

Of course, quickly skimming over your notes might be helpful the morning of an exam, and it is certainly better than not studying at all. But if your tests involve writing essays, analyzing arguments, or building off of concepts to create new ones, passive studying is not recommended. Instead, you should use…

ACTIVE LEARNING

You learn best when you are forced to actively engage with the material. Active learning strategies include:

  • testing yourself with flashcards
  • answering practice problems
  • identifying patterns and cause/effect relationships
  • creating connections between topics
  • explaining concepts to others
  • formulating questions that push your learning further
  • revising notes (Note that this is different from rewriting, which is a passive learning technique. Turning your lecture notes into different forms, such as mind maps, sketchnotes, and summaries is an effective learning method. Copying your textbook onto lined paper and going over it with gel pens + Mildliners is not.)
  • discussing, debating, and challenging

These methods require you to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information, strengthening both your memory and comprehension. That sounds a little intimidating, but active learning is easier to implement than it sounds. For example, my favorite way to study for history is to pretend I’m the teacher and explain a topic out loud to my invisible “students”. Flashcards and writing unique sentences is great for foreign languages. For math, I’ll always try to prove every formula or theorem I use instead of merely memorizing it. If you’re not used to using active learning methods, the extra effort may present a challenge at first, but I promise it’ll lead to improved understanding and better grades in the end!

THE LEARNING TRIANGLE

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The learning triangle ranks learning techniques based on how much information we retain afterwords. I’m not sure I agree with all the exact percentages, but it’s safe to say that the general order and concept is correct. If you want to improve the effectiveness of your study sessions, try to use learning methods near the bottom of the triangle, as well as all the active learning strategies I mentioned earlier. Personally, I created a list of my favorite active learning strategies to hang up above my desk as a constant reminder to be an active studier.

And there you have it! Active learning will help you improve recall and comprehension in a very short amount of time. It’s one of the best ways to study smarter, not harder. Next time you sit down to study, go give those active learning methods a try!

Thanks for reading! All of my reader interactions and personalized advice can be found on my Tumblr. If you have questions, feedback, or post requests, feel free to drop a Tumblr ask or contact me.:)

—Sophia