Those pesky pre-finals!
Before you can get to the main exam, you have to take on those that precede it. View these exams as tools to plan your preparation
Even as the year is still new, the academic session in many schools and colleges is already moving toward its final weeks. High schools are busy with pre-finals and practice exams, while those in college are busy with projects and term papers, and thinking about the upcoming finals. And then there are those who are preparing for competitive exams, to get into a professional degree course or one of the many public service sectors.
Whether it is a school or college final, or a competitive test, exams are stressful business. There is general agreement that they are not perfect methods of assessment of knowledge or competence, but they are what we have, and it looks like we will have to live with them until those in charge of education and employment can come up with a better method.
There are, broadly, two ways in which we prepare for exams. The first — and the mode advocated by those who place emphasis on learning — is to study well and gain mastery over the material. That is, to focus on your lessons and the concepts and skills they aim to cover. If you do this well, and make a sincere attempt to understand the content of your lessons and how to apply them to a range of problems/contexts, then you will be able to answer questions relating to those areas. This is not to be equated with learning by rote or cramming at the last minute.
Better with practice
The second way is to get good at taking tests, with practice. This is what the mock exams and pre-finals are supposed to do; they prepare you for the real thing. A practice exam gives you familiarity with the different types of questions that may be included in the exam, allows you to pace yourself so that you can address all the questions, and understand how the study material (textbook, notes) could be approached for the answers. Taking exams periodically makes you comfortable in all these aspects, and by the time the “real” exam rolls around, you have the confidence to handle it. This is the logic behind schools organising two or three pre-final exams, ahead of the boards. It is also the logic behind setting periodic tests; the idea is that over time, you will get a sense of how to prepare and how to understand your performance.
Both approaches complement each other. You can’t really do a test well without having spent time studying. Even those who appear to not study but end up acing the exam aren’t pulling answers out of thin air — they probably pay close attention in class or have the ability to quickly assimilate the material, in addition to having a good sense of the pattern of testing.
However, there is a third element that connects these two approaches, and that is reflection. Practice tests offer an opportunity for you to look at your strengths and weaknesses — both in relation to the subject content (which bits do you know well and which ones do you need to work more on?) and in relation to the elements of the test itself (which kinds of questions do you need to work on more, where do you need to build speed?). Think of them as a diagnostic aid, which give you a sense of how you need to plan your preparation.
The author teaches at the University of Hyderabad and edits Teacher Plus. [email protected]
Tools: Mock exams or practice exams are opportunities to assess where you stand.