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

The Hindu - - EDGE - USHA RA­MAN

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.

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