Teachers want their students to do well on their tests. Contrary to what it may seem like at times, their end goal is not to trip their students up or make their exam questions overly complicated. In fact – coming from someone now married to a university professor – that is the exact opposite of what they want. That’s why one of my biggest pieces of advice for students preparing for tests is to ask their teachers questions. While all teachers and professors are different, most are willing (and enthusiastic) about helping students succeed come exam time.
Full disclosure: I was not always good about doing this myself in high school and the beginning of college. I always approached exams with the idea that everything we covered was fair game, teachers would not offer hints regarding exam material, and I should simply study everything. Eventually, as I watched classmates inquire about exam specifics, I realized… teachers will actually help you out if you ask the right questions! What a revelation! No, they won’t spoon-feed you exactly what you need to ace their tests, but they sure can point you in the right direction.
Head to class or your review session armed with this list of questions to ask your teacher before an exam. While different professors will offer different amounts of information, it never hurts to ask.
What is the test format?
How many questions will there be? Are they multiple choice, short answer, essays, or a mix? If it’s a mix, how many are there of each? It’s incredibly helpful to understand what the actual exam is going to look like, as it can guide your studying. For example, picking a term’s definition from four options is much different than recalling it from scratch for a short answer.
Will there be opportunities for partial credit?
You may be able to win a few points with essays or short answers. I always liked to know if partial credit was a possibility, because it changed how I viewed each question. For example, let’s say the question asks you to discuss who won a major battle and you can’t remember the answer for the life of you. However, you do know why the battle started, how long it lasted, and who the major leaders on either side were. Write it all down! Sure, you won’t get full credit, but many teachers will give you a few points for what you do know. When partial credit is available, don’t leave anything blank.
What material does the exam cover?
During my senior year of high school, I studied for my spring anatomy & physiology final with my friend and classmate. I couldn’t believe it when she pulled out her notes from all the way back in August, but she informed me that the final was covering information from the entire school year. Holy moly! I spent days and days reviewing every test, paper, and homework assignment I’d done all year.
And then, when I took the actual exam, I realized it only covered information from the second semester. In fact, it concentrated mainly on information we learned over the past month. Because I had studied so much stuff that wasn’t on the exam, I was underprepared for the very specific information that actually was. Don’t be like me. Ask your teacher which chapters, units, lectures, and topics are going to be included on the exam.
Where are most of the questions drawn from?
I highly recommend asking your teacher if the test is mostly drawn from the textbook or the class lectures and notes. Of course, I always had teachers who answered, “Both!” but I had just as many teachers who would tell me straight up if I should focus on one or the other. After all, if your teacher never mentioned a particular topic in class, there is no point in memorizing that information from the textbook – and vice versa.
If your teacher says the exam will be based on lectures and the book, pay close attention to the topics that they covered most thoroughly in class. While everything in the textbook is technically fair game, they will likely include more of the information you read in the text and they drilled home in class.
What do you think is the best method of studying for this particular exam?
This question can be very enlightening. Before you begin studying, ask your teacher what they think is the most efficient way of preparing for their test – and listen to them! They may say something like, “Reread the chapters in the textbook,” “Go over the terms we discussed in class,” or, “Study your old tests from the semester.” They can guide your study session so you use your time wisely and really focus on the information that will likely be on the exam.