Preparing for the Exam

By Serhat Guven, Student Representative
CAS Student Liaison Committee

How do you prepare for the exams?

How much time do you spend?

What is the best way to study the material?

These are just a scant few of the common questions asked by CAS students as they ready themselves for the next exam sitting. If you read the entire Syllabus (and I know that everyone does), you will see a section devoted to study and exam techniques. The section discusses such broad concepts as motivation, scheduling, and retention. Upon reading this section, however, I find the "hints" to be too general. Much of the advice boils down to read, study, understand, and memorize the material. The techniques mentioned apply to everyone and thus the overall advice ends up as a broad overview of the learning process.

To complement the broad themes mentioned in the Syllabus, I will describe several specific studying methods used by a number of students. I spoke with students about their specific studying habits and compiled several of these methods in this article. I hope the casual reader of this future Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative article will gain additional insights and assistance in helping to prepare for the next exam.

The first interviewed student explains that he uses two different techniques simultaneously depending on the exam material. For the nonmath-oriented sections of the exam, he begins by creating detailed outlines of each reading as his first pass through the material. He then creates note cards from these outlines as his second pass through the readings. Finally, he attempts to memorize the note cards created from the outlines. For the math-oriented sections, this student first attempts all the problems in the textbook then does all the problems from a study manual. After the student has completed these studying techniques, he works on practice exams to prepare for the final exam.

The second student uses a similar method when studying the math-oriented sections except she does not bother with the textbook problems. For the nonmath-oriented sections, she uses a different approach. The student folds a piece of paper in half lengthwise. As she reads through the material she writes down potential questions on one half of the paper and answers on the other half. She then quizzes herself with the questions she has created. Like the student mentioned above, she takes practice exams as the final step in her preparation process.

Another student mentions that he uses a variety of techniques because if he had to study for the exam using only one process then the material would be that much less interesting. He creates outlines for some of the material, works on problems for other parts of the material, and creates flashcards for yet another part of the Syllabus. He even creates Power Point presentations for various readings on the exam. He mentions that creating good computer oriented notes would make them easier to sell after the exam is over as well as being useful studying methods for the creator.

The fourth student interviewed discusses a three-pass approach in exam preparation. In her first pass through the readings she carefully reads and takes notes. She usually spends about six to eight weeks going through the material. In the second pass she begins working problems on each section. These can be either textbook problems or old exam questions. This usually takes anywhere from four to six weeks. Finally, in the third pass through the material, she creates an extensive list. This list of lists usually summarizes most of the important things to memorize for the exam.

The next student describes an approach that is somewhat of a combination of prior methods. She begins by crafting mock exam questions in her first time through the readings. She then creates note cards and flashcards based on the detailed questions and answers created from the first time through the material. She then works through problems and memorizes flashcards throughout her studying process. As the exam date approaches, like the other students, she begins taking the practice exams in the exam-type scenarios.

The sixth student begins the study process by carefully creating note cards from the first pass through the readings. While he does this, he also begins to work through problems from a study manual. He then creates an ultimate list sheet based on the created note cards. He says that he usually takes this sheet with him wherever he goes, always reviewing and memorizing the material on the sheet. After an extensive memorization process, he takes practice exams as the final step.

The idea behind this article is to give students ideas on different approaches and techniques in the preparation for exams. By providing various ways to prepare for the exam process, fascinated readers may gain some additional insight to help complement their studying methodology. There are, of course, many common themes expressed in this small empirical sample of students' study habits. The idea of note cards, memorization, and problem solving are frequently mentioned by all students. No matter what technique a candidate uses, it always takes a significant amount of time and personal resources to successfully complete the examination process.