Exam season is upon us, bringing with it much anticipation. Of course, the end of exams marks the beginning of summer, and it also represents a rewarding opportunity for students to see the fruit of their hard work.
Yet we know that exam season can also bring undue stress and dread. Students may feel overwhelmed by assignments and the never-ending need to study. Given our culture’s emphasis on test grades as a measure of one’s intellectual aptitude, it’s understandable that so many students feel enormous pressure to ace their exams, to try and remember everything they’ve ever been taught and to flawlessly demonstrate everything they know.
At Wilson Hill, we reject this approach to testing. Exams are an important part of a student’s grade at Wilson Hill, but at our core we’re not a test-oriented school. We reject the idea that an exam grade can fully reflect a student’s entire academic performance and aptitude. A student’s final grade reflects the student’s entire performance, not just the test performance. Excellent exam performance should be the result of a student’s consistent effort inside and outside the classroom and of his or her desire to learn.
Therefore, our exams allow genuine demonstration of knowledge rather than require a regurgitation of disconnected facts. We design exams that focus on what is most important for a student to understand, which invites students to synthesize and make connections. We believe tests can help students discover their strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth. We see exams as checkpoints in the lifelong journey of learning rather than final verdicts on their aptitude and ability to learn.
So how can students best prepare for finals balancing this emphasis on demonstration of knowledge rather than regurgitation of facts? We asked our teachers and here are some practical tips they shared:
“Take a clarity break—step away, step back, and remember the most important things the course has covered. Major on the majors in your studying; don’t get lost in the minutiae. Try explaining the content to someone who hasn’t taken the course (e.g., mom, dad, a sibling). If you can explain a concept such that someone else can understand it, that is a good sign you have learned it well.
In courses that are content heavy, rewriting notes and then using the ‘cleaned-up’ version as the basis for studying is a great way to prepare. Remember, different students use different study methods. It’s okay to try different approaches, but once you find a study method that works for you, stick with it!”
“Try to build in small bite-sized chunks of review into your weekly work plan starting now. Spend 1/2 hour a week on reviewing now when the stress levels are low. Pick a course and make a list of chapters or topics. You may want to start with ones you found challenging. This will give you the time to process material, address weaknesses, deepen your understanding and make new connections.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must re-read everything, though! Rework your graded tests and refer to chapter outlines, class notes and relevant homework questions. Don’t be shy about asking your teachers with help on a topic. They love to know you are putting in the effort and want to help!”
“When preparing for foreign language finals, it is key to practice any memory work early and often. In order to really own the vocabulary and other memory work, it is important to practice smaller amounts frequently over a period of time rather than large quantities all at once. Begin now by scheduling in time for daily review of memory work that will be included on your exam. Five or ten minutes a day can make a big difference.
Consider approaching memory work from several different angles. Best retention usually follows from a combination of auditory, visual, and tactile learning. Listen to recorded vocabulary, look through flashcards, and practice writing and spelling words. Go over corrected translations and complete exercises in your book that you may not have had time for in class.”
The most important advice we can give at the end of the year is the same advice we stress throughout the year: love of learning to the glory of Christ—not our grades—is our motivation. We encourage you to continually cultivate an ever deepening fascination with the world God has made. Remember, the goal of learning is not to merely pass a test. The goal of learning is to become a certain kind of person, one who reflects the image of Christ.