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Decoding your final exams

By By Lauren Joffe

By Lauren Joffe

College students everywhere are cringing over finals week: all-nighters, group disputes and straight-up tension. To put you on the right track to acing those final tests and projects, we break down exactly what to expect in terms of study workload, peer assistance and level of difficulty on a scale of 1 to 10.
The Take-home Final
While the take-home test can be challenging, nothing quite beats sitting in the comfort of your own room — with a friend — and having the Internet to help you along the way.
Study workload – OK, the pros are obvious. But the con is that take-homes normally eat up more time. Professors are questioning your true understanding of the material: Their goal is to make you think, not just spit out definitions verbatim.
You’ll have a limited window of time for completion, so simplify the process by anticipating what your professor will ask and having relevant documents handy.
Peer assistance – Teaming up with a friend could improve your chances of getting an A. However, working in a large group is not recommended, as it could lead to time-consuming discussions over right vs. wrong answers.
Nicole DeAngelis, a senior at Lehigh University, says: “I usually wouldn’t recommend working with other people because questions are usually essay-based. If the test was made of problem sets and the teacher gave permission to collaborate with a classmate, I would work with one or two people just to make sure we got the same answer. It’s pretty much about seeing where you can ask for help, and that’s up to you to figure out on your own.”
Approach a friend or respected classmate a week or two before the exam and set up a time to work on the test. If your take-home does not allow for group collaboration, well… it’s all on you.
Level of difficulty: 3 While questions might require more think-time, having notes on hand and a friend in the room are two indispensable tools. Take-homes are atypical in traditional university settings, so count your lucky stars if you’re fortunate enough to get this type of final.
The Group Presentation
When you’re matched up with the right people, getting through the final presentation should be a breeze. But if you’re one of the unfortunate few to get placed in a group of slackers or arrogant overachievers, this final can be downright painful.
Study workload – This type of evaluation requires significantly more work than others, so get started as soon as possible. Dividing the project among team members with varied academic strengths can drastically reduce the amount of individual work. However, if you need to pick up the slack for a fellow team member, getting through his tasks and yours can throw a huge wrench into your plans for finals week.
Leave enough time to cover a flaky student’s work or contact a teacher for mediation if necessary. Also, you’ll need to meet with your group often, perhaps at less-than-ideal times. Keep this in mind so as to not cut off other commitments.
Peer assistance – Group presentations are the ultimate peer-on-peer working experience. You’ll brainstorm on everything from writing a collective essay to creating graphics. Take advantage of each student’s strong suits. And brace yourself: There’s no saying what will go down with so many personalities colliding.
Level of difficulty: 5 It’s easy to rely on others for support, but a group’s dynamic can turn stressful — and even volatile — if members refuse to cooperate. Be prepared to pick up where others have left off: Since teachers may not evaluate students individually, it’s important that you put your best foot forward for the sake of the group. Working with so many individuals is the real test.
The Standard In-class Scantron
No. 2 pencils? Check. A semester’s worth of information locked into your memory? Um, maybe not so much. Scantrons require that students know all the information, from overarching concepts to straight-up numerical figures. There’s no getting around hitting the books … chapter by chapter.
Study workload - Says New York University senior Jackie Chudow: “Most Scantron tests usually cover material in the textbook rather than material discussed in class, so creating a study guide with key terms and summaries is the most helpful way to get all the information down.”
Revert to old-school study practices — note cards, detailed study guides and group review sessions. Questions are often straightforward — meaning you have to retrieve answers from your memory bank.
Peer assistance - Exchanging study guides with a classmate will fill the gaps in your notes. Help your brain absorb all the info by talking the material over with a friend. While loners can rest easy knowing they can beat the test on their own, think of peer assistance as supplemental … but beneficial.
Level of difficulty: 8 Scantrons are the ultimate test to beat: You have more information to absorb and no way of getting partial credit for a wrong answer. Study well in advance — don’t wait till the night before the exam to memorize 13 chapters.
The Research Paper
Eek! Research papers rank high on the list of dreaded finals — maybe even surpassing the Scantron as the most intimidating form of evaluation.
Study workload – Expect to spend many hours in the library and on the Internet, sifting through materials to find the right sources and information. The key is checking in with your professor for guidance along the way, since papers are assigned with more distant deadlines than other evaluations. The required word count for the assignment will dictate how much time you’ll need to spend on it.
Melanie Waldman, New School University senior, says: “Final papers are the worst. In my school, the only form of final exams teachers give is the research paper, so the workload is next to impossible to balance when five classes are giving the same form of evaluation. The most important thing I’ve learned is to manage my time well and start early.”
Peer assistance - Typically, research papers are strictly solo projects. Aside from getting some grammar tips, you’re on your own. Feeling lost? Most schools have writing centers, where you can go for guidance.
“All teachers recommend we use the writing center, where students help organize your thoughts and research,” says Waldman. “Since you can’t really get help from classmates, additional feedback from the student center or a tutor is the best way to stay on track. When it comes down to it, it’s a really helpful tool.”
Level of difficulty: 7-8 It all depends on your writing ability. For some, writing comes naturally and is the preferred method of evaluation (gasp!). However, many students find writing to be a challenge, especially when adding research to the mix. But whether writing is your virtue or your vice, crafting a research paper is no easy task. We suggest you get cracking … stat.
Lauren Joffe transferred from Syracuse University where she was a public relations major to NYU to study promotional marketing for television. Last summer she contributed to program development at CNN, and she now works on digital marketing and editorial for Oxygen (NBC Universal).
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