How to Study for a Test the 4.0 GPA Way: Part Three

Ah, finals week is upon us, and, in honor of finals, here’s a poem before we dive into testing advice for specific academic subjects.

Students with knowledge all stuck in their heads, hardly sleeping or lying in their own
Not a student was resting, not even the profs, all hoped finals would be over and they could finally say “I’m off.”
And the ones who did care what grades they would get, studied so hard, their own fates they would set.
They raced to this blog, hoping tips would be found.
They knew here was help, some of the best advice around.

You're almost there!  You're almost done with the semester!  Can't you see that light at the end of the tunnel? Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
You’re almost there! You’re almost done with the semester! Can’t you see that light at the end of the tunnel?
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Yeah . . . that’s all I have. I’m not a poet, and I know it.

Anyway, in honor of finals week, I’ve doing a three-part series on how to study for tests the 4.0 GPA way. In Part One, I gave some general advice. Last week’s Part Two was all about how to memorize the material. This week’s Part Three contains some tips regarding specific subjects.

For lab exams, make sure that you can use the equipment. I don’t know why, but the day of my final exam for my biology lab, I couldn’t figure out how to work the microscope. I switched to three different microscopes, but I just couldn’t get the lens to focus. Don’t let this happen to you. Before going in to the test, practice on the equipment. Also, make sure that you understand the measurements that you’re using. Any terms that were italicized or bolded in your lab handouts will probably be on the test as well.

Understand and be able to use the various measurements and conversions. Know when and how to use formulas, and be able to show each step of your work. This requires actual understanding of how the formula functions and why it is used in the first place. If any of your labs or handouts had “objectives” on them, look at those objectives, and make sure that you understand them. Here’s a website from the University of Illinois at Chicago with additional tips for studying for chemistry tests: “Chemistry Study Tips.”

Computer Science
Honestly, I’ve only taken one basic computer science class, and it was all about memorizing definitions. Here’s a website that has more knowledge than I do about studying for computer science tests: “Exam Tips: Computer Science A.” I would pay particular attention to the section entitled, “Free-Response Questions.”

Graphs. Graphs. Graphs. If your teacher drew a graph on the board, you can bet that that graph will be on the test. You’ll probably have to reproduce it (with everything labeled), explain what the graph represents, and then discuss the significance of the graph. For instance, if the demand curve shifts to the right, then supply does what? How does the graph change? Remember, supply slopes upward, and demand (like the word “decline”) slopes downward. Economics finals will also hit you hard with regard to analysis and application. This means that you need to be able to analyze the theories and laws (say what they are, define each term that they use, explain their significance, and discuss who/what they relate to) and then apply them to some semi-real-world example (the more concrete the example, the better). For instance, let’s take the law of diminishing marginal utility. First, you need to analyze the concept by stating what it is and how it works. During this analysis, make sure to define the terms that you use (i.e., define “utility”). Then, provide an example of how diminishing marginal utility works. Consuming ice cream is a simple, but reliable, application for this. This website does pretty much what you would want to do for this particular essay question: “Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.”

English can be a tough topic for which to study. If you’re in a linguistics class, make sure that you know your parts of speech like you know how to spell your own name. Also, practice drawing trees for simple and complex sentences, and practice your phonetic transcriptions. Your homework should give you ample examples on which to practice. If you’re in a regular English class that tests you on the books that you read, your best bet is to go back over the notes that you made in your book (please tell me that you made notes in your book). Pay attention to overarching themes, be able to analyze a passage, and make sure to describe, define, and give an example of any literary techniques that your instructor discussed in class. For example, if one of your books is Mary Clearman Blew’s All But the Waltz: A Memoir of Five Generations in the Life of a Montana Family, your teacher probably talked about Blew’s heavy use of italics and em dashes. You better believe that the test will have a passage that uses italics and em dashes, and that you will have to explain the effects of these techniques on said passage. You need to explain what the literary techniques do for a passage—does it make it clunky-feeling, if it does then what is the effect of the clunky passage on the reader, etc. For each essay question, try to generate a thesis. This thesis will essentially be your answer, and then you will go on to support that thesis with your analysis. In essence, you’re going to be writing mini essays. Most teachers look for content rather than grammatical correctness here, so don’t panic. However, after you write your mini essays, you should have time to go back and look for very basic grammatical things: subject-verb agreement, subject-pronoun agreement, if any sentence makes you do a double-take, etc.

The glow of the Christmas lights and the Christmas spirit are calling to you.  Just get through these finals. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
The glow of the Christmas lights and the Christmas spirit are calling to you. Just get through these finals.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Foreign Languages
Vocabulary is going to be huge for these tests. Make sure that you know which diacritical marks go where (i.e., don’t get the accent aigu mixed up with your accent grave on your French test). Make sure that you know which adjectives go before or after the noun. Know how to conjugate and use basic verbs in the language, such as the ones that correspond to “to be,” “to make,” “to go,” “to come,” and “to eat.” You’d be surprised what just those five verb forms can do for you. Also, if your teacher has any other verbs that you were forced to conjugate more than once for homework assignments or that are in the list of terms at the end of your textbook’s chapter, then you’d be smart to study those as well. Unfortunately, gender markings play a pretty big role in these tests as well. Heaven forbid that you forget that “table” is feminine and “bread” is masculine in French. Oy vay.

It’s all about the cause and effect. Americans went after the dream of “Manifest Destiny.” So what? What did that dream cause to happen? What caused that dream to happen? Mao Zedong killed people left and right. What caused him to embark on such a blood bath? What were the outcomes—short- and long-term—of his massacre? Essentially, view events as pebbles thrown into a lake. Your job is to explain who threw the pebble, why that person threw the pebble, and who the ripples touched. Obviously, names and dates are important too, but the big points are going to be in describing the cause and effect of the events.

I’ll admit it. I dislike math. I took the bare minimum in college, despite having taken all honors math classes in high school. It frustrates me, and I could not care less about the quadratic formula. However, I still aced my two college math classes. How? Notecards, my friends. Notecards. If your teacher allows you to have a notecard, then fill up that sucker. Use a mechanical pencil because it has the sharpest tip and you will be able to write the smallest with it. When you have a formula, write down the formula and then have an example of its application directly next to it. This way, you’ll be able to take that example, plug the new numbers from the test into it, and calculate away. Also, make sure to separate your concepts and examples by drawing lines in between them. You’ll thank me later.

But how does one truly ace a philosophy exam? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Anyway, philosophy is about description, analysis, and application. Be able to say what the theory is (including who thought it up and what the theory might have been a reaction to), what the implications of the theory may be (so what, why is this important), and what an example of the theory is (for instance, you can never step in the same river twice; interestingly, this is both the philosophy of Heraclitus and of Disney’s Pocahontas). Here are two websites that discuss preparing for a philosophy exam: “Preparing for Philosophy Exams – 5 Tips” and “Guide to the Study of Philosophy.”  Make sure to pay attention to the “Writing Essay Exams” section on the second website.

Political Science
From what I gather, studying for a political science test is very similar to studying for history. You’re looking at cause and effect. Why did someone do this? What were the effects (short-term and long-term) of that person doing something?

One of my minors is in psychology, and every psychology final I had was about definitions and descriptions. Many of the essay questions looked something like these questions: “Describe Piaget’s stages of cognitive development” (and you were expected to list the substages too), “Describe what this graph shows and the significance of its findings,” “Explain why the following is considered an optical illusion and what happens in the brain,” “Describe how we see and process information,” and “The following wavelength is associated with which type of monkey neuron.” The multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions were pretty much all definitions. So, your best bet for psychology is probably to pay attention to the big concepts that your teacher spent time talking about, and then spend some time on the bolded terms in the textbook.

Studying for a sociology test is pretty much the same as studying for a psychology test, except instead of graphs, instructors often like to give you statistics and then ask you to analyze those numbers.

Well, there you have it. The conclusion to the three-part series on how to study for tests the 4.0 GPA way. I would tell you not to panic, but, honestly, I panicked before almost every final I took, and I got a 4.0 GPA. So, if panicking works for you, then panic. However, try to take comfort in your brain, in the work that you’ve done throughout the semester, and (if you’ve followed my advice) your copious and thorough studying. You’ll be okay. 🙂

Bonne chance, mes amis!

I’d love to hear if this advice worked for you, and what else you’d like to see me tackle with regard to academics. If you have any suggestions, questions, or general comments, please feel free to write them in the comments below. 🙂


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