Failing an exam is like being slapped in the face with a wet fish. It stinks and leaves us red faced. At least with the aquatic assault we get to joke about being a ‘sole survivor’.
The humiliation is only temporary but fluffing an exam can leave us in a weird limbo, bored of the subject matter and deeply frustrated. With resits weeks away, there’s little impetus to study and realistically we won’t be able to focus with the same intensity.
But we can’t stop. Continuing the fishy theme, if a shark stops swimming it will die – its whole life is essentially a very wet version of the film ‘Speed’. The consequences are less severe for us if we stop studying, but we soon start to forget and the longer we stop the harder it is to start going again.
Maintaining a routine is essential. Even if this is just working through a handful of simple questions for ten minutes at the same time every day, it leaves the door open for enthusiasm to return. At some point that ten minutes will turn into an hour.
Consider getting an alternative textbook second hand or request one from the library. There are a lot of good reasons why this can help. A fresh textbook can be more interesting than re-reading an existing one for the seventh time and also helps guard against mistaking familiarity for knowledge. It’s common to feel that we know something simply because we’ve stared at it a lot and we can fall into the trap of remembering the correct answers to questions rather than working out the answers.
Textbooks rarely have 100% coverage, even if they advertise that they do, so a second one can often fill in the gaps that caught us out in the test. Alternative explanations of tricky material sometimes present a different, more enlightening perspective and additional practise questions are always useful.
There are two common, broad types of practise questions. Targeted – short, simple questions designed to test one specific thing and Situational which frequently have multiple steps and are more like ‘real world problems’. These longer questions are designed to test your ability to pick the right techniques and apply them in the right order.
Initially it’s better to concentrate on the first type. These can be answered much faster and are easier to learn from; when you get them wrong it tends to be obvious where you slipped up. They’re also an excellent way to assess your grasp of the fundamentals. Doing a few for each chapter of your textbook can swiftly pinpoint problems.
Students usually stop doing this type of question when they ‘graduate’ to situational questions, but this can be damaging. It’s crucial to make sure that your grasp of the fundamental skills stays learnt, because it can and will fade with time. To do this you need to regularly test yourself, and short, basic questions are an ideal way to reinforce a lot of techniques very quickly. The ‘real world’ questions are vital too, but unless you have a firm grasp of the underpinning skills, they’re a waste of effort.
Once you’re confident that your fundamentals are sharp, reintroduce the situational questions but work through them individually so that you have the time and energy to learn from your mistakes. Answering a bunch of questions incorrectly and scanning the answers does very little to make you improve. Just like doing twenty appalling haircuts in a row is not going to turn a barber into Vidal Sassoon.
Be brutally honest when marking. For each wrong answer note down why, specifically, you answered incorrectly, then try again with a similar question. Be determined not to repeat your previous mistakes and you will quickly improve.