First Exams | Post 22

By Rachael Kroot
Updated June 2017

graduate school exams

Last week was my first round of exams, and you can guess what that meant… lots of procrastination and last minute stressing, right?  Well, yes and no.  I had three exams – one on a Friday and two the next Wednesday.  So, I mixed up my study methods to test the results (“test” – haha no pun intended!).

My exam on Friday was in Synoptic Meteorology.  It’s my most difficult (and arguably my most important) class.  First exams set the tone for the rest of the semester, so I wanted to do well.  But more than that, I wanted to understand the material.  We covered a lot of complex ideas in the first month and a half, and that’s the foundation for the rest of my two years here.  So, in atypical Rachael fashion, I decided to start studying two whole days in advance!

Two days might still sound like procrastination to you, but to me, that’s some serious grad student responsibility at work.  Here’s how I split things up. 

Three days before the exams I spent 10 minutes skimming my notes before bed.  I wanted to warm up my brain muscles and re-familiarize myself with the general themes we covered in class. ·        

Two days before the exam I really dug deep into the material.  I went over to John and Tory’s apartment to study and was there for probably about six hours.  I worked through the more complicated concepts in my mind and asked them a lot of questions along the way.  I wanted to make sure I understood why things were happening in the atmosphere, not just how.  I did my best to make connections and visualize everything.  I want to remember that stuff for the long term.  And, at the end of the night, I had a list of five or six questions to ask the professor. ·        

One day before the exam, I talked to the professor to clear up any confusion I had regarding the concepts.  Then I spent the night focusing primarily on memorization.  Not everybody likes to study this way, but I have a pretty good short term memory when it comes to definitions, lists, numbers, etc.  So I like to spend the night before an exam cramming in anything I might need to spit back out the next day. 

The day of the exam, I woke up about half an hour early to skim through my notes one last time.  I also took a quick look at the lecture images my professor posted online in case something similar appeared on the test (or in case I would be asked to recreate it).

I left the exam Friday feeling pretty good.  Hopefully being responsible paid off.

Then, I had the weekend off before I had to tackle my next two subjects.  Wednesday, I had an exam in Research Methods and a quiz in Weather Analysis.  And this time around, I went the procrastination route and started studying the night before / the day of.

Eight hours before bed, I started off strong by leaving my notes in the car and joining my friends for a kickball game. ·        

Five hours before bed, I procrastinated some more by cooking a big dinner. ·        

Three hours before bed, I actually started reading my notes for Research Methods.  I looked at my notes, my friend’s notes, and the professor’s slides.  I studied on and off for three hours, with maybe a few too many breaks to talk to my roommates and listen to music. ·        

Wednesday morning, after the Research Methods exam, I had a one hour break to cram for the Weather Analysis Quiz.

I left campus Wednesday feeling just as confident as I did the Friday before.  So my question is, does studying responsibly make a difference?  More likely than not, it depends on both the student and the subject.  You have to learn what works for you.  But as for me, I get my tests back next week… so we’ll see!

Rachael has a B.S. in Geography from the University of Maryland and is currently attending graduate school for broadcast meteorology. 
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