5 Steps to Prepare for Finals in Problem Solving Classes
Finals are approaching and you are wondering how to make the most of your time leading up to the big test. Problem solving classes typically assign a lot of homework throughout the semester. These assignments can take hours, and even one small sign error can give you a wrong answer. Whether you really learned the concepts, or just crammed enough to get by, you have a lot of work to do… But how do you even begin to study for them?
1. A good place to start is looking at old exams. If you only have a limited amount of time, spend it looking at your midterm exams and any old exams your professor posts. Pay specific attention to what you did wrong. Learn from your mistakes and don’t make the same one again! Your old exams can point you to concepts and types of problems that you never got a good understanding of. Identify these, and then practice them, looking at notes, and related homework problems.
2. Develop your problem-solving toolkit. Many problems can be solved from different approaches, all leading to the same answer. Some techniques can only be used in specific situations, while others are more general. It is best to memorize and be comfortable applying a go-to method, simplifying it as needed for the problem. For example, I could try to memorize all of the different variations of the energy balance in thermodynamics, or I can memorize the basic equation and then simplify it as needed for the problem. When memorizing equations, try to understand what each piece of the equation represents and how they fit into the big picture; this will be easier and more effective than just memorizing variables.
3. Make an equation sheet or study the one provided. This depends on the professor, but many allow one sheet front and back, or will provide you with one. Be sure to check with your professor and find out what exactly is allowed to be on it. It may be tempting to just make a copy of your friends that he spent three hours on, but the benefit of making the equation sheet is it helps you understand the material better. If you are provided an equation sheet, make sure you know what each equation means, how to apply it, and where it is on the sheet… You don’t want to spend five minutes flipping through your five page packet, looking for one!
4. Attend review day, ready to ask questions. Again, depending on the class and the professor, you will likely have a review day shortly before the final test. To make the most of this time, it is best to come prepared with questions, having already spent a good amount of time studying. If you don’t prepare before the review, it’s likely a lot of the concepts will just go over your head and you will miss out on a lot of learning.
5. Relax. The weather is great, play some outdoor sports and enjoy some free time leading up to the test. Get some sleep and come into the test with a fresh mind, having prepared well in the weeks leading up to finals. Be confident, you can do it! Remember, summer is just around the corner!