No. 5: The Rule of Practice
If you want to do well on anything, a sport, a game,
or whatever, you practice. Similarly, if you want to do well on my
exams, you practice. Sounds simple. The question is, though, what do
you practice? You practice whatever it is you're going to have to do
on the exam.
In my courses, I emphasize memorizing the basic facts,
structures, events, and principles, and using them to apply what you're memorized,
usually when I've manipulated or changed some aspect, or in a completely
new situation. You could memorize everything in my lectures and the
book, and still fail the exams. You have to both remember the important things
and apply them to new situations. Either one alone is not going to
help you much.
So to do well, you need to practice recalling what you've memorized,
you need to be able to apply that knowledge to something new.
For the memorizing, I prefer the 'folded list' [Instructions
for Folded Lists as a pdf file] method. There are other methods
that I don't personally like as well, but that might work for you.
OPTIONAL EXAMPLE--Imagine that you're a student in a course
of mine, and I tell you that you're going to have a test on basketball next
Monday. So, you go home and memorize the rules and strategy of basketball.
Then on Monday you arrive ready for the test, and I hand you a basketball.
Your test, I say is a game of basketball. How well will you do? Sure,
the rules and strategy are certainly important, but if you've never practiced
basketball, you're going to fail.
In my classes, virtually every question makes you take something
you've memorized and asks you to transfer it to something new. A typical
question mentions some structure, event, or principle, and then tells you
that something is changed, or that you're in some new situation. For
an answer, you have to predict what would or would not happen. I would
never ask you simply for a definition of DNA or a gene. Instead, I
might ask you to predict what would happen to your cells if your body had
too little of one of the four nitrogenous bases, or if a gene duplication
had given you an extra copy of some gene.
You may THINK that you can answer these questions just because
you've memorized the material. And you may THINK that in our hypothetical
basketball game that you could easily shoot a basket. You might even
be right, if you had unlimited time to think or shoot. However, you'll
probably have only a minute or two for each exam question, and in a game
you'll get only one shot at a time (if you're lucky!). If you've practiced
well, that's enough time. If not, you'll run out of chances.
So, find out what you'll need to do on the exams, and
practice those skills. Practice THOSE skills, not just what's easy
to Seven Rules for Learning]
Last updated 12/1/2009
College of William and
Mary, Department of Biology