

Maximizing Success: How to Take Engineering Exams What happens when you studied really hard and you forget everything right before the exam? There are some things you can do to help you do better on the exam! What are the Steps for Doing Well? 1) Prepare for the exam properly 2) Get enough rest and food before the exam 3) Have all materials needed for the exam 4) Take the exam constructively 5) Use strategies to get more points 6) Check your work Preparation is 90% of the battle Study for the exam appropriately: Memorize important details Practice solving problems similar to homework Make up a good but not overwhelming crib sheet Think like the professor Read the book Restudy any quizzes you’ve had and be able to solve all of the problems These things will certainly help you get the best grade possible. Without them, you are already at a disadvantage. Sleep and Eat Getting enough sleep will ensure that you’re able to function normally. You won’t be able to catch all the details if you’re asleep during the exam Eating will make sure you’re also at your best. This is particularly important if you have blood sugar problems Enough said. Have Needed Materials Never, ever forget your calculator! It’s hard enough without having to try to do everything by hand Rulers can be helpful. Reading stuff in tables and on charts is easier with one Crib sheets are sometimes allowed (also called a cheat sheet) It’s good to put the things you’re likely to forget. Remember that microfilming the book won’t help... Take the Exam Constructively This means you don’t just give up. Try to turn the problems on the exam into problems that are similar to ones you’ve done on homework. (This’ll normally get you at least a C!) Think about what the question is trying to ask…which concepts are important to solving the problem Think algorithmically on how to get from point A to point B Now where else can you go? Strategies: The key when you forget everything! Learn how to budget your time. If you spend 90% of your time on 10% of the exam, you won’t do very well. When you get stuck, move on to the next problem and go as far as you can on that one. Do not try to work linearly through the exam from the beginning to the end. Start where the points are weighted more. I.e. Do the problem worth the most amount of points first Strategies: The key when you forget everything! If you have timing problems: Practice more problems next time Try using a watch alarm or beeper to remind you to move on to other problems when you get stuck. Stress algorithms that get you from different information to where you need to go Strategies: The key when you forget everything! What do you do when you need part (a) to start (b) but you didn’t get (a) right? This is when you basically write out the solution steps without any numbers. Or, you can assume a number for a and go on… When you do this: Demonstrate you know the correct units for (a) Demonstrate you know limits on (a) is it between 0 and 1? Etc. Strategies: The key when you forget everything! If there are multiple routes depending on what (a) is: Write out complete solutions for all possible paths (Time consuming, but maximizes points!) Reminder: Most engineering professors give 6580% of the points for knowing the correct steps, even if you don’t even come remotely close to the correct answer. The algorithm is most important Mathematical mistakes are minor compared to algorithm errors You’ll get most points for the algorithm! Strategies: The key when you forget everything! Use units to help you out… How do you convert a velocity to a volumetric flowrate? Volumetric flowrate ? Velocity m^{3}/s ? m/s You need to multiply velocity by something with m^{2}. This is normally an area! Unbelievably, thinking of units like this will often be worth a lot of points even if you don’t know why you’re doing it! Check your Work Are there bounds on your answer: I.e. did you get a negative absolute temperature? did you get a negative absolute pressure ? is the flowrate faster than the speed of light? These bounds will at least let you know when you’ve made a math mistake or huge conceptual error. What do you do when you find you’ve made a mistake on the problem by checking the bounds? When you Know You’ve Made a Mistake by Using Bounds: Quickly leave a note that you know what the bounds are and that you know you’re answer is incorrect. Go solve the rest of the exam Come back and fix your error This will maximize the number of points you get on the exam because you’ll already get some points for the work you did on that problem. But you won’t get significantly more points for only redoing that problem and nothing else (unless you made a big, big mistake). Check your Work, Continued If you have time, recheck all mathematical manipulations on your calculator When you solved the two equations with two unknowns, do they actually work in both equations? Be aware of your own weaknesses: Did you integrate when you were supposed to instead of accidentally differentiating? Do you often do the same thing wrong on similar problems? I.e. use the ideal gas law to describe liquid behavior? The Crib Sheet A crib sheet can be useful or not depending on how you use it. You should only put key information you have a hard time remembering. Don’t put things like the ideal gas law that you know. Don’t stuff every iota of information on there; you won’t be able to find it if you do. Don’t rely on your crib sheet as the font of all knowledge. What happens if you lose it? Do put sample problems or sample steps you have trouble with. Other Details Remember, the prof is testing you on what you’ve learned. You probably already did this problem in reverse for homework Think about problems you’ve done and identify which problem the new problem is like. When you get stuck, be aware of time Work equally on all problems, but concentrate on the ones that are worth more points or are easy where you’ll get all the points for that one. Other details Remember to maximize your total points on the entire exam. Don’t just maximize one problem. Never, ever, ever, ever erase anything unless you fully replace it with a solution you know is correct! Make the professor figure out how to grade your exam when you have two answers which might be correct and you’re not sure which one. Sometimes the prof will give full credit for the right answer and no penalty for the wrong one... Finally Prepare well. Figure out how you need to prepare for engineering exams early on in your academic career. If you’re not getting it, pick different ways of studying. Beware of studying with others (you might rely on their brainpower too much and they can’t help you during the exam) Talk to the professor early if you are having problems Get help while the help is still useful To return to the previous page, click here. 
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