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Need Tips To Improve Speed and Accuracy (Test Taking)

  1. Nov 4, 2006 #1
    Hello everyone--first post--thank you for having me this seems like an awesome place :biggrin: I'm not totally sure where to post this since it's a general problem solving question but basically I want to be able to solve physics and math problems in a shorter period of time. Aside from the obvious 'write faster' however, I was wondering if there are any other tips to help me accomplish this.

    Earlier in the week I took a physics test and I'm always slow in finishing. For some reason when I take a test I'm unable to see things as clearly as I do when I do homework, I guess because of the time pressure. Perhaps I have some test anxiety problems, but I realized something after I took the test.

    When I do a problem that has a significant amount of calculations I am constantly checking over my work because I'm afraid I will make a silly mistake that will throw off my results. I tend to go rather slow in doing this as I punch things into the calculator, then write down the results, then set up a new equation and repeat, etc. All the while constantly checking over things and second guessing myself. This obviously slows me down but then I thought that perhaps it slowed down my flow of thought as well, making me even slower. Could that be the case?

    How do you guys approach problems of this sort during tests and what suggestions do you have to improve my speed in working a problem but maintain accuracy.

    Thanks for the help :smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 4, 2006 #2


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    Approaching a test question is the same as approaching any time-pressured task: the secret to being fast is doing the right thing the first time.

    I wish to distinguish between two classes of mistakes. Let's call them mistakes of direction and mistakes of performance. A football/soccer player who skillfully directs the ball into his or her own goal or who picked up and passed the ball to another player would be making a mistake of direction. Mistakes like these show an underlying misunderstanding of the task at hand.

    If such a player were to kick at goal and miss, that would be a mistake of performance. He or she was doing the right thing but made a silly error in the attempt. These mistakes can be ironed out with practice; there is no fundamental misunderstanding involved.

    So in answering a test question, the first thing to do is to determine how one should go about answering the question. You should study to know about all the types of questions you will be asked and how to solve them. Then once you know exactly what to do, you just do it, and you should be practiced enough not to make too many mistakes in the performance.

    I think the best way to increase speed is in the first phase, determining what the task requires. You might underline important words/phrases in the question as you read it, then perhaps draw a quick sketch of the problem. Put it in your own language so you understand exactly what it requires. Perhaps sketch a small recipe of the tasks to follow in solving it, like "Determine s, then v" or whatever.

    Having done that, you then follow the recipe, whether it is in your mind or written down. If you are confident that you understand what is required, that you are following the correct recipe, you will be better able to concentrate on not making mistakes in the performance.

    People often suggest that you should check your calculated answers by estimating the answer, but I think this can't done in an ad hoc manner. You can't bumble along through the question and then hope to estimate the answer. If your approach is thorough and you are confident in your recipe, most errors will be readily noticable. It is then easy to get a feel for what the result will be.
  4. Nov 4, 2006 #3


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    Also, once you've done what verty has described, if you know you got the wrong answer and can't find where the mistake was made, skip it and go to the next question. Once you've finished the test, come back and see if you can find the error; this prevents one hidden mistake from ruining the rest of the test.
  5. Nov 4, 2006 #4
    it also helps to work on lots of questions. once you find a method that works for you, practice it by working out questions. Work out questions in the textbook, get copies of old exams from your department or student union, get old questions from your prof if he's willing. Do as many as you can. You can't get really proficient at solving problems if the only ones you're doing are the weekly homework questions the prof assigns you. The more questions you can solve, the better you'll get at solving them. You'll also have a better feel for what kind of answer you should be getting and get a better grasp of the material.
  6. Nov 6, 2006 #5
    Thanks a lot for the help guys. Usually when I try and solve a problem I sort of organize the steps in my head--but like I said, because of time pressure it's difficult to think it through completely so I just start writing down equations and calculating them so as not to lose any time and let that sort of guide me to the solution. Writing down a recipe seems like an awesome idea and I'll try it and tell you guys how well it worked on my next exam.. which is Wednesday lol.

    If anyone else has anything at all that could help, even the most miniscule or obvious thing, please post, I'm all ears :smile:
  7. Nov 6, 2006 #6
    I'm in the same boat as you bud. The only thing you can do is study, study, study. Then get a good nights rest and food to eat beforehand. Try not to get panicked, and keep cool. I've noticed the more confident I get with my homework, the more I study, the less inclined I am to make a stupid mistake, and the faster I can get the test done. Speaking of which, I've got a test worth %30 tomorrow. Eeek! Got to study!
  8. Nov 7, 2006 #7
    Oh my god! Hahaha. An update on my last post... Let me share with you the studying technique that just worked amazingly for me.

    Disclaimer : I am not at all suggesting this is the way to go about doing a test. Try it at your own risk!

    I spent the past week studying the homework thoroughly, doing all the questions over again. I made the weekend a nice break from homework, and just took the time to relax. Then the night before the test (yesterday), I stayed up until 2:00 AM doing all of the additional questions over and over again until I had everything perfected and the focus of each question cemented in my mind as something of second nature.

    Then I went to school hyped up on two cups of coffee, studied for another hour before the test (more additional questions), then went in to the test.

    We were given 75 minutes to finish the test, and I drilled through it only 20 minutes. Everyone else took the full 75 minutes, and some even got extended time in to their break. And here's the kicker... I got perfect. Haha...

    So, this method worked great for me. But it may only have worked for me because of my learning habits. Don't try it if you are the kind of learner who needs someone else to point out your mistakes. I had to spend many hours debugging my own mistakes in order to reach perfection. I also did spend many, many many hours preparing for the test, so it's not as if I never cared until the night beforehand.

    I hope you're able to find a method that works just as well for you!
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2006
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