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Trying to do well on exams

  1. Aug 14, 2013 #1

    I'm a MechE student and I will be joining grad school soon.

    I recently took a course on C++ and in the end-of-course exam (which had 30 multiple choice questions to be done in 60 mins), I scored a 71/100. I was quite disappointed, since in the last few weeks, I spent lots of time practicing on visual studio....most students in my center don't practice and take exams after cramming the notes. However, they scored almost as much as I did. I can't figure out what went wrong, since I thought I'd get at least 80...

    Whereas I've done well on exams like GRE, TOEFL, semester exams at college etc,I even got into a top ranking university for grad school; I've done terribly at most competitive exams like IITJEE (exams to get into Indian Institutes of Technology), AIEEE etc....

    So my question is: is there something wrong with me?? Why don't I do well on some exams despite trying my hardest??

    Sometimes I feel that its because I try too hard, and when I think that, I accuse myself of becoming lazy....I just don't get it..
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 14, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2013 #2

    George Jones

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    Do you know what the class average for the exam was?
  4. Aug 14, 2013 #3
    No, actually there were only 3 of us in the class, and the other two guys opened the book several times....I guess that's not something I should comment on...but I myself tried really hard to do well...and there are people who have taken this course before and have gotten 80 (or slightly above)....
  5. Aug 14, 2013 #4


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    I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's because you don't know the material as well as you do on the exams you do better on.

    Alternatively, exam taking has some randomness in it - if you get unlucky and they just ask that one question that you don't know how to answer, you get a lower score than you expect. And sometimes they only ask questions on the parts you are really good at, and you do really well.
  6. Aug 14, 2013 #5
    @ Office_shredder Thanks a lot for your reply :-) Both the things you said make complete sense...but I was wondering: since there are so many people who do well in spite of not having put in much into the work (consistently too), is there a special technique one needs to follow while preparing for exams? My mom says that nowadays doing well on exams is more about the techniques you use, rather than the knowledge base...do you agree?
  7. Aug 14, 2013 #6


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    I disagree with your mom. It's true that some people study terribly - and they do this by not learning the material. They superficially review the material without attempting to solve problems sans book, and then are surprised when they can't solve any problems without the book and have forgotten all the techniques. Even worse, they look at a problem, give it a half-hearted attempt and then say 'yeah I guess I know this' and move on. Other than that it doesn't really matter how you learn the material, as long as you have actually learned it.

    It is not unusual for people to do better when they're putting in less work - the material comes more naturally to them, so they have to study less in order to do better. You're probably confusing the cause and effect relationship here - they aren't failing to study and then acing the exam, they're going to ace the exam so don't bother studying. Furthermore it's likely that you don't see all the work that they are really doing, and if they have a reputation as not being terribly studious then it's unlikely they'll tell you when they spend all night studying.
  8. Aug 15, 2013 #7
    Office_Shredder Thanks, that helps, especially the first paragraph...as u said, 'learning' is the most important thing!
  9. Aug 15, 2013 #8


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    you have to keep in mind. you can memorize the material but teachers like to put questions in there that aren't in the book that require synthesis of several different concepts that you really need to think about to work them together.
  10. Nov 4, 2013 #9
    Well I'm back with a related question and I'd love some feedback from all of you. So I'm finally in grad school and my school is notorious for giving extremely difficult, thought provoking questions for the weekly homework.

    Teachers encourage people to discuss h/w in groups so that we learn from each-other, but the h/w is often challenging enough so that even with a group of 6 people (with some PhD scholars also) we don't manage to get answers. We have 2 such subjects per semester, and research (which is supposed to be the main part of grad school).

    So I find that some people spend lots of time on h/w and spend hours trying to figure out the h/w. These people tend to lead the discussions in the group. I feel slightly 'inferior' to these people, because I just don't have the patience to sit with the same h/w problem for 2-3 hours and instead I rather focus on research work.

    Also, I find that I have a problem of making small errors in even relatively easy problems. So often its like everyone gets the same answer but even though I follow the same procedure, I just don't get the same answer.

    I'm not sure how to handle these problems. I also don't know whether ideally I should be spending more time with h/w!

    Please advise.
  11. Nov 4, 2013 #10
    If the home-work you get is thought-provoking, then that's excellent. It is true that the work will take time and patience before getting the right answer, but you should not give up on the problem so easily. Spend lots of time on the h/w until you have tried your hardest. This, in turn, will help you build the patience and perseverance required for research. While conducting research, you won't yield an exciting result every minute. As for making small errors, its often best to recheck all your work multiple times. This is important on h/w as it will get you in the habit of quickly rechecking your work on an exam. In other words, spend lots more time on the h/w until you get the answer and recheck your work often.
  12. Nov 4, 2013 #11
    I understand what you're saying, but I only have 24 hours in a day and the h/w comes in weekly. So if I spend all that time on h/w for 2 subjects separately, and I do that for every week in the semester, when am I going to put in that thinking time for my research?? As you said, thinking sills will help me do research. But if I do h/w for so long, when am I getting a chance to implement that for research? I already spend about 20 hrs/week doing hw for the 2 subjects combined. Plus, I also need to study the chapters.
  13. Nov 4, 2013 #12
    Graduate school requires sacrifice. Since this is the start of your graduate school, there isn't much research to be done. When you get to the main research for your dissertation, you would have finished your courses by then. I will assume that you are a RA, therefore are having to do some more research. In that case, you will have to sacrifice some of your personal activities and focus more on school work.

    Officeshredder, I agree that learning should be valued much more then memorizing. However, at this point in the education system, it is more about memorizing formulas and techniques which will help you get more marks on the exam. It shouldn't be that way, but unfortunately it is.
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