One of my surprisingly tough classes this semester was MSE 2100, or Introduction to Materials Science. It's a required class for my major, Industrial Engineering. All types of engineering require you to take introductory courses in the other types of engineering, to make you more well rounded. I have no interest in materials science, so I wasn't particularly excited about this class to begin with. My mistake was letting the "Introduction" part of the course fool me. I thought the course would be easy, but I had another thought coming. The material, besides being uninteresting, is pretty tough, and I struggled on this last exam. So, I went to Dr. Skaar's office to review the test. This was an online exam so I wasn't able to see what questions I got wrong, just my grade. Dr. Skaar was able to open it, though, and we went through the questions together.
As we went through the test, I began to notice a trend: most of the problems I missed were due to careless errors. A few of them, I didn't understand. Most of them were simple wording issues. For example, the question might have said "decreasing" but when I took it I saw "increasing", because that was what I expected to see. There were a lot of tricks thrown into the test. For probably a third of the questions that I missed, the answer was "none of the above". These questions looked like they had the right answer in the choices, and you wouldn't catch it unless you looked very closely. For some other ones, the wording of one of the answer choices was very close to correct, but still wrong. Again, you wouldn't catch this unless you looked very closely. Overall, I did very well on the free-response, math based problems, but I missed a lot of multiple choice because of the tricky wording. It wasn't immediately apparent at first; he had to explain each one because I was sure I was right for them.
I thanked him and left his office, but I didn't feel the way most people did after this experiment. Most people probably felt enlightened, like they had learned something, and thought it an overall positive experience. I felt like I had learned something, but not in a positive way. I was mad that I had been tricked by so many of those questions. I would have most likely earned a higher grade if there weren't so many questions like that. I did learn to always read each question carefully, so I definitely got something out of the experience that few people in my class did, but I was still mad about it. Every once in a while, people do need a reminder like this, to always be on the lookout for tricks and traps, but not in a way that has lasting consequences for them, such as a low exam grade.
So, that aside, I have a new test-taking strategy. I don't have another exam in there, my next one will be the final exam. It's an online exam that's open book and open notes. This past exam was the same, so I thought it was going to be a walk in the park. I should have known it wasn't going to be that simple, and now I know what to look for. I don't necessarily need to modify my studying habits, except for writing down the definitions word-for-word, I need to modify my test-taking. I need to read each question twice and really know what he's asking for. I need to prepare better ahead of time, because now I know the exam isn't plug and play, there's a little twist to it. Last time, I wrote down all the info I needed to know, but didn't bother to actually learn it, because when I took the test I'd have it right in front of me. Well, during the test, I had to constantly scan through my notes and sometimes the book for the answer. That definitely ate up time, and probably added to my stress level. So, my main strategy is to actually learn all the information for the test, like it's not open notes. That way, I'll be able to work faster, because I actually know some of this information.