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It is the last week of classes.  Big essays are due now.  The dates of final exams are highlighted on students’ study calendars.  Stress levels on campus are rising.  Sales of Red Bull are increasing.  And I have been invited to a workshop to discuss the use of performance enhancing drugs for learning.

Some students are worried about passing or failing.  The advantages of passing are mostly obvious, if somewhat boring.  Few people consider the advantages of failing.  Here is a post which I wrote a couple of years ago on a colleague’s blog.  It outlines why, and under what conditions, a failure can be a very good thing.

Since I expect most readers intend to follow the boring route, here is the advice I give to my students:

  • Sleep well: if cramming the night before the exam makes you so tired that you cannot understand what the question is asking then it does not really matter how much you crammed.
  • Ask questions: it shows what kinds of test questions you find easy or hard or even think of.  Plus, it is good preparation for later when the questions become harder, vaguer and when the answers will not be found in the back of a textbook.
  • Knowing facts may be less important than knowing the thought process: you can discover the facts, later, if those facts are the one that you really need to know.  Knowing the thought process also helps to make your answer more convincing.  (Plus, even if they can memorize and use the right algebraic formula, a disturbing number of students make careless errors that would have been detected if they had looked at something other than the final number.)

Good Luck from all of us at GREG.

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