Midterms are coming up: Why do students fail exams?
By Dr. George Acquaah
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
Exams, tests, and quizzes are some of the most common traditional methods used to assess student learning. Most of these methods require students to commit the course information to memory, and recall it at the time the test or exam is being taken. Have you ever wondered why students fail exams? Or, more specifically, have you ever wondered why you failed a particular exam? More importantly, what can you do to be more successful at exams?
To assess learning, it is assumed that students have been taught the subject material. Consequently, the factors that affect success at exams include the quality of teaching and the learning environment. Poor teaching, poor facilities, and even poorly constructed exams can contribute to poor performance at exams by even good students. In addition, other external factors like poor health, emotional issues, and even hunger can adversely impact the outcomes of exams.
In this conversation, I want to focus on the student, and some of what he or she should do to increase the chances of success at exams. Even so, I can only focus on a few key factors.
1. Psyching yourself out of the course:- You must take a course before your are tested. A fatal mistake a student can make is to psyche him or herself out of the course by starting out with a defeatist, can't do attitude. Remember, excellence is not a skill but an attitude. If you start by convincing yourself that the course is difficult, and that most people fail it anyway, you are likely to fulfill this prophesy. Just because your friend took the course and flunked it does not mean you should resign yourself to failure!
2. Failing to attend classes:- Exams are based on the course materials taught in the classroom or applicable setting. If you do not attend classes how can you know the material you are expected to learn? If you don't attend classes, how can you be taught by the teacher? Attending the classes includes having all the textbooks and supplementary materials required for the coursework.
3. Inappropriate study habits:- Attending classes is one thing; understanding and learning the subject material is quite another. If you don't understand the material, you should make use of tutorial sessions and office hours for additional help. Inappropriate study habits can impede learning. Passive learning is a method of studying whereby students just read the book or listen to tapes, hoping that would result in retention of the material. Active learning, which is more fruitful, entails activities such as reading the material, synthesizing, summarizing, outlining, self-quizzing, and taking practice exams. Avoid cramming! Pace yourself while studying.
5. Inappropriate preparation for exams:- Studying the material is different from preparing for exams. Be sure you know what the teacher expects you to know for the exam and the form of the exam. Prepare by studying the material and practicing questions.
6. Not following instructions:- Understanding the questions is part of the exam! If you are asked to write a short essay, don't write one sentence. If you are asked to circle, do not underline. Pay attention to the key words - e.g., describe, outline, list, discuss, etc.
7. Exam anxiety:- Be sure to have adequate rest before the exam! Some students fail exams because they stay up the whole night and get to the exam room very tired. Some anxiety is normal. However, failing to prepare may cause undue anxiety. Eat well before going to take the exam.
I hope this brief discussion has been helpful. Until next time, this is Dr. G. wishing you all the at your upcoming midterm exams.