Studying Your Practice Test
Studying Your Practice Test
After grading your test, you should have a list of the questions you answered incorrectly or skipped. Studying your test involves going down this list and examining each question you answered incorrectly. Make sure not just to learn the right answer but also to understand why you got the question wrong and what you could have done to get the question right.
Why Did You Get the Question Wrong?
There are three main reasons why you might have gotten an individual question wrong.
  1. You thought you knew the answer, but, actually, you didn’t.
  2. You couldn’t answer the question directly, but you knew the general principles involved. Using this knowledge, you managed to eliminate some answer choices and then guessed among the remaining answers; sadly, you guessed incorrectly.
  3. You knew the answer but somehow made a careless mistake.
You should know which of these reasons applies to every question you got wrong.
What You Could Have Done to Get the Question Right
If You Got a Question Wrong for Reason 1 or 2: Lack of Knowledge
Reasons (1) and (2) are variants of one another, and there is a pretty smooth continuum that runs between them. Both result from a lack of knowledge of some of the principles of physics. Discovering a wrong answer in this domain gives you an opportunity to target your weakness. When addressing that weakness, make sure that you don’t just look at the facts. For example, if you got a question wrong that dealt with resistors in parallel, don’t just memorize the rule for calculating the total resistance of a set of resistors in parallel. Ultimately, you want to understand why that rule is the way it is. And don’t stop there. You should next review resistors in series and DC circuits in general. Make sure you’re comfortable with Kirchhoff’s Rules: they’re useful in sorting out how current and voltage work in a circuit.
When studying the questions you got wrong, always remember that it’s important to focus on the essence of each question and to understand the principles that would lead you to a correct answer on similar questions.
If you got a question wrong because of an incorrect guess, review your guessing strategy. Did you guess smartly? Could you have eliminated more answers? If yes, why didn’t you? By thinking in this critical way about the decisions you made while taking the test, you can train yourself to make quicker, more decisive, and better decisions.
If You Got a Question Wrong for Reason 3: Carelessness
If you discover you got a question wrong because you were careless, it might be tempting to say to yourself, “Oh I made a careless error,” and assure yourself you won’t do that again. That is not enough. You made that careless mistake for a reason, and you should try to figure out why. While getting a question wrong because you didn’t know the answer constitutes a weakness in your knowledge about the test subject, making a careless mistake represents a weakness in your method of taking the test.
To overcome this weakness, you need to approach it in the same critical way you would approach a lack of knowledge. Study your mistake. Reenact your thought process on the problem and see where and how your carelessness came about. Were you rushing? Did you jump at the first answer that seemed right instead of reading all the answers? Know your error, and look it in the eye. If you learn precisely what your mistake was, you are much less likely to make that mistake again.
If You Left a Question Blank
It is also a good idea to study the questions you left blank on the test, since those questions constitute a reservoir of lost points. A blank answer is a result either of (1) a total inability to answer a question or (2) a lack of time.
If you left a question blank for reason 1, you should see if there was some way you might have been able to eliminate an answer choice or two and put yourself in a better position to guess. You should also make a particular point to study up on that topic in physics, since you clearly have a good deal of trouble with it.
In the second case, look over the question and see whether you think you could have answered it. If you definitely could have, then you know that you are throwing away points by working too slowly. If you couldn’t, then carry out the above steps: study the relevant material and review your guessing strategy.
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