We look at tests as the bane of our existence, like some form of cruel and unusual punishment inflicted upon us to make us feel like we’re dying.
Let’s change our perspective on testing.
Testing is an evaluation of how well you have come to understand the concepts that have been covered up to that point in class. Tests are given to show that you know what you’re doing and that the professor has done his job well.
Think back to the first day classes this semester. Professors handed everyone a syllabus and started reviewing. The professor gave a brief preview of the class and sent you on your way. Admit it—you probably felt a little intimidated by all of the terminology and concepts they claimed you would know for a (wait for it)…cumulative final.
By now, you’ve had a couple of quizzes and maybe a test. Maybe you did well; maybe you didn’t do so well. What can we take from that? We could think, “I’m going to fail this class. Have we passed the withdrawal period?” But I encourage you to think more positively about that grade—whether good or bad.
The first test shows you how your professor sets up his tests—what kinds of questions are used (e.g., multiple choice, short answer, essays, matching), how difficult the questions are, and where the professor gathers his questions. First tests also show how loose or stringent your professor grades exams. The first test of the semester is ultimately a giant experiment, and, from there, you can develop better note-taking, studying, and test-taking strategies.
Now, here’s a personal anecdote about how tests are a demonstration of how much you’ve learned thus far:
I had a test in Music Theory. It was the first test of the semester and I was nervous, obviously. I wanted to do well, but I viewed this first test the same as I view others: a major learning experience. I didn’t bend over backwards to study because I didn’t know the structure of the tests or the grading of the professor. I got the test back, and I had some mistakes to look over later. As I was looking through it after my staff meeting, I started laughing at how much I understood the silly mistakes I’d made earlier. My staff overheard and was completely lost about the jargon and concepts that I was talking about. I realized that, just a month ago, I knew the terms and thought I knew the concepts, but I was pretty much in their shoes (read: overwhelmed) at the mention of the topics on the test.
From this experience, we observe how a matter of a few weeks can make a vast difference in knowledge. Between the first day and the first test, you are well on your way. You’re already doing things you were scared to do on Day One. By December, these things will become second nature.
Don’t lose hope whenever you’re overwhelmed. Don’t think that you’ll never figure out accounting’s adjusting entries, or recognize the difference between a minor, diminished, major, and augmented triads, or figure out how to calculate the force of gravity. Keep an open mind and be sure to ask professors, peers, or tutors for help when needed. (Wesleyan has professors and tutors who care about your success. They want you to earn the grades you want to have, so if you’re struggling, you’re the only thing in your way!)
As you’re going into midterms over the next couple of weeks, try thinking about those stressful tests in a more positive light! They aren’t just a professor’s revenge (in most cases, but there are always exceptions); they are meant to show how far you’ve come. Study hard and learn much!