Mastering College Prep Means Mastering This High School Moment

It’s not just a speed bump on the way to the holidays or summer, but a chance to finish with a roar instead of a whimper.

One moment the high school experience comes closest to the college experience is in final exams at the end of each semester.

Do you want to help your high school student on their future college exams right now? Do you want them to have practiced for the future, while at the same time making the best possible grades to get into college in the first place? Then you should help them see the world of comprehensive testing (such as “mid-terms” or “final exams”) in a new light – not just speed bumps on the way to the holidays or summer, but opportunities to finish each term with a roar instead of a whimper.

Perhaps even more importantly, you should know that final exams are more prevalent – and critical – in college. Sometimes the grade for a course comes half (or more) from this one test. So a college-bound kid who hasn’t mastered exam-prep really hasn’t mastered college prep.

For years, I have seen high school students avoid giving much thought to “Finals” until after the regular grading period is over. Then they feverishly attack a semester’s (or year’s) worth of work in a few days. What if you helped your high schooler change this habit now? By employing smart tactics, they can help their grades now (to build a great resume for college) and get ready for taking those all-important exams in college.

Coach your student through these three methods to prepare well for Finals:

Get the Big Picture

To get a grasp on a large collection of subject matter, a student should look for the big picture. This sounds so elementary, but I have known students who did not realize that there is a flow to the material in a class. As a result, they tended to think of an exam as a mixture of materials from old, independent tests!

Encouraging our kids to outline for themselves the progression of the class can often help them make sense of what perhaps had seemed to them like disjointed pieces. Even better, a student can learn to understand the big picture – and then keep it in mind all semester long. But if that hasn’t happened to this point, encourage your child to build the roadmap that they could have used from the beginning. A syllabus passed out at the beginning of the semester can help (especially if it’s in outline form).

And then next semester, your college-bound kid will be ready to see the roadmap from the beginning.

Track What’s Important

As you’ve noticed your student feverishly studying for past final exams, perhaps you’ve asked them something along the lines of, “What’s going to be on the test?” It wouldn’t be abnormal to hear something like, “I don’t know! How am I supposed to know an entire semester’s worth of info?”

As you probably already suspect, though, teachers aren’t trying to keep secrets about why their subject is worth knowing, or the major topics that may need to be remembered long after the class is finished. The themes and processes that have been stressed repeatedly throughout the class may be tedious to keep track of, but they are not going to “go away.” No, these are the main components of the course, and they are important.

Remind your wise student that if they miss the foundation of the subject, the “building” will not stand up. Kids sometimes need to be reminded that they are building from the ground up. They can’t afford to miss a row of bricks. Recognizing what is important from each class, each day, is an extremely helpful preparation for college – because it’s useful when test day comes.

Of course, if your student hasn’t tracked those details well this semester, now’s the time for them to look back and discover – or more accurately, recover – what was emphasized. They should look through old notes, textbooks, and their own memories for clues. Classmates and certainly even teachers themselves can help, if the student will ask. (More on this notion below.) As they do force themselves to recall the “tedious” details of the semester, that experience will prepare them to do a better job of watching for clues next semester. It is so much easier to get in this habit before college.

Nobody is Alone in This

We write about collaboration a lot. Working with others seems to be the modern way of the working world (and college classrooms), and studying for big tests is no different. Provided everyone is bringing something to the table, using a study group to encourage and challenge one another while reviewing large amounts of material can be an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. Back in the day, collaboration might have meant looking at another kid’s homework. Now it is taking advantage of multiple sets of eyes that have read the assignments, and multiple sets of ears that have heard the lectures and discussions. It is teaching and reviewing each other in ways that can help it “sink in.”

Your college-bound student needs to be well familiar with this collaboration method long before college. There is a learning curve in getting the most of a study group, and this needs to be part of a student’s toolkit before they get to college.

And while we are speaking of collaboration, our kids don’t need to leave the teacher out of the mix. Asking a teacher for their recommendation on how to study for a test may be the very idea that gets things started. I have had college professors tell me that some students are surprised to find out that the prof is actually pulling for them to do well on each test! As the late Howard Hendricks, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, was fond of saying, “The teacher has not taught until the student has learned.” Teachers and professors sincerely hope your student will “prove” that they’ve taught them something!

It is in everyone’s best interest for our smart young college shoppers to do the things now that will help them be academically successful in the future. Getting really good at preparing for comprehensive exams will pay off quickly and repeatedly throughout their college careers.

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