Without question I am a better student today then I was when I entered university three years ago. However, when I started the self-growth project I felt there was still one major academic area with room for improvement and so I decided to change the way I studied for and wrote exams. During a three-week period filled with midterms, I implemented a plan and experimented with several strategies that were directed towards limiting stress, anxiety and nervousness during the exam period. A brief description of my reasoning behind selecting test taking as my area of improvement will be explained. Likewise, the overview of my plan and my strategies, the refinements I made to each strategy, my response to interview question written by Terry Orlick, and my completed planning forms, will also be detailed. Success as a student is related to commitment, dedication, and enjoyment but everything comes down to the empirical characteristic, grades.
Students need good grades to continue their education. Academic success is vital to be able to reach my ultimate goal of studying medicine. I decided to choose test-taking skills as my area of improvement because I wanted to develop a plan to limit my anxiety and nervousness during an exam period. Anxiety affects my attention and I often make careless mistakes on test that easily could have been avoided had I remained calm. My plan to improve my test-taking skills concentrated on 3 issues that I have always recognized as areas for improvement but never really had the motivation for critical assessment. The personal self-growth project provided the motivation to assess these areas and as a result I developed several initial conclusions.
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First, when I study, time is not a variable and I can take all the time in the world to answer a question. What often happens is that I become distracted and my mind wonders but I still end up answering the question. During an exam, time is an important variable and there is no time for distracting thoughts. Every time my mind wonders during an exam I get anxious because I am aware that I have time constrictions. This leads to a positive feedback loop where anxiety causes more distracting thoughts and distracting thoughts lead to more anxiety. My strategy to help fight my battle against the positive feedback loop of anxiety was to implement a time variable during my study periods.
The second area of attention was to change the way I wrote an exam. Before my self-growth plan my strategy towards test taking was to go through an exam very quickly skipping questions that required in depth thought and I only answered the easy questions. I would then go over the test a second time to answer the hard questions. My reasoning was that if I eliminated all the easy questions I could manage my time more efficiently between the hard questions. In my first midterm I implemented my first strategy described in the above paragraph but continued with my pre-self-growth test taking method.
When I receive the midterm back I looked it over and I noticed that the questions that I skipped the first time through because I labeled them as hard where in fact not so hard. Some of the questions I labeled as easy were done incorrectly because I did not take the time to really think about what the questions were asking. Instead of improving my time management, what was in fact happening was that I was not thoroughly reading through the questions as I was trying to rush. This caused several problems. The more questions labeled hard the more anxious I became. Questions labeled easy were sometimes not easy and were often answered incorrectly.
My second strategy that I implemented during my second midterm was to slow down. I read through every question twice and took the time to really think about what the questions were asking. Results to the implementation of my second strategy will be discussed in more detail later in the paper. My third strategy was also linked to my study habits. In my pre-self-growth project study method I learned visually by reading over my textbook and my notes and highlighting important material. By learning this way I very rarely wrote my thoughts down on paper.
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For example, if a professor handed out practice questions I would look at the questions and answer them in my head. However, when it came time for an exam and I was required to write my thoughts down I would often draw a blank. I found I would understand the question and the material but I would not know how to format my answer on paper. It took the motivation of the self-growth project to change my study method because even though I understood and realized problems existed I had become so comfortable with my habits that they were hard to break. My strategy to eliminate the problem of drawing blanks was to allot more study time and to take the time to write my thoughts down on paper. This strategy was probably the easiest to arrive at but the results, as I will discuss later, were outstanding.
In the section titled mission to excellence interview in Terry Orlick’s book called In Pursuit of excellence, he proposed several questions most of which I answered. Terry’s questions and my answers were the following: 1. What is your target for improvement? I would like to improve my test taking ability. 2. What are you doing that you don’t want to do? What would you like to change make better? I find no matter how much I study for a test I always get nervous consequently what often happens is that I miss read questions or miss something the teacher says during the exam period and I end up performing under my potential. I would like to change my attitude so that I do not become nervous.
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I would also like to be able to write an exam without becoming overly concerned and anxious about time restrictions. 3. Where, when, and under what circumstances is the greatest need or challenge for change or improvement? In what situation does the problem usually come up? What kinds of demands or expectations are being placed on you at that time? What are you thinking, feeling, or focusing on? The greatest need for change is during midterm or exam periods because this is where I often find I become nervous and make most of my mistakes. I want to go to medical school and I understand to achieve this I need to do exceptionally well academically. I put so much pressure on myself that I expect near perfection on every test. Often during an exam I am faced with a tough question that I don’t know immediately.
At this point I get nervous, my mind starts to wander and I think “Oh no! What happens if I get this wrong?” I focus too much on “what ifs”? I need to train myself to maintain total focus when I face a situation where I do not immediately understand a question and I need to focus on my present situation rather than contemplating the future. 4. How important is it for you to improve your reaction or performance in this target area? It is very important for me to improve my test taking performance because I need to succeed academically to become accepted to medical school. Medical school has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember and so I want to reach my full potential as a student because in the future I never want to be able look back at my present situation and think I did not give it my all. 5.
Think about the times when you have been in this situation and your focus, response, or performance has been at its best. What was going on then? What were you doing or saying to yourself? What were you focused on? During second semester midterms last year I never once became nervous. I went into every exam feeling confident almost to the point of being too confident. I remember having total focus, never thinking how the exams could affect my application to medical school. I really don’t remember anything being different but I do remember being totally focused on doing my best. 6.
What about the times when your response or performance seemed at its worst? What was going on them? What were you doing or saying to yourself? Where was your focus? During final exams last year, rather than reacting positively to conflict, as I did during midterms, I became nervous and made mistakes. I miss-read questions, left questions worth the most marks to the last minute and changed correct answers to incorrect answers at the last minute. During midterms every last minute change was from wrong to right while during final exams the opposite was true. Again, I cannot remember anything being different from the ordinary and I was still as focused as I was during midterms. However, I remember being slightly more nervous as I knew I had to perform as well as I did on my midterms. This leads me to think my level of performance probably had a lot to do with my study habits being ill designed.
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7. What seems to be the major difference between your best and less than best responses, experiences, or performances? The differences between my best and less than best performance were the following: Before the midterms examinations I had no expectations. I did not have anything I could compare to and I put less pressure on myself. However, doing well on my midterms created high expectations so even before entering the finals examination room I felt pressure to live up to my own past success.
I also feel that my method of studying was not consistent and possibly could have caused a variation in examination performance levels. 8. What do you think you can do to improve the situation, your response to it, or your performance within the situation? I feel I have to change the way I study by applying a time restriction when I attempt to answer a homework question. This will simulate the same time pressured environment that I encounter during a test.
I also feel I need to change my study habits by taking my time to write things down instead of just running questions through my head and assuming I will be able to figure it out on a test. The last strategy for change is that I feel I should change the way I write tests. Instead of rushing through the test the first time through I will take my time and re-read every question no matter how simple is sounds. I implemented my plan to improve my test taking skills over a three-week period that had me writing 4 midterms. For the first three exams I implemented a new strategy by itself and then reflected on its effectiveness. Subsequently I created refinements to each individual strategy.
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During my study period that lead up to the fourth midterm I implemented all three refined strategies and then made a final conclusion on whether I thought I had been effective in stimulating personal self-growth. In my first midterm I implemented a strategy that changed the way I studied. During my study period I created a time variable simulating the stress of time restriction during an exam period. I implemented this strategy to study for my first exam hoping that I would become more comfortable with time limits and in turn become more relaxed come exam time. I only placed a time limit on myself when I was answering a question from my textbook, I did not place a time limit when I was reading through my notes or my textbook. After my first midterm I assessed my feelings about the effectiveness of this strategy and decided on a few refinements.
Overall, the change did very little to limit stress. I found I was still conscious of spending to much time on each individual question. I decided that instead of a time limit to each single question during my study time I would be better off to set a time limit to a group of questions. I hoped that this change to my strategy would more closely simulate the time constriction faced during an exam.
I implemented this refined version of strategy one along with the refined version of all the other strategies as I studied for my forth midterm and the results will be discussed later on in the paper. During my second midterm I used my second strategy that required me to take my time writing the midterm instead of my old method of going through the test fast. After the exam I reflected on how much of a difference the second strategy created. Not only did I not misinterpret any questions, I became more relaxed.
As I answered a question I only thought about that specific question not about how I had to hurry up and move on to the next. I had a greater degree of concentration because my thoughts did not drift. However, because I took my time I did not leave myself much time for the final questions. As it turned out the last few questions were not difficult but had they been difficult my opinion of my second strategy might have been different.
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I decided to make a slight alteration to my second strategy. I did not change the idea of taking my time but I decided to add a time limit to each question during the exam period. For example if the exam period was 90 minutes long and there where 9 questions I would spend a maximum of ten minutes on a question before moving on to the next. Similar to my first strategy I implemented the refined version of strategy two during my fourth exam. My third strategy, like my first, required a change in my study methods.
Instead of doing most of my studying visually by reading and remembering I decided to change to a more active kinesthetic study method, where I would write my thoughts down. With my new strategy I had to increase my study time because it was a much slower method of learning. My rational for my third strategy was that if I practiced writing my thoughts down they would be more organized and so on a test I would be better able to write a well formatted answer. Of all three strategies this was the easiest to think of but the hardest to implement because I had become so accustomed to my old method of studying. Without the motivation provided by the self-growth project I would have never actually used strategy three because it required a lot of change and a lot more energy. It was a much more active way to learn as opposed to my old passive visual learning method.
As I began to write my third midterm I immediately recognized a difference. My answers were clear and precise and the time it took me to answer each question was also decreased. As a result I was more confident and less anxious about time restrictions. I left that midterm feeling dumbfounded as to why I had never taken the time to study using a more active kinesthetic approach before.
Implementing strategy three was the greatest change to my study habits that I have done since I entered university. I understand people learn differently but to those who struggle when trying to write answers to questions, even though they understand the material, as I did. I would definitely recommend attempting a more active approach to studying, in spite of this taking more time and effort. I did not feel I had to make any refinements to strategy three because it was so effective at generating a positive change. The fact that all of the midterms covered different material and each had its own distinct degree of difficulty made it impossible to determine the effect of each strategy relative to each other. However, experimenting with the different strategies did provide me with a good perception of what’s useful and what’s not.
For my fourth and final midterm of the hectic 3-week period I applied all 3 refined strategies. Again, I felt studying kinesthetically provided me with the greatest positive change and in fact it overshadowed any possible effect of strategy one because I finished the midterm with time to spare. Every time I answered a question I felt I had answered one similar to it at home and all my answers were direct and to the point. Applying a time variable to my study period helped me study more efficiently and as a result; although, I can’t say if strategy one helped me write my exam more efficiently, I can definitely say that strategy one was of use during study time.
By recommending a slower speed to test taking strategy two fit nicely as a compliment to studying kinesthetically. Not only were my answers formatted better I was also able to concentrate more on each question. Overall, I benefited from the personal self-growth project because I have developed some very important strategies that will help me academically in the future. Also, during the 3-week experiment I, beyond doubt, grew as a student. In conclusion, my experiences with the self-growth project were generally positive. With the exception of a little added stress during an already stressful midterm period the self-growth project provided me with valuable tools to increase my test taking ability.
I developed three strategies changing my study methods and my test taking ability. After implementing each strategy I made refinements and then implemented all three refined strategies before writing my fourth midterm. Overall, all three strategies proved to be positive; however, the improvements caused by changing my study method from a visual to a kinesthetic were incredible. I will apply these refined strategies for future examinations and I hope they will help me reach my ultimate goal of studying medicine.