Archive for March, 2016

Practice Exam Strategy

March 1st, 2016

If you are taking the exam later this month, it is time to start taking practice exams. When you do that, you want to be sure that you are reviewing them carefully and learning from your mistakes. The reviewing process is both the most important part of a practice exam, and the one that people are most likely to overlook.

I’ve posted a video that talks about this, but the TLDW version is that the way that I would approach a practice exam is to spend 2, 3, or maybe even 4 days on it. I would take it one day, under strict exam conditions with no formula sheets, and find out what my raw score is. On day 2, I would redo the problems I missed with my formula sheet to see if I had any new ideas or if any formulas would help (if they would, then that is a formula I need to memorize!) Then I would review the solutions to all the questions I missed, as well as any questions that I got right but found hard.

Now comes the part that people skip: On day 3, I would redo all of the questions that I missed to help solidify the ideas I learned from the solutions. Passively watching a solution won’t help you remember something as well as redoing it, and this will give you your biggest improvement. If you can score 85% on the easiest 80% of the material, and guess on the rest, then you should pass, so you really need to learn from your mistakes and solidify that easy 80%.

Ok, but I said 4 days isn’t unreasonable. How does this stretch out that long? Maybe in doing these practice exams you find yourself missing multiple questions on core topics, such as normal approximations or computing moments or things about Poisson distributions. If so, then redoing a bunch of practice problems on those specific topics can really help. Only do this with the most commonly tested topics — if you miss a question on Chebyshev’s inequality or some other really obscure thing, then this close to the actual exam the best strategy is to not care very much. That will be part of the 20% that you can guess on, and you certainly don’t want to waste a lot of precious, last minute time cramming in material that probably won’t be on the exam.