One of the most hated things in all of school is the speech. Students hate talking by themselves in front of a room full of peers. This usually has something to do with students not wanting to look ridiculous in front of their peers. Personally, I never had too much of a problem with presenting in front of a bunch of others, but I wasn’t necessarily a natural either. My strategy consisted of trying to memorize my presentation as much as possible, but at the same time, I never fully had my presentation down. Therefore, I’d be walking a thin tightrope to not trip up on my presentation while still trying to sound natural.
Most of the time, it worked, but I knew that I was more or less faking it the entire time. I was trying to make it seem like I knew everything, though I didn’t. (To be fair, I was still good at presentations, but I always noticed this internally.)
I can’t help but notice the similarities between those presentations and how students need to approach tests at school. Whether it be in physics, chemistry, biology, or mathematics, students rarely go into a test feeling completely comfortable. Therefore, they are banking on the fact that the teacher will not ask difficult questions on the test that are in their “weak spot”.
Despite being pretty good at mathematics and physics, I’m frequently in this position. It’s not that I don’t know my material. It’s that there’s such a large amount of concepts that need to be known that it can be difficult to keep track of it in one’s head without forgetting a few things. Honestly, the only thing way I’ve found to permanently store concepts in my mind is through continued use over several semesters’ worth of classes, which is obviously too long to be useful for any specific test. I frequently catch myself in a new class and doing something that seemed so difficult just a few semesters ago and finding that it is straightforward now.
The problem is that there’s a tension between time and becoming comfortable with the material. Two and a half years after my first calculus course, I’m pretty comfortable with taking derivatives of most functions. But now, taking a derivative is supposed to be like doing simple arithmetic. New challenges have arisen in my courses, so those are what cause me trouble.
There’s no easy solution to this. The simplest solution is to do a lot of practice problems. Unfortunately, that takes a lot of time and so you are limited in what you can do. Therefore, the other strategy I take is to try and cover all my bases by doing problems that are vastly different in what they pose. Then, when I find one that I am struggling with, I focus on doing a few of those kinds of problems, and then I move on. This way, I’m not staying too narrowly focused on one topic.
The name of the game in school is to arrive on the test with as little need to “fake it” as possible. By exposing oneself to all the different scenarios and questions that can pop up, you’re giving yourself the best chance to be prepared to do well on the test.