Free University Step-by-Step Guide
The following is a step-by-step program that you can use as a guide to study any subject. In a sense you are designing your own curriculum, but doing it in the same way most professors do: by using the table of contents of a standard textbook as an outline and building from there.
by Jack C. Star
Director, Free University Project
Before you begin, there are two web sites that you need to investigate:
The College Board - which provides the Advanced Placement exams (AP, limited to high school students) and the CLEP exams (College Level Examination Program). Plan to spend at least an hour at this site. Even if you are taking the CLEP, read the material about AP subjects as well; there is overlap in the material covered. Also read the sections for parents and teachers. Tucked into some of the detailed AP descriptions are sample quizzes you will find useful.On the basis of your investigation and your personal goals, decide which exam you plan to take first.
The GRE - Most college students know about the General GRE exam which is required for entrance to many graduate schools. However, they are less familiar with the Subject Exams, which test knowledge in a specific field (e.g. Psychology, English Literature, etc.) These exams typically cover the work found in a couple of lower division courses and four upper division courses - the equivalent of a minor in the subject.
Following is a suggested plan of action that you can use for any exam:
1) Find out what subject matter is covered on the exam. This information does not seem to be available on the Web. (We're working on it.) All of the testing agencies, however, turn out publications that are available either free or for a modest cost (under $20). Information about these publications is available on their websites.
2) Make an Outline of the subject matter:
3) Obtain a test preparation book that contains at least three full practice exams. Publishers include Barron's, Arco, REA, and others. These books also review what is covered by the exam, provide a list of suggested books and sometimes other tips about the exam. Check to see that the answer section of the book provides a discussion of BOTH right and wrong answers - knowing why you chose the wrong answer can be very useful. (If you have trouble finding a test preparation book we can get one for you. Contact the Bookstore.)
4) Set up a directory (folder) on your computer (or on a disk if you are using someone else's computer) for the course. Establish a subdirectory for each subtopic. With this arrangement you can download information directly into each topic area and put information than spans topics under the main course directory.
5) Using a good encyclopedia (on-line, CD-ROM or print):
6) Take the first practice exam. (I know you're not ready. Do it on faith.)
7) Check with the testing agency to determine when the next several tests will be given in a location near you. Target a date and find out when you have to notify the agency that you will be taking the test. Circle the date(s) on your calendar.
8) Go to the Lecture Hall area of the Free University site.
Pardon the old saw, but, "Well begun is half done."
Now you have to set up a schedule to accomplish your goal.
A bit of background: A three unit college course generally runs for 16 weeks, with 3 lectures per week, a couple of mid-term exams, and a final -- 40-45 hours of lectures. In addition you are expected to do outside work of at least two hours for every hour of lecture. Therefore the total time expended for this course is between 120-140 hours - even more if a term paper is involved.Now go back to your course outline and fill in the number of hours you should budget for each topic: e.g. If one topic is worth 10% of the exam, you should budget a total of 12 hours for that topic.
However, you read three to five times faster than a professor speaks. Therefore you may save 15 to 20 hours by reading the lectures, rather than attending them. That having been said, budget 120 hours per course plus six hours taking practice tests. Depending upon the knowledge you bring to the subject, you can plan to spend from 6 to 8 hours a week for from 12 to 16 weeks.
It's very important to set up a calendar of study time and really try to stick to it. Build in a few alternate times every week or two in case you are thrown off schedule. You will probably want to break the course into three or four segments with a couple of hours review at the end of each segment to keep details fresh in your mind.
Try to establish uninterrupted study times of 1.5 to 2.5 hours each. (If you have trouble with this concept check the Student Support/Study Skills page.
The importance of a diary: From this point on you must maintain an accurate diary of your activities. An entry should be made at every study session. It should contain:
This diary is important to you -- it shows you what you are accomplishing and acts as a silent motivator. It may also be important to show to a college counselor or member of the faculty to demonstrate what material you have covered.A typical study session (that is applicable to any subject) might go like this (obviously this is just one scenario -- go to Student Support/Study Skills for additional tips):
Obviously the above scenario is not one-size-fits-all. Take what makes sense to you and add whatever else makes you comfortable. But no matter what your style is, it should include: the use of study questions, a diary entry, and talking it over with someone else.After about 20 hours of study retake the first practice exam. This time do it within the time period required. Don't guess. Make up a summary sheet as above. You still will not have covered most of the material on the exam - but if you see areas where you should have known the answer, but didn't, set aside a review session before you continue.
Take the second practice exam after 50 hours of study. Do it within the time period required; keep your answers on a separate answer sheet following the instructions above.
Somewhere around 75 hours of study retake both the first and the second practice exam. This time you should make educated, but not wild, guesses. You should be noting steady progress. If not, figure out which subtopics you have already studied are giving you trouble. It frequently helps to look at another web link that contains similar material for a different approach.
As you near 100 hours you should be nearing completion of your studies. Review your outline, notes, highlighted material.
Take the third practice exam under rigid test conditions. Answer every question. This time when you guess put a question mark next to your answer on the answer sheet. Go over all the answers - both right and wrong, very carefully.
You should be doing pretty well by this time. Look closely at the questions that you answered incorrectly. Do you understand why (did you misread? jump to a hasty conclusion?) Review the sections of your outline where you are the weakest.
If you have other practice exams available, take them as well.
If the scores on the practice exams are really good, there is every indication that you will do well on the actual test.
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