So, you’re sitting in front of the Biology review book for the NY State Regents exam and wondering how you can possibly memorize all the information in it. Or, maybe you’re wondering exactly how much you need to memorize to get the grade you want.
Although, memorization plays a key role in success on the exam, it is not the only key. In fact, if you spend only part of your time on memorization and part on cultivating other skills, you will be more successful. You will need to:
• Develop strategies for analyzing test questions
• Develop a logical and strategic approach to every question on the Exam
The Regents is like a marathon race. Sure, you need to work on the physical aspects of preparation or in the case of the Regents, on memorization. But, if all you do is run your hardest in your practice or in the race, itself you are likely to lose. You need strategies for pacing yourself and for dealing with the unexpected – like not losing your cool if the race shapes up differently from what you had anticipated.
Of the 75 questions on the exam, approximately 60 are multiple choice. These 60 or so multiple choice questions fall into several distinct categories and if you approach each category with a strategy tailored to that category, you will maximize your score. The questions can be divided into the following five categories:
• Questions based on diagrams that call on your knowledge of facts.
• Questions based on diagrams that call on your knowledge of processes.
• Questions based on charts that call on your ability to predict outcomes based on data.
• Questions based on reading an essay.
• The rest – questions in which all the information given is stated in the question.
Keep in mind, as well, that the 15 or so short answer questions, where you are asked to compose your own brief answer, fall into these categories, as well. They ask you to interpret either an essay or a chart.
Let’s start with the last category, ‘the rest.’ It comprises the largest group of questions of the Regents and memorization is critical for answering these questions. But, you will add to your score by having a system for analyzing the question and the choices given. Remember that no matter how hard and how well you study, you will know some areas better than others. Sometimes, you will be sure of the answer. Sometimes, you will have a pretty good idea. And sometimes, you may feel stumped. But, never guess. And never respond to a question without reading all of the choices. Good students who approach the Regents without a system often respond too hastily. What happens? They spot relevant buzz words in one choice that fit the question. Believing that there is no need for any further careful reading or analysis, they fail to attend to the other choices and they neglect the choice that more correctly answers the question.
But, what do you do if you are stumped? Even, if you don’t fully understand the question, don’t settle for making a wild guess. Break down the question, focus on the terms that you do understand. Then, use your logic. Even if you can’t initially pick out the correct answer, you may know enough about the subject to know that one of the choices is clearly wrong. Put a mark through that choice. In fact, take advantage of the fact that the Regents does not care how much you scribble on the test sheet. Any note taking you can do to help jumpstart your thinking process or jog your memory will clarify and focus your thinking – a crucial step in problem solving. If you still can’t figure the answer out, look at neighboring questions. Sometimes, the Regents asks a series of questions that are logically connected. If you understood one in the series, you can apply the information present in that question and the logic you utilized, to understand the one you are stuck on.
In general, approach the Exam like a puzzle that has valuable information and clues spread throughout. Any time you are uncertain as to the correct response, utilize any scrap of information you can find. It may lie elsewhere in the exam. It may be on your mind. But, you haven’t focused on its relation to the question at hand. Keep thinking and writing notes on scrap paper. Be prepared from the moment you enter the room to engage the Exam in this active way.