Editor’s Note: Pamela Fox is Coursera’s Lead Student Team Engineer.
Last week, thanks to the course calendar, I realized that my final exam for
Ariely’s class on Irrational Behavior
was due the night before a Google I/O
talk that I would be giving the next day
about Coursera – frankly, I was a little stressed. I’d never made
it so far in a Coursera class, and I was determined to make it to the end!
I freaked out: how was I going to study for the exam? I love learning new things,
but I forget them quickly when I move onto the next cool new thing to learn, and
I didn’t have the time or patience to rewatch every lecture. I needed to review
the materials somehow, but I never took any notes. Fortunately, I have tens of
thousands of classmates, and a number of them *did* take notes, and they shared
them in our forums. Our always-helpful TA wrote up a post with links to all the
student-sourced resources to make them easy to find, so I opened them up in my
browser tabs and set about to find the most efficient way for me to review the
last 6 weeks of material.
Some people learn best by sketching out mind maps connecting all the ideas in a lecture,
and two students in the class shared their notes online –
and Ivan Staroversky.
You can see a mind map by Albert of the first lecture below:
I personally have never tried making or studying from mind maps, and though I
was very impressed by how well they mapped out the concepts, I realized I wouldn’t have enough time to review all of the information presented in this format so I
researched other options.
We provide students in every class with a wiki that they can use for whatever
they’d like, and some students used the Ariely wiki to summarize the lectures
with succinct bullet points:
Another group of students, who called themselves the “on a tight deadlines”
group, created a shared Google Drive to upload lectures notes, both written and visual:
I’m a fast reader, so I loved the bullet point notes format, and read through
all of them as my initial review. But, I still wanted a way to test my knowledge.
How much did I actually rememeber?
Luckily, I discovered one student created
a set of 107 Quizlet flash cards
based on the glossary in the class wiki. Sounded perfect to me – not too many,
not too few – so I began reviewing them.
Now, as it turns out, I’ve written my own quiz cards app, so in the spirit of
practicing the “Not Invented Here” syndrome that we discussed in class, I took a
break from studying to port the cards over to QuizCards.
I started off by quizzing myself in multiple choice mode, and after a round of that,
I moved on to the “autocomplete” mode, which forces me to recall without having to type an exact term.
If I didn’t immediately remember the term, I’d Google it and read whatever wikipedia paper came up,
and that was enough to remind me of what we learnt about it.
My app uses the Leitner system,
where flash cards are in 5 buckets and moved from one bucket to the next with each
correct answering, and back to the first bucket on an incorrect answer.
When it was nearly 1am and I had half the cards in the 4th bucket, I decided
it was exam time! After all, I didn’t want to be under *too much* stress for the
exam, since as we all know from
too much stress can lead to decrease in performance for mentally difficult tasks.
I won’t find out for a few days how well I did, but I felt pretty good about my answers,
and I would have been nowhere near as prepared without the lecture notes and flash cards.
How about you?
This is the first time in years that I’ve studied for any sort of exam (besides a technical
job interview, which is sort of an exam). I’m so thankful to my fellow students for the work they put
into the study materials, and I hope that there are such helpful students in
other classes. What’s been your experience with studying for Coursera exams?