skip navigation
Artist's depiction of an Exoplanetary System, SSC Astronomy 141:
Life in the Universe
Prof. Richard Pogge, MTWThF 12:30

How To Study for the Ast141 Final Exam

Winter Quarter 2012 Edition

The Final Exam is a comprehensive exam, covering all lectures and assigned readings. It will be in the same format as the in-class quizzes, but will be twice as long. The final will be worth 30% of your course grade, or equivalent to 2 in-class quizzes in weight.

In giving you back your in-class quiz results, I also make sure you get your original test sheets so you can use them to help study for the final. The most common question I get is how to best use your old quizzes for this purpose.

Look at the problem this way: in past 10 weeks this course I have given 40+ lectures covering a wide range of topics that the book needs nearly 400 pages to cover. Attempting to start from scratch, reading the notes from day 1 until the last day of class during the weekend before finals week is an almost hopeless task.

So, what should you do?

Below I describe a study method that many past students in my classes have found to be very helpful to them.

Using the Exams as Study Guides

  1. Get your original test sheets and erase any marks you made. Start with the first quiz, since that happened the longest time ago. If you have lost your test sheet, send email to myself or the TA and we can send you a copy. Note that you must use your official OSU name.# email address - that is the only way we can verify your identity.

  2. Put the answer sheet for the quiz out of sight.

  3. Take the test using a blank sheet of paper with numbers 1-50, writing the answers a,b,c,d,e as required.

  4. If you find a question where you simply don't know the answer, don't guess!, Instead write "Don't Know" and move on to the next question. This is the most important part of the exercise: identifying what you don't know.

  5. When you've done all the questions, retrieve the answer sheet and grade the test.

    Here's what to look for while you are "grading" your quizzes using your answer sheets:

    1. The questions you got right are the topics you already know well, and are your lowest priority for studying.

    2. The questions you got wrong are the subjects you need to study. Do not memorize the right answers!, this accomplishes nothing because you learn nothing, and memorizing the answer to a question that won't be on the final is not a good use of your study time (the final does not just repeat questions from the quizzes). Instead, look up the topic covered by the question in the notes or the book, and try to understand:
      1. Why the answer you gave was wrong.
      2. Why the right answer is correct.

    3. Where you wrote "Don't Know", these are the topics you most need to study. Again, memorizing the answer is worse than doing nothing, you need to go into the notes and book so you can understand why the right answer is correct: simply "knowing" without "understanding" is unproductive.

      If after doing this you're still stuck, consult with me or the TA for an explanation, we're always happy to assist.

  6. Repeat this process for each of the 4 in-class quizzes.
The idea is to use taking the quizzes to help you identify the topics you most need to brush up on. In the end you'll spend less time studying and that time will be used more effectively.

You will notice that I haven't said anything about the homework assignments. This is because the problems given in the homeworks, while certainly related to what you will be expected to know on the final, are of a different nature. I use the homeworks to satisfy the requirement that GEC courses in the natural sciences must include a component of "quantitative reasoning". It is hard to ask quantitative questions on multiple-choice tests, so I put all such problems into the homework assignments, and not ask homework-style questions in the in-class quizzes and the final exam.

How NOT to study...

The above describes what I think is effective, efficient studying for an information-rich course like this. The flip side is that there are bad and even counterproductive ways to study.


I strongly urge that you NOT "study hard", which for most people means trying to cram as much stuff into your head as possible in the days before the final. This advice runs counter to all the instincts you have learned since grade school, but my experience is that most people are taught the wrong way to study (if they are taught at all). You know a lot more than you think. Re-taking the quizzes and working out the answers for those you got wrong by using the notes to guide you will be enough work as is, and it is effort focussed on exactly what you need to sharpen up on for the final.

Why is cramming a bad idea? The way think of it is that you already have most of the information you need in your head already: after all, you just spent the last 10 weeks of the quarter putting it there (provided, of course, you came to class regularly). The goal before the final is to sift through this knowledge and find out the things that you don't know as well as you should (the questions you didn't get right or didn't know), and then concentrating your limited study time on those areas of weakness. Re-taking the in-class quizzes as practice quizzes is the best way to do this.

Flash Cards

I remember flash cards from grade school, they tried to use them to teach us the multiplication tables in math. This is OK if the goal is to "memorize the times tables", but you don't truly understand multiplication until you know how it works, at which point the flash cards become irrelevant. The only time I ever found flash cards helpful was when I was taking German where they helped me to build my vocabulary. Now that is a place where memorization is essential.

In this class, bulk memorization of definitions or disconnected facts is detrimental for the most part, and thus flash cards are generally useless. Despite what you may have been taught after years of public education, flash cards are rarely useful in science classes. Not convinced? If you use flash cards, try this. Take one of your in-class quizzes and the set of flash cards you used to study for that quiz, and go through your cards one by one and make two piles: one of cards that if you had them with you during the test would have given you the right answer to a question, and another pile of cards that contained information that was not appear on the test (i.e., even if you had the card with you it wouldn't have helped). Every one of my past students in intro Astronomy who has done this exercise has found the "not used" pile is a lot bigger than the "would have helped" pile. In most cases, maybe 4 or 5 cards are of any use for any given test. Not a good percentage for a 50 question test.

Good Luck!

Return to the Astronomy 141 Main Page
Updated: 2012 March 3
Copyright © Richard W. Pogge, All Rights Reserved.