Get Your Sleep!

During my 27 years of teaching, I’ve often looked around my large class (400-500 students) and seen a student sleeping. I’d prefer that they were awake, but I still have some sympathy; college demands a lot of work, which can lead to staying up late reading and studying. As if this wasn’t enough, some students work outside jobs, are athletes, or participate in other activities like music. At college, sleep is in short supply.

This means that it’s important for you to get enough of it. On average, college students need to get about 8 hours of sleep a night, but the research shows that undergrads sleep 1-2 hours less than that. Staying up late on school nights and sleeping late on weekends messes with students’ internal clocks and makes the little sleep they get even less restful.


According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep leads to poor health. Less sleep can:
1) Increase stress
2) Contribute to acne and other skin problems
3) Lead to aggressive or inappropriate behavior, like being impatient or angry
4) Cause you to gain weight because of unhealthy eating habits
5) Heighten the effects of alcohol and possibly increase your use of caffeine and nicotine
6) Weaken your immune system and therefore contribute to illness

Lack of sleep can also hurt your performance in the classroom. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll have a tougher time paying attention, which will make it harder to study and learn material for exams. On top of this, lack of sleep will make taking the exams themselves harder—if you’re even able to get there on time. Too many students have come to my office, out of breath, saying that they were up all night studying, fell asleep, and failed to get up in time to take an exam.

If you want to have fun in college and also succeed in class, get enough sleep. Don’t avoid sleep by using caffeine and nicotine. These are stimulants, which means that they might help you stay awake in the short term, but don’t make you any more rested. Also, alcohol might help you fall asleep quickly, but your sleep will be disrupted during the night. Finally, manage your time as well as you can, so that you won’t even feel like you need to stay up all night.

By getting enough sleep you’ll feel better in both body and mind, continue to enjoy college life, and get good grades in your classes.

Tips for Taking Multiple-Choice Exams: Exam Day

When the day of a multiple-choice exam arrives, there are some very helpful test-taking strategies you should keep in mind:

1) When you first receive the exam, give it a quick look over and make sure to read the instructions. As I said in my last post, you will hopefully already know how many questions will be on the exam so you won’t have to take any time figuring out how much time you should spend on each question.

2) Answer all the easier questions first. This lets you spend more time on the harder questions. If a question is hard, skip it for now, and make a mark on your exam to remind you that you need to come back to the question after you finish all the easy questions. If you do this and are using a Scantron or other kind of bubble sheet, make sure not to mark in any of the bubbles for skipped questions.

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

3) If you can, try to think of the answer to a question immediately after reading it, before reading any of the possible answers. Then, look at the answers and see which one matches. This makes alternatives like “all of the above”, “a and b” or “none of the above” easier to answer. For example, if none of the answers you generated match the choices given, except for “none of the above,” then you know which one to pick.

4) You can make educated guesses based on the following: (a) answers with absolute words (e.g., “all”, “never”) are usually incorrect; (b) answers with qualifiers (e.g., “some”, “generally”) are usually correct; (c) correct answers sometimes repeat some of the terms in the question; (d) partly true and partly false answers are incorrect; (e) if two answers are opposites, only one is likely correct; (f) answers with unfamiliar terms tend to be incorrect; (g) if two answers mean about the same thing and there is only one choice, both are probably incorrect; and (h) just because an answer sounds correct, it doesn’t mean it is correct (e.g., “operatic” is not the same as “operational”).

5) Review the exam. Research pretty conclusively shows that changing answers leads to correct responses. So don’t immediately rush out once you complete the exam. You have time left, so use it to check your answers.

6) Don’t try to guess what the instructor had in mind when he or she made up the exam. Just because an “a” answer hasn’t appeared for a while, this doesn’t mean that one is about to appear. Overthinking in this way leads to errors. Your time is better spent just answering the questions.

Good luck on those multiple-choice exams!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Image credit by Alberto G. on Flicker.  CC by 2.0.

Tips for Taking Multiple-Choice Exams

By now, most of you have already taken a multiple-choice exam. If you haven’t yet, then you will soon. These exams are the preferred method of testing in many college classes, especially large survey courses. These exams are easy to grade, and professors can ask questions about a lot of material. Despite how often these exams are given, multiple-choice exams aren’t often well liked. Selecting one right answer from among many wrong ones can be pretty hard. There might be more than one right answer, “all of the above” answers and even the dreaded “none of the above.” In spite of this, you should understand that multiple-choice exams generally involve recognition (identifying an item you’ve already seen), which is often easier than recall (generating an item from memory).


The topic of multiple-choice exams is quite large, so I’m going to break it up into more than one post. In this one, I’ll talk about how to prepare for multiple-choice exams. There are three main points to make with regard to preparation:

1) Study, Study, Study! It’s critical to study hard, because multiple-choice exams are all about memorizing details—definitions, dates, formulas, and so on. In addition, do not cram for these exams because there is typically so much information you need to learn. Also, as I’ve said before, a great way to study details is to use flashcards because this study method is specifically designed to get you remembering a lot of specific information. Finally, keep in mind when you study that multiple-choice exams are typically going to test your ability to recognize information but may also test your ability to apply the information you learned to different situations.

2) Learn specifics about each multiple-choice exam you are taking. Talk to the Instructor and be sure you’re clear on how many questions are on the exam and how much time you have to take it. Then use this information to calculate how long you can spend on every question, while still leaving at least five minutes at the end to check your answers.

3) See if you can get old exams so you can review them. Even if your instructor doesn’t have old exams, maybe they tell you something about the questions and answers. Are the questions long or short? Does each answers always involve one specific choice that is present in the choice of answers, or are there going to be other choices, like “a and b” or “none of the above?” The more you know about the exam, the better prepared you will be.

Preparation is important, but of course taking the exam has its own issues. I will discuss tips to taking multiple-choice exams in another post.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.


Study Tips: Making Things Meaningful

Now you’re likely aware that when you’re in college, studying for exams is a way of life. This doesn’t have to be as much of a bummer as it seems, because you can make your studying easier and more efficient with some powerful lab-tested techniques.


One of these techniques is to make things meaningful when you study. It’ll make information much easier to remember. I’ve discussed this before, in an earlier post about the difference between maintenance and elaborative rehearsal. Here are some mnemonics, or memory aids, to help you do this.

1) Put the information you need to remember into categories. This is called “chunking.” Let’s say I told you to remember the following letters: FBICIANYCNFL. You could try to remember each letter by itself, but it would be more efficient to group the letters into units that already have meaning: FBI, CIA, NYC, and NFL. This means that you only have to remember 4 things rather than 12.

2) Take material you already know and associate it with information you want to remember. For example, in order to remember the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite, you could remember that a “stalactite,” which grows from the ceiling, has the letter “c” in it, which stands for “ceiling”. A “stalagmite,” which grows from the ground, contains the letter “g.”

3) Use rhymes. We’ve all heard the alphabet song, rhyming grammar rules (“i before e except after c”), and rhyming history facts (“in fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”). Make up some rhymes of your own. There are even websites that use rhymes to help medical students remember anatomical vocabulary.

4) Make an acronym by spelling a new word from the first letter of each one of the words you’re trying to remember. You may have used an acronym to learn the colors of the visible spectrum (ROY G. BIV) or the names of the five Great Lakes (HOMES). It’s easier to remember one word or a short expression than a lot of words.

Don’t stop here, though. If you need to, come up with other ways to make information meaningful. Good luck with your studying!

Special Guest Writer–Dr. Diane Snow: Combine and Conquer – Using Peer Groups to Achieve

This past Spring, I had the great fortune of traveling to China with numerous UK faculty colleagues. There were so many interesting, yet unfamiliar and daunting experiences.

I was awed and amazed by the Great Wall, and imagined what life must have been like when people roamed the endless steps and towers through their normal daily lives. There were places where the slope of the steps was negligible and climbing was easy. I barely had to pay attention to where or how I was walking, and discourse with others was relaxed. However, there were places where the steps were not adequately deep, forcing me to climb with only my toes to progress. In some cases, the rise of step after step was enormous, and I had to use of all four limbs and a lot of attention to the task to make the trek—truly demanding work.


It occurs to me now these steps could be seen as a metaphor for the transition from high school to college—an unpredictable and variable journey. Having been a “big fish in a small pond” in my high school, I found the workload unremarkable, and my effort was commensurate. Getting an A in each class did not make me winded. But all of a sudden, there appeared in college a much steeper climb. Courses no longer required just the reading of a chapter by the end of the week, but the reading of a book and a reflective paper in that same span. There was no longer an emphasis on introduction, but a focus on depth, breadth and integration.

While I found this challenge exhilarating, and stepped up my game, this new world view was daunting and presented a paradigm shift. Although early college days are long in my rearview mirror, I still remember the way I coped with this trial of increased volume and demand—networking and team-building. I intentionally reached out and met new people, studied with them, and learned with them. We tested the new waters as a team. We divided up the work, talked about each of our contributions, learned from one another, and solved problems together. We helped each other during triumphs and “face plants” as well, and somehow, we all made it—together. The task felt more manageable when others were facing the same challenges, had the same vision, and agreed to work through it step by step in a unified effort. Likewise, the accomplishments, when they came, were a shared victory and an award that made us stronger and more capable for the next challenge.

So as you’re climbing your Great Wall, don’t feel you need to be a weathered and independent traveler just yet. After all, in a tourist spot like that, there are thousands of friendships just waiting to be made, and so many worthy journeys to take!