Appealing to Tired Eyes

Here’s a college tip: If you have the chance to work for a professor during your academic career, go for it. Professors are a great source of knowledge, professional contacts, and career help.

And you’ll also learn a big lesson about test-taking.

Here’s how: working for a pro, you will inevitably end up grading exams. Then you will learn a valuable lesson: grading essay exams is boring and exhaustive work. Once you have graded a dozen or so essays, the thrill of participating in the education of America’s future leaders fades noticeably. Answers run together, eyes glaze over, coffee disappears.

What’s the moral of this story for you, the test-taker? Write for tired eyes. People with tired eyes and a big stack of bluebooks to grade tend to skim rather than read every single word. Therefore your goal as test-taker is to make it easy for the grader to award you points. Remember, you start with a blank sheet of paper worth zero points. Only by showing what you know about the topic do you accumulate points. The more you show, the more you score.

Start with vocabulary. Use the terminology from the textbook, and especially from class lectures. Even when you are a bit uncertain about an answer, using the relevant terminology will help your score. Underlining key words in your response makes them stand out. Equally important are lists. Both textbooks and professors tend to present material in sequential lists. Recreating a list of bullet points makes it easy for the grader to find the key content, give you points, and move on.

When in doubt, the key word is “quantity.” Write as much on a subject as you can if you’re not certain of the exact answer. The more facts and concepts you deliver, the more opportunities you give the grader to add points to your total. Think about the “extreme” even one or two relevant statements will be worth more than a blank page.

Make it easy for the grader to award you points. Remember those tired eyes. Take this advice and you are on your way to making college count.

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