Test Preparation Checklist


Dr. Richard M. Felder is the Hoechst Celanese Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University.


  • Did you make a serious effort to understand the text? (Just hunting for relevant worked-out examples doesn’t count.)
  • Did you work with classmates on homework problems, or at least check your solutions with others?
  • Did you attempt to outline every homework problem solution before working with classmates?
  • Did you participate actively in homework group discussions (contributing ideas, asking questions)?
  • Did you consult with the instructor or teaching assistants when you were having trouble with something?
  • Did you understand ALL of your homework problem solutions when they were handed in?
  • Did you ask in class for explanations of homework problem solutions that weren’t clear to you?

Test preparation

  • If you had a study guide, did you carefully go through it before the test and convince yourself that you could do everything on it?
  • Did you attempt to outline lots of problem solutions quickly, without spending time on the algebra and calculations?
  • Did you go over the study guide and problems with classmates and quiz one another?
  • If there was a review session before the test, did you attend it and ask questions about anything you weren’t sure about?
  • Did you get a reasonable night’s sleep before the test? (If your answer is no, your answers to previous questions may not matter.)

Smart and Deliberative Practice

Source: Peter Norvig: Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years

Peter Norvig is a leading American computer scientist, expert on artificial intelligence and the Director of Research at Google Inc.

Researchers (Bloom (1985), Bryan & Harter (1899), Hayes (1989), Simmon & Chase (1973)) have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, telegraph operation, painting, piano playing, swimming, tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. The key is deliberative practice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again. There appear to be no real shortcuts: even Mozart, who was a musical prodigy at age 4, took 13 more years before he began to produce world-class music. In another genre, the Beatles seemed to burst onto the scene with a string of #1 hits and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. But they had been playing small clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg since 1957, and while they had mass appeal early on, their first great critical success, Sgt. Peppers, was released in 1967.

Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the idea, although he concentrates on 10,000 hours, not 10 years. Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) had another metric: “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” (He didn’t anticipate that with digital cameras, some people can reach that mark in a week.) True expertise may take a lifetime: Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) said “Excellence in any department can be attained only by the labor of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price.” And Chaucer (1340-1400) complained “the lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” Hippocrates (c. 400BC) is known for the excerpt “ars longa, vita brevis”, which is part of the longer quotation “Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile”, which in English renders as “Life is short, [the] craft long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult.” Of course, no single number can be the final answer: it doesn’t seem reasonable to assume that all skills (e.g., programming, chess playing, checkers playing, and music playing) could all require exactly the same amount of time to master, nor that all people will take exactly the same amount of time. As Prof. K. Anders Ericsson puts it, “In most domains it’s remarkable how much time even the most talented individuals need in order to reach the highest levels of performance. The 10,000 hour number just gives you a sense that we’re talking years of 10 to 20 hours a week which those who some people would argue are the most innately talented individuals still need to get to the highest level.”

Some Valuable Life Lessons from Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture”

• Dream big. Give yourself permission to dream. Fuel your kids’ dreams, too.
• Don’t complain, just work harder. Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.
• Treat the disease, not the symptom.
• Don’t obsess over what people think. If nobody ever worried about what was in other people’s heads, we’d all be more effective in our lives and on our jobs.
• Look for the best in everybody. When you’re frustrated with people, when they’ve made you angry, it just may be because you haven’t given them enough time.
• Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.
• Show gratitude. Go out and do for others what somebody did for you.
• Tell the truth. Honesty is not only morally right, it’s also efficient. In a culture where everyone tells the truth, you can save a lot of time double-checking.
• No job is beneath you. You ought to be thrilled you got a job in the mailroom. And when you get there, here’s what you do: Be really great at sorting mail.
• If you want something bad enough, never give up (and take a boost when offered). Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.

Rest in peace, Dr. Pausch. Thank you so much for your inspirational life lessons!
Randy Pausch: Really achieving your childhood dreams | TED Talk | TED.com
“The Last Lecture” book on Amazon