Sunday, December 13, 2009

How To Study For Exams In 20 Easy Steps: A Mom's Perspective

This week, Snarky Son faces his first full round of high school exams.

Fortunately, his school recognizes how overwhelming the coming days will be and has gone to great lengths to help the new freshmen class prepare. The dean of students and department heads met with parents to help us understand the gravity of the situation. Individual teachers handed out exam packets weeks ago, impressing upon their classes the need to prepare in advance. Some teachers have held review sessions outside of class, giving students additional opportunities to study and ask questions. Advisors have met with students, to help them manage the inevitable stress of exams.

We moms, of course, have also swapped notes, and have come to the consensus that the recommended study techniques aren't necessarily the utilized study techniques. Here are the exam preparation steps observed Chez Wiles:
  1. Clean your room. Make sure your desk is clutter-free, so you’ll have room to spread out. A clean room may also minimize distractions. 
  2. Organize your study materials. Make sure you have old tests and quizzes, class notes and books. 
  3. Check for text messages.
  4. When Mom hollers upstairs, stop playing electric guitar. 
  5. Start playing acoustic guitar. 
  6. Glance over French notes. Wonder why everyone is so worried about this exam.
  7. Check for text messages. Probably ought to check Facebook, too, to see if you’re missing anything. Quit Facebook when Mom catches you on Farmville.
  8. See whether Lionel, the 12-pound cat, wants to be worn as a hat. Nope. Maybe he wants to go in dryer. Nope. Make note to self to try again later.
  9. The bedroom is starting to feel stuffy. Time for a change of scenery. Lay on hallway rug to review vocab.
  10. When Mom hollers again, tell her that you’re not just playing the guitar – you’re putting your vocab words to music. Everyone has their own study technique and this is yours. You might be a genius. Everyone should study this way. Can you think of a rhyme for “complacent”? How about “obstinate”?* 
  11. Go downstairs for a snack. Notice that Mom has put out an assortment of cut fruit and vegetables. Eat one baby carrot, pour a liter-sized cup of Cheerwine, fill a mixing bowl with Tostitos Scoops and take them upstairs with you. 
  12. Wait. Did the dog want to come in? Go back downstairs and check.
  13. Go back upstairs, spread Physics notes and tests across the bed. This will be the Physics work area. There. That looks good. Good organization. Check text messages. Check Facebook.
  14. Wow. That was tiring. A shower will re-energize you. Time to take a shower.
  15. Now that you’re re-energized, your brain works better, and you remember that comfortable clothing is important to successful studying. Sadly, your favorite sweatpants aren’t clean. Time to do laundry.
  16. Walk through kitchen. Someone’s hidden the Cheerwine. Consider asking Mom to go to the store for more. Look at her and notice the creases in her forehead. Reconsider. Open a two-liter bottle of 7-Up instead.
  17. While the sweatpants wash, pull out your World History notes. Realize you can’t read your own writing. Wonder if Mom had a point when she said you have poor handwriting. Oh wait. If you squint your eyes just right, you can read it. See? Mom was wrong.
  18. Check text messages.
  19. Whew. Time to take a break. Breaks are important. You’ll know breaktime is over when Mom yells again.
  20. Finally. It's time to get down to studying. Go back to step 2. Repeat steps 3 – 18. Again.
*Two of SS's actual vocabulary words.

Sigh. I can't do his studying for him. One, because I won't. Two, because he's got to learn sometime. And three, let's be honest. Advanced Conceptual Physics? Me? Shut the front door!

What I can do, as always, is make sure he's gets ample sleep and plenty to eat. And not every snack has to be a "healthy" snack. This afternoon, I made up a batch of rich, chewy Chocolate Toffee Cookies. They'll be perfect with a cold glass of milk. And may -- almost -- compensate for the fact that I'm about to confiscate his cell phone.

Chocolate Toffee Cookies
I adapted this recipe from one for Salted Chocolate Covered Caramel Cookies on the blog A Good Appetite. Note that the dough must be refrigerated for at least two hours before baking.

1 bag of good semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup Heath English Toffee Bits (found on baking aisle)
kosher salt

Melt 1 1/3 cup of chocolate chips in microwave. Stir in butter until melted.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Whisk in a spoon or two of chocolate, to temper the eggs. Gradually stir in remainder of chocolate and brown sugar. In measuring cup, stir together flour and baking powder. Then, stir flour mixture into chocolate mixture. Fold in caramel bits and remaining chocolate chips. Refrigerate at least two hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop dough, by tablespoonfuls onto parchment, allowing ample space for spreading. Flatten cookies slightly. Sprinkle each cookie -- lightly -- with a few grains of kosher salt. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes and then, move to baking racks to allow to cool completely. Makes 3 dozen cookies.
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