Archive for March 30, 2018

How to Study for a CS Exam

I just recently finished Make It Stick (Amazon link) which takes modern learning science and develops recommendations to learners on how to study in order to learn most effectively. As I read it, I was wondering, “What are the implications for how students should study for a computer science exam or quiz?” I did a Web search for “computer science study skills,” and the results were disappointing. Most of the recommendations are wrong (e.g., “take good notes” and “highlight passages in the book”) and were not specific to learning computer science.

So, I wrote up some recommendations for my students. I have not tried to generalize these yet (but would be fun and useful to do so), and I haven’t gone back through Making it Stick to mine it for all the CS recommendations that one might invent from their lessons.

Caveat: these are “evidence-based” as in the learning sciences behind them is pretty solid, but they are not “evidence-based” in the sense of actually testing these practices with learning CS. We know that some learning sciences or educational psychology results from other fields don’t map cleanly to CS (see Briana’s work). I don’t know of research evaluating study practices for learners studying computer science — but it would be great to have some!

I’d be interested to hear how you help your students study computer science!  Please do share your ideas and recommendations in the comments.

How to study for a programming quiz

Here are my suggestions for how to study for Monday’s quiz (with some advice that is useful for all your other CS quizzes).

1. Read the Book. Once

If you haven’t read the relevant chapters, do read them. If you have already, I don’t suggest re-reading them. There are better ways to study than re-reading.

2. Do Your Programming Homework

The Collage Project (and all your other homework) is good preparation for Monday’s Quiz. Finish that up this weekend, and you’ll have reviewed many of the ideas needed for Monday’s Quiz.

3. Make sure you know what you didn’t know

Go over your homework assignments and past quizzes, and make sure that you now know everything you got wrong in the past.

4. Quiz Yourself

The best way to study is always by quizzing yourself. You’ll learn far more from quizzing yourself than from re-reading or reviewing your notes.

Use the problems at the back of the chapter. Get with others in the class and challenge each other by inventing variations on programming problems you have seen before:

  • Rather than create a negative of the whole picture, can you negate just the top half of a picture?
  • Can you move the bottom half of a picture onto the top?
  • Can you mirror a square picture diagonally?
  • Can you put a 100-pixel wide border of grayscale around a picture?

5. Elaborate on each Chapter

At the beginning of each chapter is a list of Learning Objectives — media learning goals and CS learning goals. Write a sentence or two demonstrating that you have learned those objectives. Explain what the goal means, and show that you have achieved those goals. Elaboration helps you to connect ideas so that it’s easier to remember those ideas later.

At the end of each chapter is the Programming Summary that lists the new programming ideas (new functions, new control structures) in that chapter. Make sure that you can use each of those. Just write a program, any program that uses each function at least once.

6. Try things in more than one way

In this class, you know more that one way of doing things.

  • You can get and set colors with setRed, getRed, setBlue, getBlue, setGreen, getGreen. OR getColor, setColor, makeColor. Make sure that you can use these interchangeably. Write increaseRed and decreaseRed using setColor. Write negation and grayscale with both sets.
  • You know several ways of accessing individual pixels.
    • You can use for pixel in getPixels(picture).
    • You can get all the pixels in a list with all = getPixels(picture) then generate the indices for that list with for index in range(0,len(all)): and access each pixel with pixel = all[index].
    • You can generate x and y coordinates with for loops, then get individual pixels with getPixel(picture,x,y).
    • Make sure that you can use all three well. Write chromaKey with all three forms. Create a green border around a picture using all three forms.

Take any program that you have written before, or that we have done in class, and rewrite it another way. This is both a form of elaboration and a form of quizzing.

7. When confused, ask and talk CS

Ask on Piazza. Ask your friends. Come to office hours. When studying, all collaboration is strongly encouraged.

Just talking through things (both what you understand and what you do not understand) with anyone will help you learn.  Explain your programs to someone else.  Summarizing your programs in English is a great way to make sure you understand the programs and to elaborate on your knowledge.

March 30, 2018 at 7:00 am 6 comments


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