I learned some tricks when I took my human nutrition course (HUN1201) online last fall. The college offers many courses online through a program called Florida Online, which was previously Virtual College.
They use Desire2Learn Learning Environment for their online classes and tests. With the exception of finals, teachers create their own tests, usually with multiple-choice answers, but sometimes essays or fill-in-the-blanks. The latter is harder for most students, but also harder for the teacher to grade, so you don’t see it often.
The time limits vary quite widely. My teacher, Myra Vergani, had six tests, with 50 multiple choice questions each, and a limit of 45 minutes on each one. This means you have to work quickly. You can cheat as much as you want through Google or by looking things up in the book, but unless you have a good system you won’t get to the information fast enough.
The answers for all the test questions are in the book, often worded exactly the same. There is no answer list in the book because the teacher makes the tests. The questions are jumbled up to discourage cheating. The surefire way to get an A is to know the material by rote so answering the questions is no problem. This would take about 10 hours of studying for each test in human nutrition. I spent about 2 hours studying and consistently got A’s. My study area looked like this:
1. An index of the chapter is open in a text file.
2. Google is open in one window for fast searching.
3. The encyclopedic CD that came with the book is open in another window.
4. The book is in my lap.
First, let’s give some background info. You need a fast Internet connection. Any time spent waiting for web pages is time wasted. Get DSL before you start the semester. I use it; it’s $20 through AT&T around Daytona Beach. Brighthouse Internet is even better because it’s faster, but it’s really not necessary.
You also need a good computer. Windows XP or Vista is fine, but if you’ve been having problems with it crashing, use another computer. Go to the Academic Support Center at the college (building 500). They have plenty of computers that you can take your tests on. If you’re on a home computer, restart, then close all the programs that run on the system tray or in the background before beginning the exam. I don’t know what would happen if you lost power or your computer burned up during the test. You might be able to ask your instructor to re-take it, but it’s better to avoid the situation to start with.
I recommend Mozilla Firefox over Internet Explorer, for it’s find command (Ctrl + F). Internet Explorer’s in-text searching is hard to use, but with Firefox it jumps right to the text, you can highlight all instances, and there’s no clunky dialog box to get in the way; just a toolbar at the bottom of the screen. The college computers have v0.93, which is really old but works. You can download Portable Firefox and run it from a flash drive on the school computers if you want the newer version. I’ve tested this and it works.
Next, you have to submit the test before the time is up. I thought it would shut off automatically, but what happens is the test goes into “overtime” and you start losing points. I did this once and just for being a few seconds over I lost 2 points. I don’t know how quickly your test score goes down, but you want to avoid it to begin with by submitting early. When the test timer on the page says “> 1 minute,” scroll down and click “Submit” immediately.
Okay. Let’s start with the second point. Google is open so you can look up the definitions for stuff like aneurysm, aorta, and platelets real quick. Wikipedia will often be the top result, and I recommend using it. Even if misinformation makes you get 2 questions wrong, it’s only 4 points off a 50-question test and it’s worth it for the encyclopedia’s clarity.
Point 4. The book is in your lap so you can check things in it quickly. This isn’t useful without the index (coming up).
Point 3. My human nutrition book had a CD with a small nutritional encyclopedia on it, which you could load up in your web browser. I kept this open and used Firefox’s find command to search for definitions of words mentioned in test questions. It’s often a better resource than Google, because the definitions match the wording of the book, which matches the teacher’s wording in the text.
I’ve saved point 1 for last, as it’s the most important. Create an index of the test chapter in a text file on your computer. Even Notepad will work fine, but I like metapad because if you’re at the bottom of a file, it will ask you if you want to start searching from the top when you use it’s find command. The index should have the page numbers of everything in the chapter you think will be important. Don’t write a novel. You’re going to use this index to look things up in the book. Even in a 45 minute test with 50 questions, there’s enough time if you look quickly.
Let me show you the index I made for the last test in my human nutrition course:
394: Nutrition and Immunity
395: Lead causes of death chart
396: defs: AIDS, risk factors, protein-energy malnutrition
397: Degenerative diseases and diet risk factors
398-399: defs: artherosclerosis, plaques, macrophages, cardivascular diseases, warning signs
400: defs: aneurysm, aorta, platelets, thrombus, thrombosis, embolus, heart attack, stroke
401: heart disease and cardiovascular disease risk factors
402: hypertension, diabetes, blood lipids chart
403: heart disease risk chart
404-405: more risk factors, atherogenic diet = lots of LDL cholesterol, saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol; def: metabolic syndrome
406-407: risk factors and good foods to eat to avoid heart disease; stats on college students drinking, alcohol and CVD
408: more dietary factors that prevent CVD, nutrition and hypertension info
409: defs: systolic, diastolic
410-411: DASH eating plan, hypertension and nutrition, blood pressure annotated image
412-413: nutrition and cancer, def: cancer, chart of cancer risk factors
414-415: all about herbal medicines and alternative therapies
416-421: lots about cancer, foods to eat, foods to avoid, etc. defs: 416: carcinogen, initiation, carcinogenesis, promoters, metastasis; 417: caloric effect; 418: acrylamide; 420: anticarcinogens, cruciferous vegetables
421-422, 424: diet as a preventative medicine, tips
423: chart of foods to lower disease risks
426-431: controversy 11: the obesity epidemic
482: defs: fetus, embryo, fertility, low birthweight (less than 5.5 pounds), uterus, placenta, gestation, amniotic
483: about the placenta
484: events of pregnancy, defs: lactation, ovum, zygote, implantation, trimester, crticial period
485: nutrition and pregnancy
486: chart of nutrient recommendations
487: sample meal plan
488: defs: neural tube, neural tube defect (NTD), anencephaly, spina bigida; about spina bifida
489: good folate sources, calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc in pregnancy
490: defs: cesarean, prenatal, Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, And Children (WIC)
491: weight gain in pregnancy
492: physical activity for pregnant woman
493: teen pregnancy, cravings
494: relieving discomforts of pregnancy
495: smoking, medicinal drugs, herbal supplements, street drugs, and environmental contaminents for pregnant women, def: environmental tobacco smoke (ETS)
496: more: foodborne illness, vitamin-mineral megadoses, dieting, sugar substitues, caffeine; def: listeriosis (with a list of foods to avoid and good practices)
497: Drinking during pregnancy; defs: apgar score, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohold-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD)
498-499: fetal alcohol syndrome symptoms; defs: gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, edema
500-506: all about lactation; defs: 500: certified lactation consultant; 505: alpha-lactalbumin, lactoferrin; 506: colostrum
507: formula feeding; def: hypoallergenic formulas
508: formula’s advertising advantage
509: solid foods for infants, chart of development
510-511: foods to avoid, meal plan, def: milk anemia
512: nursing bottle syndrome
514-518: controversy 13: childhood diabetes and obesity
520: bar graph of children with bad diets
521: weight gain in infants and toddlers
522: dieting concerns: iron-rich foods, vitamins, minerals, fat, etc.
523: children’s food pyramid
524-525: meals and snacks, food skills of preschoolders
526: danger of lead
527: food alergies, preventing lead poisoning, def: allergy
528: managing food alergies; defs: antigen, antibodies, histamine, anaphylactic shock, epinephrine
529: Diet and hyperactivity; defs: food intolerance, food aversion, hyperactivity, learning disability
530: childhood obesity, the problem of inactivity, lifestyle choices to prevent obesity
531: dental cavities (caries), how to avoid them, food list
532: nourishment of school lunches
533: school lunches for different ages, teen years
534: iron in adolescence, bone growth; defs: growth spurt, epiphyseal
535: body changes of adolescence, bar graph of increasing soft drink consumption; def: premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
536: Bar graphs of milk consumption in girls and daily physical education classes, acne and eating patterns; defs: acne, gatekeeper
537: nutrition and PMS
538: later years, planning for ages; defs: life expectancy, life span, longevity
539: physical changes of aging: digestive tract, hormones, mouth, sensory organs, body composition
540-541: protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fats in old age; def: arthritis
542-543: vitamins, water, and minerals in old age; def: cataracts
544: summary chart of nutrient concerns in old age, unavoidable changes, maximum life span of rats, spiders, and protozoans
545: Alzheimer’s Disease and nutrition; def: senile dementia
546: List of possible links between nutrition and Alzheimer’s Disease
547: List of DETERMINE (acronym) predictors of malnutrition in the elderly
548: Checklist for nutrition in older Americans
548-550: Single Survival and Nutrition on the Run
550: Convenience foods tips
552-558: Controversy 14: nutrient-drug interactions
It looks like a lot of work, but it’s a lot less work than learning the material thoroughly, and it’s more fun too. In fact, as you’re skimming through the book to write this index, you’ll probably learn more than you would by just reading the chapter outright.
To look up stuff in the index, use your text editor’s find command. So when I didn’t remember what the textbook said about diabetes, I searched “diabetes,” saw that it was on page 402, flipped to that page in the book, found the answer, and clicked the right box on the online test.
I don’t recommend using the book’s index, because you can’t search the text like on the computer. It’s fine for tests without strict time limits, but too slow to use otherwise.
My first idea was to scan in the whole chapter with a scanner, use optical character-recognition software to convert it to text, export it to a Microsoft Word document, and search that to find answers. This is fine in theory, but when you have a chapter that’s 70 pages, it’s just too much. I doubt it would work too well either. It’s tedious and boring. The whole point of avoiding learning is to avoid tedium. It just isn’t a good solution. Making an index is much better.
Another thing that helps is to have 2 monitors instead of 1. I have a special video card (~$60) to do this. I kept the text file open on the right monitor, and the test open on the left, with Firefox tabs open for Google and the CD encyclopedia. When I move my mouse to the edge of the screen, the arrow jumps over to the other. This makes work a lot quicker, once you’re accustomed to it.
I haven’t taken a math course online, but it’s a good idea because then you won’t have to memorize all the formulas in algebra, trigonometry, precalculus, and onward. You could just have them printed out in front of you. Also, take advantage of equation calculators, which can often solve an equation and show you all the steps to get to the solution. Here’s a Google Search query for equation calculators.
I wish you good luck with all your online tests! Keep learning.