You’re in college now, and college is not high school.  Most of your first twelve years of schooling consisted of rote memorization of facts and techniques and the ability to repeat back what you heard and read.  College isn’t like that:  college is all about what you can do with those facts and techniques to come up with something new and different. 

For example, you may have memorized that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo, but do you know why, and be able to determine and discuss the effects of weather on the course of human events?  (If you’re wondering:  Napoleon depended heavily on his artillery because he was originally an artillery officer; 19th Century artillery was most effective when the solid iron balls (which didn’t explode) could be bounced along the ground; it rained heavily the night before the battle, soaking the ground and turning it to mud; Napoleon’s artillery balls didn’t bounce but just splatted into the mud and were ineffective; the lack of effective artillery ruined Napoleon’s battle plan but played into the Duke of Wellington’s plan which was more dependent on infantry which wasn’t affected by mud than on artillery, so Wellington won and Napoleon lost.  See how that works?)

In a college history class, just knowing that Napoleon lost at Waterloo wouldn’t be a good answer on an exam:  you’d have to know and discuss all of the above information to adequately answer the question.  It’s not just a matter of memorization to repeat it back – it’s a matter of knowing the material.  Don’t just memorize:  learn.  Get used to the idea – that’s how college works and the reason you go in the first place.





Don’t try to cram it all in at one time.  Do a little bit, say 20 to 30 minutes every day.


          When taking notes, either from the books or the lectures, don’t write them word for word.  Write them in your own words, paraphrasing everything.  Do it as an outline rather than in sentences  and paragraphs.  Make the information your own.  Every time you go over your notes, put them in new words.  Think of it as though you were telling your friends about it.  In fact, tell your friends about it (it’s always a lot of fun to annoy them with stuff you know that they don’t).  If you know other people in the class, get together and quiz each other.  Turn everything into how you would write or say the information.


          Remember concepts instead of just memorizing facts or words.  The facts and vocabulary are what make up the concepts, so if you learn the concepts you cannot help but learn the facts.


          If I make a big deal about something in lecture, like spending a lot of time on it and/or showing you several PowerPoints or a video about it, the odds are I think it’s important and it’ll probably show up on the exams in one form or another.  So pay attention to those things.


          I mention a lot of people.  The important ones to remember are those that make a major difference in the creation or use of the medium under discussion.  For example, Ludwig Dubler and Edweard Muybridge were important in the steps toward creating motion pictures, but they’re nowhere near as important as the people who first came up with the idea, or made movies possible.  So know those people and what they did.  If you can do that with sports figures or celebrities, you can do it with people who are actually important.


          I make a big deal about history – if you don’t know where you’ve been, you can’t know how or why you got to where you are, and won’t know where you’re going.  I’m not all that concerned with specific years, but you do need to know the order in which things happened, and at least put them in the correct part of the correct century.


          I make a big deal about science – if you don’t know how and why things happen, you’re left with believing it’s magic, and you might as well be living in the 12th Century.  Certainly when you’re dealing with media, you must have a basic understanding of electricity and physics, or you’re just a button pusher.




The final is half comprehensive, the material covered during the entire semester.  Do you have to know everything?  Of course not.  You need to know the important stuff.  Take the example above about the people I mention.  I may well ask about the people without who a medium would never have come into being, like Uchatius or Niepce for moving pictures or Gutenberg for moveable type printing or Heinrich Hertz for radio.  I won’t ask about people who moved the process along, like Fox Talbot or Hannibal Goodwin:  they did things that were important, but others could just have well have done them.  It’s about the biggies when it came to creating the media.


You should also pay particular attention to how each medium affected the societies that had them.  After all, this is a course in Media and Society.


Finally, you should be clear on how we know how media affect societies, so know about the critical theories and what they look at, and media literacy.  I will be asking about those.


The other half of the final, the material covered since Exam 4, you should know in greater detail, more of the specifics rather than the general concepts.






          THE BOOKS – Don’t just read the books each time as though you’ve never read them before.  That’s a waste of time.  Reviewing the books is exactly that – reviewing, not reading.  In the chapters, look for section headings and words in bold face or italics:  these are usually what the author thinks is important for you to know.  When you see one, read it, then look away and try to recall what you know about that section or those words.  You’ll often be amazed by how much you already know.  When you’ve thought about everything you can remember, now is the time to look back to find out if you’re right.  If you are, move on.  Of course, if you can’t remember anything read the section explaining the section or word.  If you study with friends, have one of them read those section headings or bold or italic words and the rest of you talk about them.  Rotate these tasks so everyone has to work at remembering.

          As you recall or talk about things, try to relate them to each other; for example, how do movies relate to TV relate to newspapers, etc.  The more you do that the more you’ll be able to remember and understand questions and answers on the exams.


          THE LECTURES – In this case use the Powerpoint illustrations in place of the section headings and bold face words.  I make Powerpoint slides to illustrate the people, things, and concepts that I think are important.   So look at each slide and see what you can remember what I said about its contents.  If you can’t remember every – or even anything – about it, that’s to time to look in the books or your notes.


          The biggest hint is to be interested.  Each of you has some hobby or interest or passion, something you do for fun and diversion, be it knitting or running or watching sports.  And for whatever that interest is, you undoubtedly have an encyclopedic knowledge of the techniques and histories and famous people and events and statistics, etc., about that interest.  And why do you know so much about it without having to study so hard?  BECAUSE YOU’RE INTERESTED IN IT!  You want to do well in college?  Then no matter what the course is about, make yourself interested in it:  want to know what happened and why, what’s happening and why, what might happen and why.  Ask yourself questions and try to find the answer in the book or lecture.  Look upon any topic as a mystery you desperately want to solve, and the clues to that solution are in the book or lecture.  Don’t look upon learning as a chore, an unpleasant task you have to endure.  If you do, that’s exactly what your class will be: unpleasant, boring, annoying, and a complete waste of your, and your professor’s, time and, more importantly, money.  So make yourself as interested in the contents of your classes as you are in the contents of your magazines and websites.  You’ll not only have more fun, but you’ll learn a lot more and get far better grades.


          Remember that both the book’s author and I want you to know things about media and society, and be able to do something with that knowledge.  I write the exams to see if you know the things and can do something with those things that I think are important.  If you study the books and lectures the way I suggest above, you can be pretty sure those are the things I think are important and will probably ask you about.




          The greatest error people make when taking a test is not reading the whole question before deciding on the answer.  So slow down.  Make sure you’ve read all the words in the question – it’s very easy to skip over a word like “not” if you go too fast, and misunderstand what’s being asked.  If it helps, make little notes while you go over the question or underline words that are important to understand it.


          When taking a multiple-choice exam, the above also applies to the possible answers given.  Read all the choices before picking one instead of simply marking down the first one that seems right.  Remember that a basic feature of a M/C question is that all of the possible answers are reasonable, but only one really answers the question.  Your job is to pick that one.  A helpful way to do this is to relate each answer to not only the question but to the other answers and think about the consequences of selecting that answer.  A nice trick is to look at the last one or two answers first instead of starting with A and working your way down.  If they imply the possibility there’s more than one answer (e.g., “A and B” or “all of the above”), your first thought should be that the answer may  not be a simple memorized one, that more than one of the answers could correct.  This will eliminate the possibility that you’ll put down only the first correct answer you encounter on the list and go on to the next question.


What you need to do is connect the dots.  Remember that in the questions you often need to put several things together in order to get the answer rather than have a single memorized fact.  For example, the question about what is true about radio, you might answer that it first went on the air in 1939.  But if you put together the fact that I talked at length about all the people who invented bits and pieces that led to radio, like Hemholtz and Hertz and Morse and Marconi and de Forest and, especially, Armstrong, and the fact that radio began broadcasting shortly after World War I, you’d see that radio first went on the air in the 1920s, not 30s, and that radio depended on a series of inventions and discoveries, which was the correct answer.


            Also, watch a common tendency in people to remember flashy facts over important ones.  For example, in the question about why celluloid was invented, you might answer “to be an explosive.”  Well, that was a flashy, but unimportant fact – that celluloid had a tendency to explode.  What was important was that it was originally invented to replace ivory billiard balls, and then repurposed to be film.  If it wasn’t for the need for billiard balls it wouldn’t have been invented in the first place, and there wouldn’t have been film to make movies.  Remember the flashy facts to amaze your friends, but remember the important ones to answer the questions.


          Let’s take an example:

The most important invention leading to the creation of electronic television was invented by

     A. Sir William Crook

     B. Julius Plucker

     C. Karl Braun

     D. G.R. Carey

     E. Paul Nipkow


The first thing that you must know, obviously, is what was invented by which inventor.  Then notice what is asked: the creation of electronic television, not the invention of television.  With that you can immediately eliminate D and E since they invented mechanical TVs.  See how important understanding exactly what’s being asked can be?  That leaves A, B and C.  Plucker invented a tube that glowed when electricity was fed into it, Braun invented the cathode ray tube, and Crook invented the Crooks tube.  Plucker can be eliminated because it was just a glowing tube like a neon light – helpful but not the most important thing for TV any more than a neon light would be.  Crook added a gate that would turn the electrons flowing from one electrical contact to the other into a beam, and showed that a magnet would bend that beam so it could be aimed.  Braun took the Crooks tube and added a phosphorescent screen at one end as a target for a magnetically aimed electron beam which would make the screen glow.  Since the basis of an electronic TV is a beam of electrons bent by magnets, without the Crooks tube the cathode ray tube wouldn’t have been invented.  Thus clearly, it was William Crook who invented the most important thing.  See how you get the answer?


            Finally, people are tending to miss the true/false questions more than the M/C questions.  Again, it’s a matter of connecting the dots.  Try thinking of the consequences of answering true to the question, then false to the question.  For example, on the question “The first electrical recording device used tape with an iron oxide coating” you might answer true.  But think about the question by rewording it.  If you answer “true” then tape was the first; that means there was no other medium before it.  But records, cylinders and wire were recorded on electrically (to get away from mechanical recording that required all the bandmembers to scrunch up around the recording cone) before tape, so the answer must be false.  And a later question about it being impossible to record on wire must also be false because wire was used before tape.

            Another example, the question “the effect of radio on society after the introduction of television was to fragment society.”  You might answer false.  But think about what that means:  radio after TV brought society together.  But what about all of the different formats aimed at an audience segment (because TV took over all of the common show types like dramas and sitcoms), such as the different music styles (rock, country, oldies, rap, etc.) or shock jocks like Howard Stern or political pundits like Limbaugh or Beck.  Audiences wouldn’t listen to all of these different formats, only the ones they like.  This would fragment the audience, and thus fragment the society.  So the answer to the question must be true, not false.


          You can also reword the questions, putting them in your words instead of mine.  All the questions and answers are perfectly clear to me, but may be a bit obscure to you.  So reword them to clarify them in your own mind.  Of course, that doesn’t mean changing the intent:  removing the word “not” means you’ll put down the wrong answer if you ignore it thereafter.  However, removing the word “not” may clarify the question:  without the word “not” means the question’s statement must be true, and it may be clear to you now that it isn’t true.  Then put the word “not” back in and you’ll have the correct answer.


            Get the idea?  The purpose of the exams is to see if you understand and can put together the concepts and facts and information.  You do fine on questions that only require a single memorized piece of information, but I’m really looking for students to come out of the class with an understanding of media and society, their development, and their effects on each other, not just the trivia.  So as you study, try to relate the bits and pieces to each other rather than as separate and unrelated things, and put in your own words what they add up to.  I think you’ll find it’s a lot easier to study, a lot easier to understand the questions and answers, and a lot more satisfying.