For many of us, finals week is a nightmare of stress and anxiety. To prevent this experience from becoming overwhelming, we’ve put together this top guide to final exam preparation so you can walk in on test day full of confidence!
1. Begin Early, at Least One Month in Advance
You should always begin studying for your final exams at least a month prior to finals week. Then, you won’t have to rush to squeeze all your revision in as your exams approach.
Too many students put off studying for final exams until the last moment, toiling in all-night cram sessions at the end. This is not only stressful but also ineffective! Research shows that breaking up your study sessions into smaller chunks over time enhances performance.
2. Create a Finals Game Plan
Creating a study schedule helps you to plan your studies so you can use your time efficiently. Be specific and organized, outlining when and how you will review your subjects, for example:
10-11:30: Review chapters 1-3 psychology textbook
12:30-2: Re-read psychology notes
2-5: Test exam: psychology
The best strategy is to break up your studies into shorter, focused sessions with regular breaks. This helps you resist distractions and focus better when you are studying. Allowing yourself to recharge and relax in-between conserves your energy and releases stress.
3. Change up Your Study Space
It is, no doubt, essential to have a quiet, peaceful study space. However, research has shown that varying where you study actually improves learning. Shake up your routine! Try studying in different rooms in your house or dorm, or alternate between the study area, the library, your favorite cafe, and the public park. It will help you to retain what you need to know and energize you, so your finals prep doesn’t become a chore.
4. Categorize Your Lessons in Order of Importance
Prioritize the lessons that you find difficult. Spend extra time on more challenging classes, for example, math or physics. Later, you can review your English or art history lessons, and they will be a breeze!
Remember, you don’t have to devote equal time to every subject. Spend more time where you need to, and you won’t get an unpleasant shock at finals time.
5. Use Study Apps
There are so many great study apps available that are either free or inexpensive. It makes sense to take advantage of them. There are apps that create flashcards, show maps, the periodic table of elements, and replace graphic calculators. These all help to optimize your study and inject an added element of fun to keep you motivated. Just make sure not to get distracted looking at photos on Instagram while using them!
6. Take Advantage of the Review Session
Is your professor offering you a review of the upcoming exam? If so, you should definitely go. They’ll cover the material you will be tested on, allowing you to focus on what you need to know for the final. You will also receive detailed information on the format and be able to ask any questions you have at the end.
7. Go to Group Study Sessions
Let’s face it; we don’t all learn the same way. Whatever your learning style, studying with others often has benefits that we shouldn’t ignore. Having others to bounce ideas off or taking advantage of a friend’s talent in a difficult subject is a valuable resource. Two heads are often better than one!
8. Study Your Notes
When going over your notes, it’s a good idea to outline and reorganize important information. This will help you focus on what’s important and ignore what’s unnecessary. Highlighters are useful for this, allowing you to pick out the most vital information you are likely to need. You can then use your notes for regular review and transfer the highlighted information to flashcards for last-minute scanning.
9. Utilize Handy Creative Aids for Memorization
There is a wide variety of memorization — or mnemonic — techniques for remembering difficult information. One mnemonic phrase I learned in music class for the treble notes E, G, B, D, F was “Every Good Boy Deserves Fun.” There are many phrases and acronyms like this, and you can also make up your own! Similar techniques include formulating a story to memorize historical figures on an exam.
10. Take Practice Tests
Studies have shown that doing practice tests improves testing performance in final exams. While not everyone has equal access to practice tests, using flashcards or being quizzed is also highly effective. If there is nobody around to quiz you, quiz yourself! Simulate testing conditions to sharpen your focus and performance. You will master the material and get your mind “in shape” for test day.
11. Make It Fun
Studying for final exams can be a bore for many, but with a bit of imagination, you can make it interesting! Play games, socialize while you review, create acronyms, use learning apps, and take quizzes with a partner to energize your finals preparation. An excellent motivator is to reward yourself for an hour of study or a correct answer with a piece of chocolate or a cup of your favorite coffee.
12. Listen to Recordings
Another effective way to prepare is to listen to recordings, whether it is a recording of your professor’s lectures, yourself reading your study notes, or a podcast on the topic. Recordings break up your study routine and are particularly helpful for auditory learners. It also lets you do other things, such as driving or housework, as long as you are not too distracted.
13. Give Yourself a Break
When studying, make sure to give yourself at least a five-minute break every hour to remain fresh. Your brain uses a lot of glucose during all that hard work, so it needs time to replenish itself regularly. Take a walk, stretch, do something else for a few minutes to catch your breath. Also, getting enough sleep is vital if you are going to be able to concentrate. Eight hours is ideal. Don’t pull “all-nighter” study sessions — it harms you more than it helps.
14. Say Yes to Good Food and Exercise
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of doing well on your exams is nutrition and exercise. Eat enough fruit and vegetables, fiber, healthy snacks such as nuts and yogurt, drink plenty of water, and avoid too much heavy, processed food and sugar. Research shows a poor diet impairs test performance. Also, get enough exercise. Just 30 minutes of cardio is enough to improve your memory.
The approach of final exams is a source of dread for many students, but it really doesn’t have to be! Follow these tips to improve your scores, enhance your learning, and defuse the stress that is all-too-common at test time. You will be glad you did!