We’ve previously discussed 11 techniques to improve your study habits, but studying for final exams requires special attention. Because final exams tend to count for a hefty portion of your final grade, it’s in your best interest to adequately prepare for this stressful time. Thankfully, if you follow our usage guidelines, you’ll be ready to ace your exams in no time.
1. Determine what you’re up against
Not all exams are created equal and some will demand more preparation than others. To make the most of your time and create a strategic study schedule, you need to analyze each exam’s characteristics. We recommend asking yourself the following questions before getting started:
How much is the final exam worth?
- This information is typically found in your syllabus or by asking your professor.
- As a general rule, spend more time studying for heavily weighted exams.
What is the final exam’s format? (i.e. multiple-choice, essay, completion, etc.)
- The format of the exam will help you determine the most effective method for studying.
- Multiple-choice exams measure your ability to recognize items you’ve previously learned.
- Completion or essay questions measure your ability to recall information.
- More effort goes into preparing for an exam that tests your ability to recall information.
Is the final exam comprehensive?
- Depending on the course and the professor, a final exam can be presented in three ways: material from the entire semester, the material presented since the last exam, or a combination of both.
- Studying for comprehensive final exams will always require more work.
What impact could the final grade have on your overall grade in the class? Are you between grades?
- Find out what your grade is before the final exam. If you’re unsure or the average hasn’t been posted, consult your professor.
- Determine what grade you need on the final exam to positively influence your semester grade.
- If your final exam grade will be the deal-breaker between getting an A or a C, make sure you spend ample time preparing for it.
- A high priority final is typically worth 50% of the final grade and contains an essay and completion section.
- A low priority final is typically worth 20% of the final grade and contains a multiple-choice format.
2. Knowing is half the battle
Being able to answer the aforementioned questions will help you get organized. By the time you answer these questions, you will have probably already received a study guide from your professor. However, please be aware that not all professors provide a study guide. Planning a realistic study schedule is the next crucial step when studying for finals. We recommend the following tips:
- Blocking out time for these activities:
- Class (it’s extremely important to attend all your classes before the final exam to find out additional information).
- Personal readiness
- Temporarily putting off other social commitments
- Considering the characteristics of each exam and allotting your study time accordingly
- Completing term papers before the last week of classes
3. Staying on track
While a schedule can look great on paper, its success largely depends on your ability to stick to it. This means you have to do your absolute best to avoid procrastination and burnout.
Start by saying no to distractions. Even if you’ve removed socializing from your calendar, it doesn’t mean people won’t try to interrupt you. Chances are they have exams to study for too. Even if you’re not in the same class, try offering a study date instead of going to dinner.
4. Location is everything
While the most obvious location for studying in the library, this option might not always be ideal. Overall, your study space should be in a quiet, comfortable location where there are no distractions. Even if you’re alone, that doesn’t mean your phone isn’t buzzing every few minutes. While many people say turning off your phone is a good idea, studying with music is an even better idea. You don’t have to turn off your phone, just turn off the notifications.
5. Methods for studying
If you’re studying for a comprehensive exam, many professors will pull questions from previous tests and quizzes to test your overall understanding. Always keep your exams from the semester so you can review these for the final.
Creating study cards for key terms, concepts, and formulas is always a great idea. The act of writing out the questions and the answers can help your brain absorb the information. Try to avoid typing everything out on the computer for this one. Test your understanding by reviewing the material with a roommate or friend to ensure you can easily reproduce the information on an exam.
Forming an effective study group can help you learn course material in a deeper, more concrete way. Read more about the Top 10 Reasons Students Should Form a Study Group.
6. Give your brain a break
Taking regular breaks while studying is crucial for success. Studying in 20-50 minute study sessions, followed by a 5-10 minute break, can maximize your memory, concentration, and motivation.
7. Take advantage of office hours
Unfortunately, students don’t utilize their professor’s office hours as much as they should, but it can work towards your advantage. Not only does it show the professor that you’re dedicated to understanding the course, but it can help you figure out what topics or concepts are most important for the exam. Make it a point to go earlier in the semester to capture your professor’s full attention and ask more questions.
8. Optimize your intelligence
Aside from eating a balanced and nutritious diet, certain foods can naturally boost your brainpower. According to WebMD, research has shown that the following foods increase your likelihood of maintaining a healthy brain: blueberries, wild salmon, nuts and seeds, avocados, whole grains, beans, pomegranate juice, freshly-brewed tea, and dark chocolate. Even if you don’t like everything on this list, eating one or two of these superfoods every day is sure to help.
9. Put a twist on studying
To spice up the material you’re reviewing, try to get creative. This can range from drawing diagrams or pictures to turning concepts into acronyms. Although some techniques such as reading information out loud can sound farfetched and awkward, finding different ways to apply new information will help you remember it in the long run. In short, anything that helps you remember information will work. Pick and choose techniques based on your learning style.
10. Stay positive
While studying for finals can seem unbearable at times, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude. We recommend reducing your test anxiety by taking breaks when feeling frustrated, exercising, talking to a friend, or moving onto a different subject. Rather than beating yourself up, imagine yourself acing the exam. Having confidence in your abilities will get you through the toughest of times, without even realizing it. All work and no fun can be hard on anyone, therefore, make sure to reward yourself when it’s all over. If you have additional questions, contact your Academic Advisor.