Whether you’re bearing down on the end of this semester or you’re looking to prepare for the next one (the latter is even better), you know that time always comes around: finals week. Yet, it doesn’t have to be a stressful and hurried time. Here are ten tips to prepare for your final exams.
1) Ask Questions and Request Help When You Need It.
- Talk to your classmates who clearly master the material and see if they’d be interested in helping you study. For many people, teaching something is also a great way to solidify their knowledge, so it’s a win-win situation for you both. Don’t be afraid to ask classmates or friends who have already succeeded in the class to help you study for finals.
- If you have teaching assistants, take advantage of their availability to ask questions. Approach them before or after class, or visit them during office hours.
- Instructors have regular office hours to ensure that they are available to students. If your schedule conflicts with the instructor’s office hours, e-mail him or her to set up an alternate time. Instructors are there to help you understand the subject, and by asking questions you show them that you care about the material – and your grade.
2) Be Involved From Day One.
Keep up on readings and assignments throughout the semester, minimizing the time needed to prepare for finals. Attend class punctually and regularly. While you may be able to borrow a friend’s notes if you miss a class, it does not compare to being consistently present.
3) Don’t Just Study Hard – Study Smart.
For each subject, make a list of the material and the chapters that you’ve covered in the course. Consider how difficult each chapter or type of material was for you and write your evaluation next to it (easy, somewhat difficult, extremely difficult, etc.). This will help you determine how much time you should spend on each chapter or area of the material. It is also useful to study the hard things first, because that way you have more time before the exam to address particular difficulties or areas you really need help with.
4) Study with a Friend or Group.
Do not wait until the last minute to form study groups. Somewhat early on in the semester, approach classmates with the idea of forming a study group. It is ideal to have at least three people, in case one person backs out – but not more than 5 since it becomes difficult to coordinate. Organize your study groups now and do a few practice sessions early to go over class notes and areas that should be covered. You will all feel ahead of the game if you start your study groups now. Knowing that others depend on you (and vice versa) is a great method for reducing stress and increasing your motivation to study.
5) Don’t Cram – Start Early.
Do yourself a huge favor and start studying early on in the semester. Spend at least one hour per week reviewing class notes. Highlight all the areas that are important, and look back at the syllabus to narrow down the key areas you’ll need to get a handle on. By simply going over all your class notes, you’ll get a good overview of the specific areas you should start studying. This will also provide your mind with a good summary of everything you’ve been learning this semester.
6) Make a Plan and Stick to It.
Make a commitment to spend at least an hour a week (per class) to focus on the final exam. By setting aside time now to focus on the final exam, you’re preparing your mind for what’s ahead. You will come across material that you have questions about, and this way you have plenty of time to get answers from your instructors. By reviewing early and often, you’ll simultaneously prepare for finals and midterms.
7) Spend Time Studying for the Tests that Matter Most.
Not all final exams and papers are weighed the same. Take a look at the syllabus of each course you are taking and assess how you are doing overall in that course. Make sure you know what percentage each paper or final exam is worth to your grade. This will give you some perspective on how much time you should designate studying for each class.
It is extremely important to maintain good health in order to do your best in school. Exercise regularly and set aside time to take breaks from studying and working. Make a point to relax with friends regularly and participate in non-academic activities to avoid getting burned out. Eat healthy foods to keep you energized and focused. Stick to a regular sleep schedule. This is particularly important in the days and weeks preceding finals week. Pulling all-nighters can easily result in a low grade because being tired significantly affects your attention and comprehension.
In other words, what do you have to do to be your best? This involves several aspects:
- What time of day are you more focused? If you are bright and fresh in the morning, then that is the best time for you to study. However, if you are a night owl and find more energy post-dinnertime, then that’s when your brain is ripe to soak up information. Respect how your body clock works and use it to your advantage when studying.
- How much studying do you really need to master the material? Do you start to zone out when study sessions last more than 2 or 3 hours? If so, then schedule more frequent sessions that last shorter amounts of time. If however, you do your best and really get rolling after an hour or so, then schedule a whole day away from other distractions so you can concentrate fully and progress.
- Do you study best alone or with a group? By giving self-tests or simply re-reading the material? Or perhaps in a combination of ways? Try various tactics and see how they work for you. Then be sure to stick to them appropriately in order to really do your best.
10) Don’t Stress.
Rather than being worried and stressed, be proactive and calm. Plan well, structure your time appropriately, and believe in yourself. When you have difficult moments, take a walk or breathe deeply. Take a catnap to refresh, or relax with a cup of tea and a good book. Remember that feeling calm and centered will allow you to bring out your best for the final!