How to Prepare for Finals in College

Three Parts:Staying Engaged All SemesterMaking a Study Plan for FinalsTackling Finals Week

There are a number of ways to help improve final exam test scores without staying up all night and cramming. By taking care of your body, planning ahead, and utilizing the resources at your disposal, you can arrive to your final exams feeling confident and well-rested. Keep up throughout the semester, minimizing the time needed to prepare for finals.

Part 1
Staying Engaged All Semester

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    Stay on top of your work. Completing all of your week by its due date will help you stay on top of the content, minimizing the amount of time needed to prepare for finals at the end of the semester. Studying for finals at the end of the semester is a lot easier if you've been keeping up with the work all along.
    • Attend class. It is very easy to fall behind in your work if you haven't been in class. Listening to a lecture in person will give more background to the content and enable you to ask questions than simply reading a friend's notes.
    • Staying organized and keeping all of your notes and study materials in the same spot will help you stay on top of your work.[1]
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    Create a study schedule. A good rule of thumb is to devote 60-90 minutes a day, 5-6 days a week during the semester for each subject you have a final in.[2] Staying consistent throughout the semester will help guarantee that you are covering all the material evenly. Remember that with studying, like anything else, practice makes perfect. Figure out what time of day you are most efficient, how long you can maintain focus without distraction, and in what environment you best study, and craft a schedule based on these factors.
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    Find a study partner or a tutor. Decide how confident you are about the content going into it, and find a tutor or a study partner at the beginning of the semester. Oftentimes you won't realize you need help before finals are almost upon you, so lining a person up early will put someone in your corner even before you encounter the challenging portions of the material. Your college or department might provide tutors free of charge, or you could ask your professor for suggestions. You don't have to hire a professional tutor; just find someone who has taken the course before or has a major or minor in the area.
    • Word to the wise: while study partners are helpful when you want to bounce around ideas and ask questions while you are studying, stay away from good friends when you are really struggling with the material. The best study partner is often someone you don't know very well, and wouldn't necessarily choose to hang out with outside of class. Studying with a friend can easily turn into a gab-session and keep you distracted from the work.
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    Study cumulatively. Don’t wait until the end of the semester to study past sections; review old material on a regular basis throughout the semester. Keep a running list of important terms as you come across them in your reading, or keep all of your flash cards together in one place, periodically shuffling them to ensure you are covering all the material evenly.
    • Keeping all of your study material (notes, flash cards, etc) together will help you review past content while you are studying current material, though it is easy to get it mixed up. Try color-coding your work to differentiate it between past and present material. Use colored highlighters or colored tabs to distinguish each section of material. You could also differentiate based on category (for example, “already mastered”, “for review”, and “needs clarification”). [3]
    • Keep all of the questions you have on the content together in one place. This way when you study you can go back and answer them and see how much you've learned!
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    Keep track of your progress. Keeping track of your score on exams and comments on your papers will help you recognize the section of material you need to spend more time on later. Plus, you will know your grade in the class prior to going into the final so that you will know how much time you need to put into studying later on.

Part 2
Making a Study Plan for Finals

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    Know your exam schedule. Check your syllabus or look online to see when your finals are scheduled. Look closely at your exam schedule, and plan when you study around when your finals are offered. If two or more exams are scheduled close together, prioritize a subject based on how
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    Figure out which courses to prioritize. Don't feel like you need to give equal study time to each of your courses; your studying will be much more efficient if you prioritize your time. Look back at your progress throughout the semester; if your grade is already where you want it, then putting in the same amount of effort you've put in all semester will be fine. But if your grade is borderline (between a 'C' and a 'B' for example) or you're hoping that the final will raise your grade, you'll want to put in a bit more effort. Consider these factors when deciding which subjects to prioritize:
    • How confident you already feel about the material.
    • The amount of time you’ve already spent studying.
    • Your grade going into the exam.
    • How much the final is worth compared to the rest of the semester's work (you'll want to give more time to a final that is worth 50% of your grade compared to 20%, for example)
    • The make-up of the final; if the final is primarily essay-based and you don't do very well with essay questions, you'll want to spend a bit more time studying just to raise your confidence going into it.
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    Organize your notes and materials. Now is the time to make sure you have all of your notes and handouts from class; go through and organize them by day to make sure you aren't missing any. If you've missed any class periods, make sure you get the notes to copy from a friend, or ask your classmates or professor for anything you might have missed.
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    Start studying early. Take a look now at your final exam schedule, all of your assignments before the end of the semester, and all of your extracurricular and outside activities between now and finals, and form a study schedule based on this. If you have a light week this week but know next week will be rough, take advantage of the time and start studying now.
    • If you don’t have a study group already, be proactive about forming one for finals. Talk to your classmates now about studying together, and if necessary assign review material to each person.

Part 3
Tackling Finals Week

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    Select your studying environment strategically. You need a studying location that is quiet and free of distractions. If the library, study area, or outdoors does not work for you, keep looking. Sometimes colleges open up conference rooms or other spaces to allow additional room for studying during exam week.
    • For best results, alternate study spots. Scientists have found that alternating a space in which a person studies can actually increase retention. Why? Your brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the environment in which you are in. [4]
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    Study every day. Be intentional about the time you devote to studying. carve a bit of time away each day for the courses you prioritize. Cramming has actually been shown to produce anxiety, so starting earlier in the week will help alleviate the pressure later on.[5]
    • It might help to write it into your planner just like another activity and stick to this time. If your intentions are clear going into study, it is less likely that you will be distracted during your study session.
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    Attend review sessions offered by the student teacher or professor. These are essential for knowing exactly what topics to focus on during study. Some professors will provide a list of what topics to study, complete with a practice test. This helpful information is sometimes only provided at the review sessions, and not during regular class periods.[6]
    • Classmates that seem to grasp the concepts well can be an easily accessible resource if you are confused about something. Don't be afraid to ask them for help in studying for finals.
    • Make use of office hours. Make an appointment if you have any remaining questions or need clarification on any material. If your schedule conflicts with office hours, e-mail your professor to set up an alternate time. Professors are there to help you understand the content, and by asking questions you show them that you care about the material- and your grade.
    • Teaching assistants are often more accessible than a professor, and might not be bothered as much by questions that seem basic. Approach them before or after class or make a special appointment with them to review material.
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    Maintain your health. Keeping your body active and healthy is as important as knowing the content; there is nothing worse than sitting through a final while sick. Finals can be a stressful time, so make sure you are taking care of your physical self.
    • Exercise. Exercise is an effective tool in helping your body combat stress. Staying active helps relieve tension and anxiety, and can help depression over the long-term [7]. But don't overdo it this week; you don't want to have to deal with a muscle injury over finals.
    • Eat superfoods that are high in antioxidants. High-carb, high-fiber, slow-digesting foods (like oatmeal, almonds, fruit, and yogurt) can actually increase attention and thinking speed. [8] Eating a breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, and yogurt is ideal the morning of the exam.
    • Take breaks. Make it a point to relax with friends regularly and participate in non-academic activities to avoid burn-out.
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    Take a mock test. Don't simply review the material by re-reading it and summarizing; these techniques don't necessarily boost performance. Instead, testing yourself through the use of flash cards or taking a practice exam is more effective [9].
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    Avoid the all-nighter. While it is tempting to cram a bit more studying into the hours you have left before an exam, trust what you have already done to prepare. All-nighters can actually impair reasoning and memory for as long as four days.[10] While it's very easy to get caught up in the pressure and hype of finals, approach the exam with confidence. Trust yourself and all that you've done to prepare: you can do this.
    • Go to bed on time and get a good night's sleep. This way you'll be able to pull the information out fresh the next day.
    • Don't try any last-ditch heroics to boost your energy-level or try and retain more; keep to your routine so that your body is regulated the day of the exam. While it's important to stay healthy, eat right, and go to bed on time, don't do anything that will throw your body off-whack.

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Categories: College and University Study Techniques | Tests and Exams