The First Five Steps to Acing Your Final Exams

Don’t hate us…but we HAVE to say this:  final exams are fast approaching!

As finals approach, it can be difficult to remember that this, too, shall pass: the stress, sleeplessness, and the brain drain.  There are many ways to make the next month more bearable (and to make sure that you make the grade).  Don’t let the homestretch ruin your academic year!  Check out these five steps to prepare for your finals.

STEP 1:  Find out exactly what the test is going to cover.

Know the chapters the exam will cover.  Will it be on just the second semester, or will it be cumulative, including first semester?  If so, what percent of it will be from the first and second semesters, respectively?

Clarify the content and format of your exams.  Will the exam be multiple choice, free response, essays, or a combination?  How many questions will each section have?  Are calculators allowed? (Some teachers will even tell you how many questions there will be from each chapter).

STEP 2:  Shed some commitments – deliberately make time to study.

I know.  You are extremely busy.  Still, reevaluate your commitments for the next several weeks.  You’ll find you have a lot easier time studying if you make blocked-out, extra time for it.  Put off any unnecessary social obligations or family commitments.  And, even if you have must-commit obligations, try to take at least 10 days off, if at all possible, for final exam period (or at least trim your hours of commitment to a minimum).

extra tips:

  • If you can finish your papers at least ten days before the first day of finals, it’ll free up a lot of extra time (and energy) to study for finals.
  • Make a study schedule, put it on a daily calendar by the hour, and keep to it as best as you can.

STEP 3:  Gather together all the “stuff” you need to study.

If you have not yet had our Study Skills: Note Taking & Organization Skills lessons from us, your subject binders might be stuffed with a lot of loose pages – every handout gathered from Day 1 of class, almost two inches in thickness, and weighing more than a small dog.  And you got one of these binders for each class (although there might be quite a few pages from one subject that have somehow migrated to other subjects).

Take some time to organize all your notes and handouts by subject, then by chapters or units, and if possible, put these pages in chronological order within those units (use a binder clip to put each unit together).  Filter out pages you might need to study or review, and take out all the unnecessary pages.  (Put the “unnecessary” pages into a bin or box, just in case you need it as a reference – you can dump it after finals.)

STEP 4:  Study.  Study in chunks.

First of all, study.  I know, it’s too obvious, but some students just worry and hope they’d get a good grade, instead of actually studying.  No matter how good the study tips are, you MUST study!

Although it’s tempting (and sometimes inevitable) cramming intensely for many straight hours really (really!) isn’t the best way to study.  Many studies have shown that you should study in 20-50 minute chunks (with good concentration) and give yourself a 5-10 minute breaks between the study times.  You know how long you can hold your concentration before getting mentally fatigued, so start with a chunk of time that works for you.

An alternative to studying by chunks of time is studying by chunks of amount to study.  For instance, remember from STEP 3 above, where you put each chapter (or unit) together?  Review one chapter, and then take a break; review a chapter, then take a break…

extra tips:

  • Instead of studying a single subject more than about 60-90 minutes (not counting breaks), rotate the subjects you study.  So, after two or three chunks of study, rotate to another subject, even if you have to come back to the first subject later on.
  • It’s best to spread out study times for a subject evenly throughout the course of the week, rather than getting all studies done in one or two days.

STEP 5:  Study smartly.

Approach Each Subject Differently.  For science and math studies, you’ll probably want to solve a lot of problems.  For foreign languages, you’ll probably want to start by learning the vocabulary words and its grammatical usage; are there listening or speaking parts involved?

Prioritize the tests that matter the most.  Not all tests are equal.  You are probably materially better at one subject than another.  Make appropriate time commitments, based on the subjects involved, your current grades versus what grades you will need on the final exam, and the ease with which you can learn the subject.  When you commit equal amount of time for each tests, you’re taking away opportunity to really commit time to subjects that need it.

Learn to deal with test anxiety.  If you are one of those people who blank out in front of studies, there are ways to un-learn test anxieties and calm yourself.  But the first steps are knowing the contents of the test, knowing yourself, and seeking appropriate help.

What are the next steps?

Well… study!  Get to it!  Put these steps into action!

In addition, More Than SAT has many other study tips, as well as step-by-step guidance to help you prepare for your final exams.  Make the most of the time you have left before finals!

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