The year is almost over, and final exams are the final hurdle between you and your summer break. Here are some helpful pointers to ensure that you use your time effectively and set yourself up for success.
Know your testing calendar
First, lay out your final exam schedule in a calendar so that you can see the order in which you’ll take the tests and think about what your studying time for each class will look like. It’s important to be realistic about this early on. Don’t count on being able to cram for a test, but instead plan ahead. When you’re making the calendar, write down the nature of the test: is it an essay, a multiple-choice test, a lab, a presentation, a paper, or something else altogether?
Develop a plan
Next, rank your exams based on how much time you think you’ll need to prepare for each of them. This gives us a good starting point for thinking about what we should prioritize. The more time you think you need to study for a class, the sooner you should start preparing for that final. Spend your first study sessions focusing on just the classes that you think will take the most time, have the most content to review, or are most important to your grade.
Set yourself up for success
When you sit down to study, take the time to make sure that you are creating an environment that will help you to be effective. This means making sure that you have all of the resources that you need to study for your finals. These may include a review packet that your teacher has provided, your old tests and quizzes, and online tools like Quizlet or NoodleTools. For a detailed guide to setting up your study environment, read our post on The 3 Key Ingredients for a Successful Study Session.
Identify your priorities
Rather than just jumping in and starting to study the first item on your review sheet, first take a high-level overview and identify the units or content that you feel least confident about. One great way to do this is by color coding. Just take three colored pens and mark each content area green if you feel very confident about it, yellow if you’re not so sure, and red if it’s a high priority that you do not feel confident about at all. You can then begin your studying by starting with the areas you marked red and yellow, saving green for when you are closer to the test or feel like you need a break from the hardest material.
Consider the task and practice accordingly
For some classes, your task is simply memorization. In these cases, study tools like flashcards are your best friend. When you are using flashcards, be sure to study both sides. It’s not enough to know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell; you also need to know that the powerhouse of the cell is called the mitochondria. It might seem like the same information, but providing definitions for names and names for definitions are different tasks and it’s important to practice both in order to be ready for anything you may encounter on your final exam.
For classes like math or chemistry, your task is to remember a concept or formula and then apply it to questions that have a single, objective correct answer. It’s a good idea to spend time redoing programs from past tests or quizzes that have been difficult. However, if you’re confused from the start, take the time to review your notes and watch a video on YouTube or Khan Academy so that the ideas feel fresh in your memory.
In other classes, especially the humanities, your task is synthesis: you must understand the relationship between multiple forces, themes, or events. If you need to understand the sequence of events that led to the French Revolution, you may want to review your notes and the readings from class, but you might also find it helpful to watch videos or listen to podcasts. One of the best ways to deepen our understanding about the topic is to hear it explained in multiple ways.
If you start your studying early, by the time your teacher holds a review session in class, you will be prepared with specific questions that you want to ask. Don’t be shy about your questions! Asking your teacher to review or clarify a concept helps you and your classmates – if you have a question about the content, there’s a good chance that someone else does, too. Take your review sessions seriously, and don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions. Remember, this review session is intended to help YOU.
Be patient, but be persistent
Studying for finals can be a grind, especially when the content is difficult and it feels like you aren’t making progress as quickly as you’d like to. It takes time for us to truly learn a concept or skill, and the messy middle is frustrating – sometimes we feel like we understand something one moment, only to feel like we lose it a moment later. We must be patient, allowing ourselves time to process information. We also must be persistent, making sure that we keep coming back to practice material to reinforce our understanding. Great athletes, musicians, and academics all know the same secret: success comes from doing challenging work on a regular basis for an extended period of time. Studying for finals is no different, so take the time to be thoughtful about your process, then dig in your heels and get to work.
We are rooting for students at every step of the way. If you or your student need help mastering difficult content or learning how to study effectively, contact us today to access smart, patient, and effective support.