Final exams are on the horizon at most colleges and universities this time of year. Whether you’re a senior itching to graduate or are finishing your first semester of college, this can be a stressful time for students in all walks of life.
But don’t panic. There are some strategies you can use to prepare yourself for these crucial exams that will likely carry some significant weight in determining your final grades.
1. Create a schedule of your finals.
If you’re taking at least two or three classes, there’s a high probability you’ll have the same number of final exams at the end of the semester.
So, it’s important to plan for these exams based on when they fall on the calendar. For example, if you have one exam on a Monday, a second on Wednesday, and a third on Friday, you can stagger your study schedule for these specific days. Of course, you should be preparing for all three of these exams in this case before finals week. But once you’ve crossed off the first exam, you can totally focus on the second one, and then you’ll just have one more to prepare for to wrap up the semester.
2. Put lesser priorities on hold.
While we all have different obligations and activities that can be ongoing, preparing for finals is a time when you should try to put some of these things on hold so that you have more time to study.
Let’s say you go to the gym four days per week for an hour each time. You might have to cut back to two or three days at the end of the semester to give yourself that extra hour of reading over your notes or working on practice problems. Or, if you’re planning to go on a cruise, it may be best to do that over spring break or after the semester ends.
You don’t need to completely change your lifestyle, but there are some decisions you can make about how you use your time that can benefit you when an exam is approaching.
3. Find out as much as you can about each final.
Here are a few questions you should get answered about your final exams:
- Is the exam multiple choice, true/false, short response, or an essay form? Or is it a combination of some of these formats?
- Is the exam timed? If so, how long will I have to complete it? (Most online exams have a set time limit and will have a visible timer when taking them.)
- Will the exam cover a broad range of subjects from the entire semester, or is it specific to certain material?
- Are notes, textbooks, calculators, or other items allowed to be used during the exam?
- How much weight does the final carry? (i.e., 30% of your grade in a class)
- Will there be a curve on the grades for the final?
- If I don’t score as high as I’d like on the final, is there any other way I’ll be able to improve my final grade in the class?
When you have as much information about an exam as you possibly can get your hands on, you’ll be much more prepared for exam day, whether you’re taking it in a classroom or online. In turn, this should give you a better chance of doing well on the final.
4. Be thorough when studying.
Sometimes we naturally try to read as much material as we can. We dig through all of our notes, and we try to cram everything possible into our brains in case we are presented with a big variety of questions on an exam.
The fact is that it’s often wiser to be strategic when studying. Focus on the key areas within a subject that you think will be covered on the exam. Also, don’t try to memorize everything. Work through problems and get good at doing them if it’s a math class. Understand the general big picture of a book for a literature class. Getting caught up on minor details can push you into a trap.
5. Talk to your instructors about any hang-ups you’re having.
It’s true – there really are no “dumb” questions in a college class.
So, if you’re struggling with a particular concept, set up a meeting or two with your instructor to go over things with them. Find a tutor if you need even more help. By being proactive, you’ll ensure that you will be more confident when your finals roll around.
6. Set up study groups with fellow students.
Connecting with your fellow classmates before a final exam can greatly help you feel more comfortable about the material.
Coordinate one or a few study group sessions prior to the exam. Go over all of the material you think will pop up on the exam. Ask your classmates about anything you’re fuzzy on, and provide feedback that you can to any of their questions or concerns. This can be an extremely effective strategy to not only help yourself, but also help those in your class to be more successful.
7. Use relaxation techniques right before each final.
There are methods you can use to be calm, cool, and collected before you’re given an exam on paper or on a computer. Some of these simple things include:
- Sleeping well the night before
- Doing meditation or deep breathing
- Avoiding distractions
- Eating and drinking enough beforehand, but not being too stuffed and tired
- Arriving at your exam location early or being ready early if you’re taking it from home