Finals are (almost) here and making sure you have a solid prep plan is key to your success! Take the time to do the following three things and you’ll arrive prepared and confident for your exams.
1. Gather your resources
Before you can begin reviewing, take time to organize all of the content you will need to know for the final. This requires first and foremost that you know what will be covered in the final exam. For some classes, the exam will cover the entire semester/trimester whereas for others it will be only a portion of the content. Whatever it is, be sure to pull together all relevant materials in one place. For some classes, the content is spread across a bunch of different mediums like notes, textbook, power points, online presentations, handouts, etc. and it might be a bit difficult to have them physically all in front of you all at the same time. If that’s the case, create a reference list for yourself that you can refer back to as you begin your review process.
In some classes, you will get a study guide that either provides you with some practice materials or and outline of what you need to know. I highly recommend making a copy of this (if it’s not available online) so that you can use it to test yourself or re-do problems that you got wrong.
2. Make a plan
Rather than diving straight into studying, take 10-15 minutes to map out a plan for when you will study for each of your classes. I recommend using a month view type of calendar (paper is easier for this, but electronic can work as well) and follow these steps:
- Write down the date/time for each final exam on your calendar.
- Add any commitments you have between now and the end of exams to your calendar. This might include social events, sports practices, study groups, etc. At this point, you will start to see how much time you have (or don’t between now and exams). Don’t panic! You can get this done!
- Map out when you will study for each class. It’s best to do this by working backwards. Look at when the final will be and know that the night before, you should be putting the final touches on your studying, not just starting the process. Also, brain science teaches us that it’s best to spread out your studying and not cram it into one or two days. Study for an hour every other day for 4 days rather than 4 hours all at once. I recommend that you start with the class that you believe will require the greatest amount of time first. Map out days/nights you plan to study for that class by writing the name on the class on each day of your calendar you plan to focus on that subject. From there, add in your other classes. In just a few minutes to you will have a plan to guide you to exam success.
With your plan in place, now you have to do the real work of studying. Studying is a two-part process: 1. Teaching or re-teaching yourself the material and 2. Testing yourself to make sure that you know it.
Part 1: Teaching yourself (aka “Reviewing or Studying”)
Most students haven’t really be taught how to study so when it comes to preparing for finals they often take the approach of re-reading or looking over notes or problems. (Check out this post on How to Study). In fact, the best way to learn is to interact with the material using multiple modalities which include: seeing, listening, talking and doing/manipulating. Gretchen Wagner, Academic Coach, coined these as the study senses.
Let’s break this down. Seeing refers to reading but also refers to watching (as in a video) or looking at images or charts. Often times, material is more easily digestible when we put things into different categories, contexts or formats. So rather than re-writing your notes, can you think of a way to transform them into something that helps you see connections more clearly? By doing something with your notes (i.e. manipulating the content into a chart or drawing images that represent the content) it creates the opportunity for your brain to take in the information in new way which ultimately helps it stick. One of the reasons that study groups work well is that it is an opportunity for you to talk about the material as well as listen to what others have to say. If one of the ways you like to study is by re-listening to lectures, add in the modality of taking down some notes or pausing the audio to restate what you have just heard into your own words. The more modalities you can use when studying the better the information will stay in your brain.
Part 2: Testing yourself
One of the pitfalls many students fall into when they study is that they forget to assess what they know and don’t know. If you just review and don’t test, you might think that you know the material but when you get to the final may quickly realize that you did when you had your notes in front of you but without them are lost. So for each subject, create a test for yourself. Ideally the test will be the same type of format as your final. If you have a study guide or review sheet, use that as a way to test your knowledge either by writing things out or saying them out loud. If you are studying for a class that has problems (say math or physics) go back and do new problems. As you test yourself, catalog what you still don’t know and then go back to Part 1 and spend more time re-teaching yourself.
Preparing for finals takes a tremendous amount of time and focus. It’s important to use techniques such a the Pomodoro Method to help keep you focused and energized as you study. Also, carve out some time to exercise as it’s key to helping you learn and feel good. Finally, remember to get good sleep. Getting a good night’s rest is critical in consolidating everything you have studied that day into your long term memory!
Good luck! This is a tough time of year, but some time off of school is just beyond the bend.
Lesley Martin has been working in education over the last 20 years. She currently works with students privately as an Academic Success Coach and is the CEO of ClassTracker, a company she founded that creates customized academic planners for middle and high schools and students. Lesley has published two books: Where’s My Stuff: The Ultimate Teen Organizing Guide and Make the Grade: Everything you need to Study Better, Stress Less, and Succeed in School.