How to Study for Final Exams

final-examsFinal exams are approaching on college campuses around the world. Finals can be stressful, even for the most prepared students. Here are some tips to help you succeed:

Preparing for the Final

  • Find out what your entire final exam schedule is so that you’ll know how many finals you will have on each day.
  • Prepare a written schedule for yourself indicating when you will study for each test. Leave some time in your schedule for exercise and relaxation, too.
  • If the professor offers a study guide, use it.
  • If the professor offers a review session for the exam, go to it.
  • Know if the final is comprehensive (covering everything since the beginning of the semester or quarter).
  • Find out what kind of exam it will be. You’d study differently for a multiple-choice (Scantron) final than an essay (blue book) one.
  • If the final will be taken online, find out if you have to go to a specific computer lab on campus at a specific time, or if you’ll be allowed to take the final on your own computer. Also find out how many chances you will have to take the final. Assume it’s just one chance unless you hear differently from the professor.
  • If you have your previous exams available, scour the exams for things that you think will be on the final. Flag your notes by highlighting or using Post-It notes.
  • Don’t pull an all-nighter. (Though some people are successful with studying all night and then taking a test with no sleep, I wouldn’t recommend you try it for the first time on a final exam.)
  • Calculate your grades in the class. Determine what score you will need to get the grade you’re hoping for in the class. You may discover that you can’t possibly get an A, no matter how well you do on the final, but to get a B, you only need to get a few questions right.
  • If you’re an auditory learner, record yourself reading your notes aloud, then play the recording back several times. (You can use the free online service Utterli for this; simply register with Utterli and then call your assigned phone number with your cell phone to start the recording.)
  • If the exam is an open-book exam, this does not mean that you don’t have to study at all. In fact, one of the most challenging exams I ever took as an undergrad was an open-book essay exam.
  • ADDED ON NOV 22: Consider creating a detailed Final Exam Battle Plan.

On the Day of the Final

  • Eat a meal and drink water.
  • Don’t overdo it with the caffeine.
  • Know what to bring with you to the final. Do you need a blue book? A Scantron? (And if you need a Scantron, which kind do you need?) A pencil? A pen?
  • Are food and drinks allowed in the classroom where your final will be? Sometimes, the rules are different for exam days than other days.
  • Even if you don’t usually wear a watch, take one with you to the final. It’s unlikely you will be able to look at your cell phone during the final.

During the Final

  • For a paper-based exam, read through the entire final exam before you start answering any questions at all. This way, you will know what you’re facing.
  • If the final is an online exam, find out if you can revisit questions, or if after you click past a question you cannot go back to it again.
  • If you’re using a Scantron and you skip a question to finish later, make sure you’re answering your questions next to the correct answers. (When I took my GRE to get into grad school, I skipped a question on the first page of the booklet, but never skipped a number on the Scantron. When I realized it, I only had 10 minutes to go back and put the answers with the correct questions. Talk about stress!)
  • Keep a close eye on the time you have allotted.
  • Some students benefit from answering the most difficult questions first, while others do better completing all the easier ones. Do what works for you.

After the Final

  • Do not share with other students what was on the final exam. In most universities, this is a violation of the honor code.

Now it’s your turn: What final exam tips do you have to share? Please let us know through your comments below.


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30 Responses

  1. Learn how you learn – There are three types of learners: visual, audio, and kinesthetic.

    Visual people have to see the problem or read the words. Audio people have to hear the problem or the lecture. Kinesthetic people learn from doing. They have to actually go through the material and try applying it.

    Once you learn how you learn best, you’ll begin to understand material must faster. That way you can spend less time studying, but still absorb the same amount of information.

  2. I’m a copious notetaker. For exams, I always rewrote my notes, creating bulleted lists, definitions, timelines. I’m very visual so I guess that’s why that worked for me.

  3. Andy — do you have a recommendation for a good website on studying tips for the different learning styles?

  4. Lori – I tended to rewrite my notes often, too. When I was taking exams, I could remember where on a page I wrote something, and that helped me recall the answers at times.

  5. When I’m studying for finals i make sure that I study the areas where the professor has stressed the most interest then i go from there.

  6. For content heavy courses, I like to retype my notes and then go through the textbook and add in definitions and an outline that flows with those notes. Do this asap and then carry the notes around with you. While you are waiting on a class to start, or maybe the campus bus, pull out those notes and read them. Constant exposure over a week or two is really going to help the information stick in your head.

  7. I agree with Kelli – retype your notes and go back through the book…repetition helps you comprehend the material. It took me a long time to discover which method of studying works best for me. I’d also suggest pre-planning. Obviously…don’t procrastinate. Look and see which finals come first. For example: Say you have a Math final on Monday at 12:00pm and an English final at 3:00 on the same day. Focus on math first, then move on to english. Set aside at least 3 hours for each subject. After day one is completed…follow the same schedule for the next day. Hope this helps!

  8. NOTECARDS!!!!! studying + notecards = A. My roomates call me the notecard king, That is the only way I can study. I put whatever I need to know on notecards a week or two in advance and got over them at least once a day. That seems to do the trick.

  9. Heather & Kelli – Definitely! Going over your notes several times is a big help, especially when it’s not all done the night before the test

  10. Shawn — We are kindred souls. I was the Queen of the Notecards when I was an undergrad. I liked making piles of things I knew and (hopefully smaller) piles of things I didn’t know yet

  11. How To Study For Final Exams?
    First you have to acknowledge what kind of learner you are. I have found out that I actually posses all three learning techniques. My suggestion to those who fall in the same category would be to:
    1) study at least 2 weeks ahead of the test.
    2) Make note cards or type notes in color.
    3). Teach it to someone else
    4). Make up your own test
    5). Make a game out of the test.
    6). Study for an hour do something fun for about 30 minutes and then pick back up where you stopped.
    7)Record yourself reading the notes so you can have it on playback.
    Tip # 6 really helps me because it refreshes my mind.
    Hope these tips are helpful!

  12. 1. Leave facebook alone….set a time for studying and time for play…all brains need rest and a break ( it makes stressful tests a little more bearable if you take it one step step at a time)
    2. Look over material, come up with concepts you don’t quite understand, and present them to the professor or friend in the class
    3. Make a study group…..
    4. While studying. always have a snack at hand and a drink because that way, you have everything you need, and there’s no need to go waste time and stop your studying by trying to procrastinate….a tip I highly suggest…can’t concentrate unless I have food at hand….b/c then all I do is make my way to refrigerator anyways…
    5. Don’t get stressed out…I’m a big stressor, and it doesn’t help, so have fun….but keep up with time management….

  13. LaKea — My favorite tip of yours is #3. Knowing I’ll have to teach something to someone else always helps me to learn it better and faster. Thanks for sharing your tips!


  14. Marah — Loved your first tip. Not being logged into Facebook while studying is a smart idea, especially with Facebook chat.


  15. Wow, a lot of good study tips. I might have to make use of some of them for my own finals. Anyway, one thing I would like stress is the location of were you study. Many of you have probably heard this many times but I know for me, studying in any area where I cannot be tempted increases my study rate. Stay away from computers, tvs, videos games, and any other electronic devices. I know that if I study in my room, my computer has a nasty habit of pulling me away from my pursuit of knowledge, even when its turned off. Likewise, hearing the sounds of my friends watching an interesting movie or playing a heated match in a video game is also very alluring to me. I get my best reading done at the library. There I am too far away from most distractions that their effect on me is greatly reduced.

  16. Being this is my first year in college I found all of the tips that were provided seemed to be very useful.

    When I study for finals I like to participate in study groups, talking about the material I think helps you remember it better.

    No late night craming!!!! Keep away from your distractions such as the computer, talking on the phone. etc. I like Marah’s tip about not being logged in on facebook, like when you see someone’s headline ”Studying.”

    I definately think i’ll try note cards esp. for economics.

    I also think that being in an study environment helps like, the library I don’t know I just think it’s a certain vibe.

  17. Make sure you schedule out your time — start at least two weeks in advance.
    For me, I found that I needed to figure out which finals were most important to me. Is it more important for a you to get an A on a certain final than another? Concentrate on the most important ones first.

    And believe it or not, the library is awesome. I don’t go there too often, but I have definitely noticed that I concentrate SO much better when I am there. There is just something about that atmosphere that cannot be recreated at home.

    I agree with Jaleesa that study groups are very helpful – and avoid facebook!!!!!

  18. Typing up your notes and adding to them from book definitions like Kelli said is always helpful to me. It works best when you do this a week or so before the test and have the time to really familiarize youself with the material. The week of the exam get in a study group with people from the class and talk about the material. Explain concepts to one another and talk about what you think about the material. Just talking to others who are studying for the same test will show you how much you know, and maybe from listening to the ways others memorize or remember the information will help you as well.

  19. […] Nixon, a university instructor, offers tips on How to Study for Final Exams posted at Making […]

  20. The most important thing about finals week is to NOT stress out. It can be scary at times but if you get worked up it only lessens your concentration. So relax and allow yourself plenty of time to study and most importantly sleep. Eat well. Also dont forget they are a huge portion of your grade so make the effort to do great on them. Just sleep well be chill, and youll be fine!

  21. use notecards and look over notes at least a couple of days in advance. Don’t get overstressed, relax, and get plenty of sleep.

  22. I like to make notecards and most of my studying comes from actually writing the notecards than studying them. I also like to look over chapter reviews and my notes.

  23. (I personally think this will help with Chemistry and History)

    1) It’s better to read the chapter before the chapter is being
    discussed in class

    2)Try rereading the chapter after the material is covered in class. This gives you a better understanding of what was read previously, and gives you the opportunity to make your own notes of what you’ve retained

    3)Try rereading only the notes you’ve highlighted and the notes that were given by your instructor before going on to the next chapter. (this is also a good opportunity to attempt any practice problems that were suggested)

    ****This 3rd step gives you the opportunity to see what you’re having a problem with before taking the test. By knowing what all you don’t understand, it helps the instructor assist you better.

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  25. […] [Reposted from Making Connections: Facebook & Beyond, November 21, 2008] […]

  26. someone probably said this but I did not have time to read them all, study with a friend, it tends to make it easier and more motivating to keep going

  27. […] How to Study for Final Exams (from both a professor and a student perspective) […]

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