Studying for final exams
By Tiffany Sorenson, Varsity Tutors
Is the strategy for studying for finals different than studying for any other exam?
Yes and no. When you study for a final, you should employ the same techniques that were proven to be effective when you studied for previous tests. But since finals are usually cumulative, studying for them should be a more comprehensive process. You should review everything you learned throughout the semester, but it’s best to focus more on “big picture” ideas rather than on details. Also, when you study for a final, you should give extra study time to the topics you lost points on during previous quizzes, tests, projects, etc.
Should you study with a friend? Or study alone?
It depends on how you learn best. I’ve had extremely productive study sessions both alone and with classmates. If you choose to study with a friend, though, make sure it’s someone who will keep you on track and give your study session a competitive edge. Working alone is better than working with someone who is easily distracted and won’t take the session seriously.
Are there any strategies for making sure you finish a test on time?
When you take practice tests, you can set a timer so you get used to working against the clock. On test day, attack easy questions first. Mark the more difficult questions with a symbol so you can go back to them later. If you finish early, you can revisit the hard questions you marked earlier, but never second guess on questions you felt confident about the first time. Always listen to your instinct.
What do you do if you’ve got multiple finals on the same day?
I don’t find it as effective to study multiple subjects in the same day. Instead, I prefer to dedicate specific days to reviewing specific subjects. For instance, if I had three finals on Friday, I might use Tuesday to study German, Wednesday to study biology, and Thursday to study calculus. It’s also important to take certain measures the night before your finals so you’re relaxed on the big day. Get your outfit and supplies ready, do something you enjoy, and sleep well.
Realistically, how much time should you give yourself to study for a final exam?
That depends mostly on how diligently you studied throughout the semester. If you reviewed regularly, you won’t need as much time to study as other students who didn’t. I would say I spent no fewer than six hours studying for each final exam, but you may need up to ten, depending on your standing in the course.
What’s in your study toolkit? (food? quiet? friend?) What helps you stay focused on prep?
Coffee is king for me. It gives me energy and keeps me focused. However, I try not to drink it after 6 PM, or else it interferes with my sleep. I like a combination of study time at home and at the library; periodically changing environments prevents me from getting bored. Eating healthfully is necessary to keep me feeling good physically and mentally, though I do allow myself the occasional reward (an ice cream cone, a bag of chips, etc.) if I’m advancing nicely with my studies. Frequent breaks are also a must for my back and neck. Every twenty minutes, I get up to walk around or stretch.
Is there ever an instance where too much study or prep is a bad thing?
The only time too much exam prep is a bad thing is when it leads to cockiness. Students who are overconfident about their knowledge tend to work too quickly and therefore make careless mistakes. Even when you’ve studied a lot, you should maintain a level-headed attitude and read all exam content carefully.
Do you have any other tips or suggestions for someone taking a final exam?
I’ve found it’s best to use a variety of study methods. Mix it up rather than relying on a single method. Look at visuals, use flash cards, write sentences with new words, etc. I used to enjoy asking a parent or sibling to quiz me on my class notes. The desire to “impress” them motivated me to try my best and to remember the questions I got wrong.
The last thing to remember is that finals account for one of many grades you’ve earned this semester. You can still do well in the class without getting a perfect score on your final.