Finals week is quickly approaching and it’s time to ramp up your schedule into crunch time. How you decide to manage your time and plan your studying over the next couple weeks will dictate how you perform on exam day. But thankfully, here are 6 tips to help you ace your final exams.
1. Study Based On Exam Schedule
First and most importantly, go into the last couple weeks with a plan. Get your calendar out and mark the days for each exam. Based on the test days, work your way back with how you want to review the information.
For example, let’s say you have a final on Monday December 5th and Thursday December 8th. If the first test is much harder and requires more studying, you may focus solely on that, and start studying for test two only after finishing test one. On the other hand, if the first test is easier, you may start studying for the second test well before your first test, and then only study for test 1 for a couple days leading up to it.
2. Prioritize Important Information
When I say plan what you’re going to study, I literally mean write out what chapters or what parts you plan to review for each day leading up to your exam. Final exams are generally comprehensive, and all inclusive of any information from the beginning of the semester. From a personal perspective, I would spend less time reviewing information that was tested on the midterm and more time on information on the second half for two reasons. First, you should already be familiar with information from the first half of the class via the midterm and should theoretically need less time to review it. Second, final exams generally favor information that hasn’t been already assessed in prior exams.
When you’re making this plan, give yourself some wiggle room. You will probably fall behind on your schedule, so have a few “catch up” blocks to account for this. And please note, if you cannot review all the information you wanted, don’t worry. It is not the end of the world! You can still do well on your exam.
3. Don’t Neglect Other Areas of your Life
Let me tell you a quick, true story. I had a friend in college who took pride in the fact that during finals week he wouldn’t shower for up to 4 or 5 days at a time. That’s…unhygienic at best. Please don’t do things like this, there’s really no need! It’s important to remember that you can only study and absorb so much information in one day. By neglecting other areas of your life, you are not doing yourself any favors. Remember, you must to be well rested, fed, healthy, and hygienic to maximize return on your studying and perform at your best on test day. Longer hours on your brain yield diminishing returns. Efficiency is the name of the game here. Schedule your study breaks around meals, errands, and exercise.
For example, wake up and have breakfast. Study for 2 hours using the Pomodoro technique. At your break, start laundry. Do another 2 hours of Pomodoro. Then have lunch, followed by another 2 hours of Pomodoro. At this point you’re probably tired of studying, so go to the gym and get a workout in. A healthy body is essential for a healthy mind.
4. Use Group Study, but Don’t Overdo It
Group study is excellent to maintain motivation and discuss difficult concepts. However, it generally slows you down when it comes to reviewing general information. Only group study occasionally.
Have an agenda with your group as to what lectures or topics you want to go over to help keep you all on track. Taking turns teaching difficult concepts to each other will benefit everyone involved, particularly for conceptual classes that have essay-based questions. More on that next.
5. Tailor your Study Approach Based on the Exam
For physics, math, or chemistry, doing a myriad of practice questions is one of the best ways to prepare for the exam. The exam is probably going to be a series of problems you need to solve and show your work for. But remember, doing practice questions is only half the work. Making sure you review and understand the mistakes you made is equally important.
For more conceptual classes like neurophysiology or biology, essay questions are more common. Group study here is great to reinforce difficult concepts. If you can teach a concept to someone else, chances are you have a solid grasp of it and are ready for the test.
For multiple choice questions, memorization is king. I recommend focusing on flash cards with spaced repetition. The gold standard for this is Anki. I give a brief overview of how spaced repetition works and how to use it in your studying in this video. Be sure to do your scheduled Anki cards every day. Waiting until the last couple days defeats the purpose of spaced repetition. I talk briefly about spaced repetition in this video above.
6. No All-Nighters!
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that pulling an all-nighter is the best way to improve your test score. In very rare situations is it ever a good idea to deprive yourself of significant sleep before an exam. It’s more important for you to be sharp, well rested, and focused, than for you to try and cram before your test. Why not?
You’ll be tired while studying, and even worse – during your test. Additionally, you lose out on the benefits of REM sleep, which has been proven to help consolidate the information you learned. Going back to scheduling your study time and breaks, I recommend you study right before sleeping for this specific benefit. Information learned right before bed has greater rates of retention.