by Lauren Joffe

Final exam season makes college students cringe to the very core. After all, with one single test accounting for up to (yikes) half of your grade, it’s hard not to feel that knot in your stomach. But chill! With these student-tested study tips, you’ll get nothing but net on your final exam. Don’t believe it? Test us. …

Breakin’ It Down Before Your Final Exam

With a semester’s worth of class notes, articles, tests and other materials, your mind could combust trying to remember everything. Take these steps to assure the best, most effective studying.

1. Create a final exam study guide

Use your syllabus as a blueprint to help you get all your materials arranged by topic, keeping important lectures and ditching useless paperwork. Jake Kastan, a Tufts University junior, says, “Copy and paste your syllabus to a Word doc, and from there, type up all the information under each topic. Prior to using these organizational techniques, I struggled to get above a B- or B at best on final exams.”

“Skimming saves time, but I always make a study guide,” says New York University sophomore Gabriela Colletta, who maintains a righteous 3.7 GPA. “Creating the guide is a form of studying alone, so it’s a really good form of initial review.”

2. Be an active studier.

Once your final exam study guide is complete, avoid just reading and re-reading the info. You want to absorb the material, not just glaze over it. Says Colletta: “Actively studying works best when you highlight, underline and make notes as you read. With long definitions and lengthy concept explanations, engaging actively with your guide is the retention process.”

3. Switch it up.

Colletta recommends writing out the information by hand over and over and over again: “Once you read through the material and take notes, writing down what you just read helps you memorize larger theories and ideas. Write and re-write the information, testing yourself every time you re-write the material. There’s really no secret to studying. It’s all about the information sinking in, and for me, this is how it’s done.”

Another approach is to make note cards with questions on the front and answers clearly outlined on the back. Seems elementary but this basic study technique is effective.

4. Get ready to cram.

Let’s face it -- sometimes there isn’t enough time to study for everything, and a final exam sneaks up on you. What to do? Review, review, review! First, break the course content into sections by topic or chapter. After studying each, go back and revisit previous sections.

Tackling Your Final Exam Together

Aside from studying on your own, partner up with a classmate (or a few). Many students recommend joining a study circle where you can compare final exam study guides, ask unanswered questions and quiz each other. Says Colletta: “Meeting in groups before a test helps because a) a lot of times the other person will pick up on something you didn’t, and b) by explaining and talking out the information, it validates I know the information.”

Whereas Colletta prefers discussion-based study sessions, Bucknell University junior Kasey Nadjadi opts for silent study groups. Nadjadi gets together with a handful of classmates who sit silently in the library as each person studies independently. When a student has a question, he or she has a full circle of people to approach. “Studying in big groups where everyone talks over the other person is ineffective for me,” says Nadjadi. “At the end of our silent study session, we quiz each other.”

Gulp … It’s the Day of Your Final Exam

Like it or not, final exam day sneaks up on you faster than you anticipate. Now is not the time to flake!

Refresh your memory.

Whether you have an a.m. final exam or one scheduled for the afternoon, take 20 to 30 minutes beforehand to go over the information. “I’ve found that just reviewing the night before isn’t enough,” says Kastan. “Wake up early or block out some time to refresh your memory the day of. Last-minute review spikes your memory and gets your brain started. I at least review ideas I was a little shaky on the night before.”

Wear a watch.

Wearing a watch during the final exam helps keep you on track. Don’t chance a broken class clock or a professor who doesn’t give time warnings. You want to take full advantage of conveying what you know in the allotted time. If you’re stuck on a section, move on and get back to it later.

Pencil? Check!

If you have a math final exam, remember your calculator. If you have an open-book exam, take the book! Sure, it sounds silly, but with all that studying, it’s easy to forget the obvious. The night before, pack your bag with any materials you’ll need. Double-check in the morning that you didn’t forget anything.

Avoid anxiety.

Feeling frantic during the final exam will cause you to space on concepts you truly know. It’s OK to be nervous, but remember: You studied, so you know your stuff! Take a breath, count to 10 and … begin.


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Student-tested Tips to Ace Your Final Exams