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Top 3 study tips for final exams

By the end of the semester, you’ve gone through 16 weeks of classes, lectures, assignments, papers, quizzes, and midterms. That’s a lot, even without considering the work, extracurricular activities, and other responsibilities that you have to balance with your studies (not to mention the setbacks that come with getting sick). In short, you’re likely exhausted, and the idea of jumping right into studying for multiple final exams is less than appealing.


Here are some strategies that can help you maximize your time and energy and make it through to the end of your last exam. 



1. Start early (at least on some things)

Even if you can’t bear the thought of studying for finals before the last day of classes, there are a couple of key things you can do ahead of time that will make studying easier: 

  • At least 2-3 weeks before the end of classes, take a look at your grades and assess how you’re doing in each course. Use your syllabus to determine how close you are to achieving the grade you want, and how much you’ll need to get on the final to reach your goal. It’s important to make these calculations before the withdrawal deadline (April 5th this semester) so that you can make informed decisions about your courses. Once you start studying, you can use the information to determine how to prioritize your study time for each course. 

2. Make a list of topics you need to study

  • At least 1-2 weeks before the end of classes, start compiling a list of the concepts and topics you will need to study. Your instructor might not give you a lot of details about the final until the last day of class, but you probably have a general idea of what you will need to prepare. Starting the list ahead of time means you have a detailed set of tasks ready to go when you do start studying, and it means you have time to ask your instructor any lingering questions about the course material while you still see them on a regular basis. 


Woman studying


3. Focus on recall, not reading

Many people rely on re-reading (or sometimes re-writing) their notes and lecture slides when studying. While it might feel familiar, and therefore easier, reading is not a very effective way to study. You get far more out of retrieval practice, or trying to recall information without your course material sitting in front of you. There are lots of ways to do retrieval practice when studying: you can take practice tests, do sample problems, use flashcards, or create outlines or concept maps from memory. Even something as simple as covering your notes or slides and trying to remember the information in them can improve how well you remember the information in an exam. 


As an added bonus, retrieval practice can help you manage your study time more efficiently. Based on how well you’re able to recall your course material, you can identify which elements you need to review the most and make them your priority. This makes much better use of your time than reviewing everything the same number of times before an exam. 


If you want to learn more about how to be strategic with your study decisions, Learning Services has a Google Site full of information.