Saturday, April 24, 2010

How to Prepare for Final Exams

Final Exams are the tough. They demand the most from students (mastery of a whole year's worth of material) when students are at their worst (just days away from summer vacation). Moreover, teachers often place too much importance on the final by making it worth a large portion of the student's grade. But most students procrastinate and only study a night or two. It's like the whole system sets you up for failure.

Here are some tips for doing your best on a final exam:

  • Start early. Many weeks before the exam, gather all of your materials. If your lecture notes are spread all over the place, gather them in one notebook. If you skipped some important reading earlier in the semester, skim over it now.
  • Investigate. Find out what is on the exam. Pay close attention whenever your teacher talks about the exam. Ask lots of questions, but avoid saying, "Is this going to be on the test?" Teachers are sick of that. Try asking, "I going to be studying this weekend, where should I start?" or "Should I spend more time reviewing my notes or the textbook?" Your teacher will be impressed that you are starting so early and will be happy to help.
  • Prepare. If you teacher gives you some study material, use it fully. Some teachers will give a list of terms you should know; write out a definition for each. Others might give a list of possible essay questions; make an outline for each question.
  • Study a little bit every day. The way to get information into your long term memory is to review over a long period of time. A half an hour a day for ten days is much better than five hours the night before the exam. It also is much less painful. Remember, sleeping after you study helps your recall (
  • Remember my advice from an earlier post about making a legal cheat sheet. Think of all of the facts, names, dates, or equations that you need to remember for the test and write them on an index card. Carry that index card in your pocket for a few days, looking at it often. When you get to the exam, look at your index card one last time and throw it away. Now, when the teacher hand out the exam, turn it over and write down everything that was on your card. Everything that was on your index card is not on your exam, and you didn't break any rules to get there.
Good luck, and relax. Feeling anxious in an exam is like kryptonite for your grade.