Countdown to Final Exams

final examsFinal exams aren’t just any tests: They’re the ultimate test of your knowledge from the year, and you have to take a whole bunch of them at once. Believe it or not, this isn’t designed to torture you. How much each test matters depends on how your class is weighted, so your final exam score could mean the difference between an A and a C on your report card. We know how stressful it is to wrap your mind around all that studying, so we’ve got a surefire strategy to carry you to test time without (hopefully) the all-night cram sessions:

Create a schedule.

It might sound silly to schedule studying, but if you plan out your study sessions, you’ll get a better handle on how much work you’re facing. Start your schedule about a week before the first test, and figure out how much time to set aside each day for each subject. Use the calendar on your phone or computer and set alerts and reminders for yourself so you stick to your plan. Also, be realistic about how often you need to take a break from memorizing the dates all those British monarchs ruled. You need to fit in brain breaks, too.

Figure out your weak spots and prioritize.

If chemistry gave you trouble all semester, devote more time to that subject—even if it’s your last final. Look over your previous tests for the year, if you scored poorly on one unit in history, chances are you didn’t absorb it all the first time. Take extra time now to review what you missed. By starting with the toughest stuff first, you have time to ask your teacher questions or get help from our tutors. And don’t just start from the beginning of your notes and try to cram everything in: Think about what you know for sure will be on each test and review that material first. Then move on to studying what will probably be on the test, then what might be covered. That way, if you run out of time, you know you at least have the basics nailed.

Find a study partner or group.

There’s nothing like peer pressure to get you motivated to study. Make a plan with friends to review the class material, compare notes and work through the tough stuff. Not only is it more fun to study with your friends than being holed up by yourself, you’ll also learn more. By talking through the facts and formulas with your friends, you’re thinking about it more deeply, which means you’ll remember it better. You’ll also benefit from the good study habits and notes of the other group members. And if you’re trying to solve tough math problems, two heads are better than one.

Create study aids and test strategies.

Make flash cards, outline your notes or come up with a mnemonic device—a system of memorizing facts using a phrase or acronym you’ll definitely remember (for example, using the name ROY G. BIV to remember the order of colors in a rainbow). You should also ask your teacher if she’ll share copies of previous finals so you can see what might be covered or how questions will be phrased. If you’re studying at home, have your mom or dad quiz you on the information you’ve already reviewed.

Take care of yourself.

While it’s tempting to pull an all-nighter and cram everything in at the last minute, it’s a bad idea. You add stress, and you won’t retain the information for very long by studying that way. You may even forget some of it by the time the test begins. And because you’re working extra hard to prepare for these tests, it’s also important to take breaks to improve your concentration when you return to studying: Veg out with an episode of your favorite TV show or play a couple rounds of tennis on your Wii.