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.

17 Responses to Countdown to Final Exams

  1. Ivie March 20, 2013 at 2:10 PM #

    These are great tips and I highly recommend creating a study plan ahead of time to avoid cramming. I have always done this and been successful because it alleviated stress and you actually learn the material rather than just memorize it for the test. In addition, it allows you to have time for other fun things and improves the quality of study time because you are studying further ahead for a shorter amount of time each day. As a Special Education Teacher and tutor for the last ten years, I have written many blogs including some on study tips on my website Please visit us and leave your thoughts as well!

  2. Shane Hart January 2, 2013 at 9:38 AM #

    Really interesting and your point of view is really captivating. Still at end of the day its better spending more time studying subjects which we are weak, so we get nailed at least with basics of all the subjects.

  3. Dugger April 16, 2011 at 10:53 AM #

    Yes, breaks are very important for maintaining concentration and memory retention. The best break frequencies are what we had in high school; a ten to fifteen minute break every hour.

  4. Andres April 14, 2011 at 8:28 PM #

    For some months I suffered low performance and later I discovered that it was because I studied too much before the exams. You should study very hard, but stop one day before to let your brain assimilate all the lessons learned and don’t forget to sleep enough and proper nutrition.

  5. Doug April 12, 2011 at 4:01 PM #

    Great points in your strategy. Let’s not forget proper nutrition either, as it should also be a top consideration when attempting to maximize memory retention. If you are hungry, hunger pangs can add a lot of white noise to your concentration, not to mention low blood sugar can make you feel very weak and lethargic.

  6. Justin April 9, 2011 at 9:04 PM #

    I think this is a must read for all students studying for tests. Quite often when we are cramming for exams, we forget about the importance of having a break. After a short while your brain gets stale and can’t absorb anymore information. I believe the study aids tip is excellent. Quite often when studying, I have a mind full of pictures rather than numbers and facts. I find myself, I can put pictures all together in some sort of story. Then when the question comes in the exam, I think of my stories and how all the pictures relate together, generally come up with a pretty good answer.

    The other absolute key point is the point about looking after yourself. Like everyone, I have crammed for exams the night before with only two hours sleep. By the time you get to the exam you are absolutely trashed. Your mind can’t focus on the job at hand. You’re better off getting a good nights sleep so your mind is clear and you can focus on this important test you have. Good luck students.

  7. Asa Mills April 7, 2011 at 1:20 AM #

    Thank you for this great advice.

    After suffering some poor exam results because of cramming, I learned to change my habits for the subsequent year. In particular, your last tip really rang true. It is impossible to absorb the information when a lack of sleep and stress are fighting memory retention. Then, when writing the exams, falling asleep at the desk is the worst outcome.

  8. Patrick Rogers April 6, 2011 at 1:15 AM #

    When I went through college I only studied the night before and always stayed up VERY late with a mountain dew and snickers bar till 2-4 AM. Then I went on into the Navy Nuclear program and was basically “forced” to study long before the test.

    I can honestly say that I 100% really understood and comprehended what I learned in Nuke school. I did great in college, however the material from college was all gone after a couple weeks and virtually non-existent now, 12 years later. I actually very much regret that.

  9. Andy April 5, 2011 at 11:33 PM #

    Tip: If you’re having a really hard time at a subject, it’s good to choose a study buddy who can help you out. But for the rest, it’s better to choose a study buddy who needs your help. There’s no better way to master a lesson than by teaching it to somebody who understands it even less 😉

  10. Kevin Butcher April 4, 2011 at 7:54 AM #

    The three areas covered (schedules, focus on weak spot, study groups) are all valuable. I would add one more complementary and most powerful thing. This is study in a pattern that maximizes recall. To quote Aristotle “repeatedly recalling a thing strengthens memory”. There is a proven rule involved in this which has been confirmed by Karpicke at Purdue University – repeatedly and actively TEST yourself. Actually most students do not do this but the improvement in performance if you do can be massive.

  11. Sarah April 3, 2011 at 10:57 PM #

    One downside of studying in groups is that study buddies tend to lose focus in the middle of a study session. Who wouldn’t be tempted to spend the night remembering the good times of the past semester instead of studying? While the presence of a study buddy eases the pressure and stress in preparing for the final exam, adult supervision is still important to make sure the kids do not forget they are there to study, not chat.

  12. Jane Savoie happy Horse March 29, 2011 at 12:41 PM #

    Hi Penny,

    I would have to agree with you wholeheartedly, the majority of my students have expressed the same thing, however studies have proven that cramming into the wee hours the night before can actually have an adverse effect on your ablity to consentrate during the actual axam, therefore there’s a good possibility of one doing poorly as a result.

  13. Jason O'Leary March 29, 2011 at 12:38 PM #

    This should be helpful, thank you. I always have trouble prioritizing what subject I spend the most time studying. I had to drop my math class recently because the teacher was horrible and I was devoting too much TIME to studying for his class. 🙁

    Thanks again,

  14. Lorna Mclaren March 29, 2011 at 10:54 AM #

    Lots of helpful info here but one thing I would disagree with is

    “Start your schedule about a week before the first test, and figure out how much time to set aside each day for each subject.”

    I would suggest preparing a study schedule much earlier. Make sure that your are regularly revising each section of your subject and ask questions along the way.

    • Mathew Pent March 29, 2011 at 1:43 PM #

      I agree Lorna here. I try to study much earlier, including reading and re-reading the text or parts of it on a daily basis. It’s the getting into the habit that will help you the most!

  15. Penny March 29, 2011 at 9:43 AM #

    Of the above list of helpful revision aids, I would rate your last point the most important. Almost everyone I know will cram and sit up late just before an exam, including myself in that number. I have certainly paced my revision and concentrated on my weaker subjects but in the end, on the day before an exam I always feel there is something more to be crammed in, even if it’s 1 am!


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