Cramming all of the information from the beginning of the semester into your head can feel daunting or even impossible. However, it can, and will, be done because, let’s face it, you don’t have another choice unless you want to fail your classes. To help make studying for finals a little easier, here are 12 tips on how to study for, and ace, those nasty tests.
1. Create (and follow) a study schedule. Your study schedule should provide exact times for how long you have to complete a task (i.e., 2 hours for reading chapter 1, 1 hour for looking up chapter 2’s terms, etc.). Use snacks as rewards and as punishments. For instance, if you finish memorizing twenty terms, then you can have a snack. If you don’t, then you don’t get a snack for another hour. Hunger can be a powerful motivator.
2. Have a drink near your side. This may sound like a strange one, but hear me out. A drink like tea, coffee, or water will: 1) keep you hydrated, which is super important when you’re on a study binge, 2) give you little mini-mental breaks as you stop what you’re doing to take a sip of your drink, and 3) make you move a little bit, if only to reach your drink, which can help you to stay awake. Don’t use alcohol for this. But you’re smarter than to do something silly like that anyway. Right? Right???
3. Take breaks. You may be asking yourself, “Doesn’t getting a 4.0 GPA require nonstop studying when it comes to finals?” No. Nonstop studying is how to burn yourself out. Have your breaks be mindless and no longer than an hour. Some examples are watch a thirty-minute episode of a show, work out for thirty minutes, walk up and down your stairs for fifteen minutes, and pet your dog for ten minutes.
4. Try to read any material you haven’t already read. Well, at least try to read as much of the unread material as you can before the final.
5. Do the study guide in advance of the last class before your exam. Here’s your teacher literally giving you a list of things that could be on the test. Why wouldn’t you believe him and take advantage of such a gift? Do the study guide. Then, during the last class before your test, ask any questions you may have and make sure to get any confusing terms and concepts explained. Don’t feel shy and don’t feel self-conscious. This is your grade. Ask your questions, despite how numerous they may be.
6. Make a list of questions you still have after the last class and talk to your professor. Include examples of the concept(s) or problem(s) that you’re having difficulty with. Try to get as specific as possible. Don’t just say to your teacher, “I don’t understand the quadratic formula.” Narrow your issue down to something like, “I don’t understand when to use the quadratic formula.” Also, when you meet face-to-face with your instructor, there’s always the chance that your teacher may look at something and reveal that that’s not on the test, or he may point to something and say, “Definitely study that.”
7. Look up and memorize the definitions of terms listed at the end of each chapter in your textbook. Consider it a cheat sheet sent by the supposed demigods that are the textbook authors.
8. Combine your class notes, your work on the study guide, and your notes on the reading together to make the ultimate study buddy. You’ll sometimes find in your notes concepts or names that you starred or a note that says, “On the test.” Or, you’ll find tidbits that are better explained in your class notes than in the book. It’s important to cover all of your bases—class notes, book, study guide—so that you can get the information and learn/memorize it in the easiest and most understandable way possible for you.
9. Go to any study sessions your teaching assistant (TA) or instructor offers. TAs sometimes let slip what is, and is not, going to be on the final during their study sessions. Also, TAs can be terrific for explaining difficult concepts, and they’ll oftentimes spend extra time with you until your confusion about something is lifted.
10. Start studying at least three days before the exam. This doesn’t mean that everything must be read and your ultimate study buddy created before this 3-day period. Rather, this means that you start on the process of getting all of your reading done, of making your ultimate study buddy, and of memorizing the material.
11. Get at least four hours of sleep the night before the test. I would say get 7-9 hours of sleep the night before a final, but we’re not in a world in which bunnies talk and unicorns play with their sea otter buddies while baking cupcakes (and if you’re in such a world, please seek help). We’re dealing with reality here, and the reality is that you’re probably not going to get more than 6 hours of sleep the night before a test, and that’s if you’re lucky. Still, you need sleep. Pulling an all-nighter isn’t going to give you the best shot at doing well on your test. It’s better not to know some concepts through-and-through than to walk into a test with no sleep. Your brain needs time to recuperate and to metaphorically wash off the fuzz that you put on it with your intense studying. You can always finish going over concepts (if only briefly) an hour or two before the test.
12. Reduce distractions. Only use your breaks to check your e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever other new-fangled social media is out there (that’s right, I used “new-fangled” in a sentence and I’m not in my 50s). Lock yourself in your room or find a quiet place to study. I also recommend not listening to music while you study. However, if you’re wired to where you can’t study without music, then by all means, blast the tunes.
These guidelines should help you to do well, and even ace, your final exams. Good luck, my friends, and remember that you’ll be rewarded with summer after the hellfire of finals week is over.