[Cross-posted from my blog for my First-Year Experience class, Making Connections: Facebook and Beyond, at Georgia Southern University]

Final exams are approaching on college campuses around the world. Finals can be stressful, even for the most prepared students. Here are some tips to help you succeed:

Preparing for the Final

  • Find out what your entire final exam schedule is so that you’ll know how many finals you will have on each day.
  • Prepare a written schedule for yourself indicating when you will study for each test. Leave some time in your schedule for exercise and relaxation, too.
  • If the professor offers a study guide, use it.
  • If the professor offers a review session for the exam, go to it.
  • If you study well in groups, form a study group.
  • Know if the final is comprehensive (covering everything since the beginning of the semester or quarter).
  • Find out what kind of exam it will be. You’d study differently for a multiple-choice (Scantron) final than an essay (blue book) one.
  • If the final will be taken online, find out if you have to go to a specific computer lab on campus at a specific time, or if you’ll be allowed to take the final on your own computer. Also find out how many chances you will have to take the final. Assume it’s just one chance unless you hear differently from the professor.
  • If you have your previous exams available, scour the exams for things that you think will be on the final. Flag your notes by highlighting or using Post-It notes.
  • Don’t pull an all-nighter. (Though some people are successful with studying all night and then taking a test with no sleep, I wouldn’t recommend you try it for the first time on a final exam.)
  • Calculate your grades in the class. Determine what score you will need to get the grade you’re hoping for in the class. You may discover that you can’t possibly get an A, no matter how well you do on the final, but to get a B, you only need to get a few questions right.
  • If you’re an auditory learner, record yourself reading your notes aloud, then play the recording back several times.
  • If the exam is an open-book exam, this does not mean that you don’t have to study at all. In fact, one of the most challenging exams I ever took as an undergrad was an open-book essay exam. Flag your textbook based on where you believe the questions will come from.
  • Consider creating a detailed Final Exam Battle Plan.

On the Day of the Final

  • Eat a meal and drink water.
  • Don’t overdo it with the caffeine.
  • Know what to bring with you to the final. Do you need a blue book? A Scantron? (And if you need a Scantron, which specific type do you need?) A pencil? A pen?
  • Are food and drinks allowed in the classroom where your final will be? Sometimes, the rules are different for exam days than other days.
  • Even if you don’t usually wear a watch, take one with you to the final. It’s unlikely you will be able to look at your cell phone to check the time during the final.

During the Final

  • For a paper-based exam, read through the entire final exam before you start answering any questions at all. This way, you will know what you’re facing.
  • If the final is an online exam, find out if you can revisit questions, or if after you click past a question you cannot go back to it again.
  • If you’re using a Scantron and you skip a question to finish later, make sure you’re answering your questions next to the correct answers. (When I took my GRE to get into grad school, I skipped a question on the first page of the booklet, but never skipped a number on the Scantron. When I realized it, I only had 10 minutes to go back and put the answers with the correct questions. Talk about stress!)
  • Keep a close eye on the time you have allotted.
  • Some students benefit from answering the most difficult questions first, while others do better completing all the easier ones. Do what works for you.

After the Final

  • Do not share with other students what was on the final exam. In most universities, this is a violation of the honor code.

Now it’s your turn: What final exam tips do you have to share? Please let us know through your comments below.


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8 Responses to How to Study for Final Exams

  1. Haley Barnes says:

    Your tips were very helpful. Before coming to college, finals week scared me to death. Over the past three years, the most important thing I have learned is to prepare ahead of time. Plan out ahead of time how you are going to study, like you said. Prior to doing it I thought it was a dumb idea, but now I do it every semester.

    If the final is cumulative, don’t wait until the night before to beginning studying and think you are going to great. It’s usually too much information for our brain to take in.

    Also, I don’t like finals in the afternoons. I like to get up, take my test and be done. Sitting around and waiting or trying to do some last minute studying just makes me stress out.

    Eating a good breakfeast is also huge. There is nothing worse than sitting down to take a final and your stomach start growling. It is going to be a long test . . .
    Happy Blogging!

  2. […] 18. Mrs. Barabara Nixon’s How to Study for Final Exams. […]

  3. Meghan Spillers says:

    Thanks for the great tips! This is my last year taking finals (SO excited!), but it doesn’t make finals week any less stressful. I especially liked your tip about not overdoing it with caffeine. I’m not a big coffee drinker, so I depend on Coca Cola to keep me energized while I study. Also, it is SO important to know the format for online finals. It would be a horrible surprise not to know that you cannot skip a question and come back to it later. One of my biggest tips I could give for finals week is not to procrastinate! I am the world’s worst when it comes to procrastination, but it is a huge lift off of your shoulders when you don’t let all of your studying pile up on you. Another tip I have would is to try to relax. After five years of school, I know more than the next person how easy it is to stress out. However, I have found out that if you just calm down and study, the information sinks in better. If you’re freaking out about how late it is or the million other things you have to do, you can’t focus on what you’re currently studying. Lastly, I would say to go into your final with a positive attitude. If you take the time to learn the material, don’t doubt yourself when you’re waiting to start your final. Be confident and breathe! You’ll do just fine! Good luck everyone!

  4. Wow these are some good tips Ms. Nixon. Now that I think about it these tips really work. You would be surprised at how just eating a good breakfeast will help you think better and longer.When I was little my mom would always make sure we ate really good near the end of the school year and I always wondered why. Now I know. Always being prepared is something so simple that many people just don’t do that leaves them struggling from the beginning. And I never thought about recording myself reading notes that seems like a really good idea

  5. These tips are really great! I usually have pretty good study habits. I study and get my work done in advance. I believe that study a little everyday a week before the exam or as soon as possible really helps.

    I always plan out my schedule for studying as well. I pick one day to study for two exams, then the next day to study for the other two. I do that until finals week, then I map out that week for studying according to how well I know certain material.

    I agree with Julie that it is important to keep things fresh by studying in a new environment, but I usually study best alone in my room. I believe I can focus better. If I am feeling really stressed about a certain exam and I know I need to study, but I feel like taking a long break will make me more anxious, I usually pack my stuff up get in my car and drive to a nice outdoor spot to study in a more relaxing environment.

    Those are some things that have helped me and some tips for you all! I wish everyone luck on exams!

  6. Julie says:

    Also, try to study somewhere “fun” every once in awhile (as long as you can focus) to keep things fresh. Somewhere like your University coffee shop, Union, or a place like Starbucks or Panera Bread. Outside is awesome too!

  7. Julie says:

    Great tips! I enjoy reading your blog. I’m a PR and Marketing student in my sophomore year, below are a few tips that help me study!

    As a student, I find it helpful to compile my notes into a “study guide” on my outline. If anything is unclear in my notes, I often add additonal information from the textbook and lecture slides (If available.)

    In my psychology class we always talk about making “deep conections” with the information–it’s so true! Form your own relationships to the material (i.e. how material relates to your own life or memory tricks) and, if possible, talk about it! I always do best when I go over concepts with someone else in the class. It’s amazing what you can remember just from talking to someone else AND you will most likely learn something new!

    Also, start studying at least a week in advance for about a half hour to an hour each day as needed. That way, when it gets down to the night before you can be calm, cool and collected (hopefully!)