How to Study for Final Exams

On April 24, 2009, in Nixon's Classes, by Barbara Nixon

Proving What Was Learned by DennisSylvesterHurd.Last fall, I led a First-Year Experience class for freshmen at Georgia Southern. One of the biggest stresses for freshmen is their first or second round of final exams.

It seemed timely to repost what I shared with them about how to prepare for a final exam.

[Reposted from Making Connections: Facebook & Beyond, November 21, 2008]

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.
  • 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. (You can use the free online service Utterli for this; simply register with Utterli and then call your assigned phone number with your cell phone to start the recording.)
  • 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.
  • ADDED ON NOV 22: 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 kind 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 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 (and also read the 20+ comments on the original blog post).


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9 Responses to How to Study for Final Exams

  1. […] RT @BarbaraNixon Students: Are you studying for final exams? Here are some tips: [link to post] Check out the Final Exam Battle […]

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  3. anitta says:

    hai greetings

    you can prepare for your “Final Exams” using the best study guides and flash cards from

    Best Wishes

  4. […] 4/26 I made a comment on Barbara Nixon’s Blog on How to Study for Finals… If your a student.. go read the […]

  5. I like the tip about preparing a written schedule to study. If I write down exactly what I am going to do, I usually do it and stay on track, but if I don’t, I usually get behind because I think.. oh I can just do that later…

  6. Kristen Haley Redmond says:

    Great tips for finals! I know these tips are very useful for us college students who are beginning to study for our finals! Thanks 🙂

  7. […] Repsonse to Study Tips I read “How To Study for Final Exams,” and found it very […]

  8. Bruno Amaral says:

    When I was an undergrad I learned a lot about myself. I figured out that I needed a cup of coffee before each exam and that after there had to be something for me to unwind.

    Fortunately we shared our notes, and to study I would type everything onto a word document, fill in the blanks with someone’s feedback, print it and read it over and over while adding more notes to the margins.
    — It worked for me, but in retrospect it can be violent during long exam periods —

    Also, I work best when I can see the finish line. So I would chalk up the exams and exam dates on the back of my door. As time went by I would get to erase the list, line by line. Simple, but it keeps you motivated and alert to what comes next.

    And whatever you do, try not to work alone. Bouncing questions and answers in a group helped me a lot. Especially as a last minute cram-session in the cafeteria.

  9. Shawn Hill says:

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