Studying for Finals

Summer.  It’s on the minds of everyone as we begin to plan our exit strategies saying goodbye to the classroom and hello to the pool.  While only a few more weeks lie in between the one time of the year when we aren’t obligated to do anything (except sleep in), there is this small obstacles called “finals” that annoyingly stands in between us and these said warmer months.

I’m definitely not a straight A student (I bombed my Chemistry 101 final last year and am prone to land the occasional B), however, I have learned a few great ways – from friends as well as through personal trial and error – that makes studying for exams a little less stressful than it has to be.   The following list of tips is by no means the answer to an A and should not be followed line by line.  Instead, I recommend picking and choosing what techniques suits your own study style and gradually implementing them in order to see what works – and what doesn’t.  Many of you may will come to the conclusion that my style is overkill (and it is), however, it’s what works for me.  Remember, we’re aren’t all the same so pick something that works for your needs/style and go with it.

  1. Review Sessions:  You know that review session that only the “nerds” go to? Well, those “nerds” are nerds for a reason. If a professor is going to schedule a review session outside of lecture, it means they genuinely want to help you. Review sessions are not in the professor’s job description and are completely optional on their end. With that being said, they aren’t going to waste their time going over topics that are unnecessary or redundat. In other words, copy down every subject covered in that session because it is probably going to show up on the exam.  More importantly, you can usually get additional details about topics and content with some strategic “hypothetical” phrasing (i.e. “If ____ would happen to show up on the short answer section, what would be an appropriate response that gives us full credit?”)
  2. Test Banks –  A lot of universities have test banks – something I found out when I was in my second year of school.  You may get lucky and find some great resources or end up with nothing.  Whatever the case, it definitely doesn’t hurt to at least take a look to see what you might be able to use to prep with.
  3. Past Tests & Quizzes – I’ve found that going over past tests and quizzes (especially for a math lecture) is one of the best ways to review for finals.  Why?  Because it gives you a sense of the professors style in terms of how they phrase a question as well as what they expect for an answer.  This option isn’t useful for all classes, however, if you think it will help I advise working this into your exam review.
  4. Office Hours:  I get it, raising your hand in a class of 300+ strangers is intimidating, but don’t let that stop you from getting your questions answered.  Professors have office hours for a reason.  Go to them.  During finals week, I suggest writing down all the topics/questions you have beforehand in order to prevent wasting anyone’s time.  Remember, your tuition is paying your professor’s salary – you have rights to their time.  Use them.
  5. Don’t Sprint:  Cramming doesn’t work. You may have heard of success stories (and I’m sure there are many), however, try cramming for your advanced calculus class and see how far that gets you. (Hint: square root of 0). If you have a midterm on Tuesday, you should start prepping at least a week in advance. I knows it’s early, but 2-3 hours a day of solid studying is far more productive than 20 hours of cramming.
  6. Flashcards: I’m a huge fan of flashcards because you can use them on the go, in your not-so-interesting philosophy class, or during short downtime in between classes. The best part about flashcards is that it helps you understand the basics without overwhelming yourself. Though writing definitions and key terms may be repetitive, I have found the process to be extremely beneficial.
  7. Study Schedule:  This is for the “Type-A” folks. Stressed about how you’re going to study for everything? Make a calendar. It can be as informal or extensive as you like. Making small steps in organizing your life will keep your anxiety and stress down by helping you stay on track towards your end goal – i.e the day of your final.
  8. Sleep: I’ve talked about sleep before (“Sleep & Success: The Non-Existent Parallel“) and have found that pulling multiple all-nighters usually does more harm than good.  You should definitely log your fair share of time in the library, but don’t go crazy.  During exam week, I would give yourself a “bed-time” – basically the latest time you’ll allow yourself to stay up without waking up dead the next morning.  If you decide to ignore that advice, more power to you.  Whatever you decide to do, at least go to bed at a reasonable hour the night before your exam.  Log a solid eight hours, wake up with plenty of time to get ready, and leave the room with time to settle in before the exams are handed out.

Last tip?  BREATH.  It’s going to be ok.  While everyone around you may be loosing their minds, don’t let their stress throw you off your game.  Learning how to study is an art that takes time to try out techniques that work – and don’t work.  If something doesn’t work for you, STOP DOING IT.  Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.  So.  Stay calm.  Don’t let yourself go into summer mode just yet.  And may the curve forever be in your favor.



  1. Classic Prep

    Thank You SO much! Finals have begun, and I already know I’m in summer mode. Just two more exams. Lets see if I can make it. Hehe.

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