Hi lovelies! Finals season is here, which means I finally get to share some of the best tips for acing finals that I’ve come across.
I strongly believe that the best thing you can do is prepare. As such, most of this guide is based on knowing yourself—your strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, and potential distractions—so you can take proactive steps to maximize your strengths and avoid falling into traps.
First things first:
FIGURE OUT WHAT WILL BE TESTED
There’s a reason that every college organization blog will tell you to keep your syllabus handy: sometimes, your prof will tell you what’s testable and what’s not. Oftentimes the syllabus will tell you if the final is cumulative or not, or if there are lectures or chapters that are not testable.
To get more detailed information, consider going to your professor’s office hours. While it’s often intimidating (what do you even talk to your prof about??), going in and chatting about the class, your prof’s research, or the upcoming exam will likely net you a few subtle exam hints. Hearing what’s testable from the prof herself is also so much more reliable than rumours you get from a friend of a friend of a friend over Facebook. Just be sure to book only your fair share of office hours, since your classmates will likely be desperate for help, too.
One of the questions that I hear a lot in class is “Are the readings on the exam?” And while this differs for every class and every professor, sometimes, it’s not explicitly stated. Since I was in science for freshman and sophomore year, most of my classes’ textbooks were really just another way of saying the same thing as in class, which meant that the only time I cracked open a science textbook was if I didn’t understand something said in class.
My roommate has political science readings that are radically different than lecture material, so he actually has to do them. Like I’ve said, it depends wholly on your professor and course—if you’re unsure, ask! Sometimes, readings take more time than they’re worth, so make sure you know if they’ll benefit you in case you’re running short on study time.
After you know what you need to study, gather everything! Make sure you have all the notes you need, including from classes you missed (or may have dozed off in…I’m looking at you, 8AM calculus). Ask friends, but there are two cautions here: 1) make sure the friend you ask actually makes good notes, and 2) don’t let this become a habit. Note-sharing (and sharing of other resources like study sheets and such) goes both ways. Don’t be the person who’s always asking for notes, because people will realize and eventually, their goodwill might run out.
I love rewriting my notes into one big course note. Sure, it ends up being fifty pages long, but it’s so nice to have everything in one place, all formatted and organized the same way.
If you’re super short on time, or even just want some notes to compare with your own, use OneClass. If you upload your own notes, you get credits that can be used to download other notes for whatever class you like (specific to each school and course). The best way to maximize value on OneClass is to look for comprehensive, consolidated notes, which again cover the entire course in one document. They cost more in credits, but they’re so much more worth it. Again, please don’t let yourself rely solely on OneClass as a note resource! It should be a supplement or a contingency, but not your primary source of notes!
After you’ve got your notes all together, it’s time to understand yourself a little bit.
Planning ahead will allow you to take care of yourself properly, avoid getting distracted, and avoid burnout/loss of motivation.
Every article will tell you to get rid of distractions, but there are a lot of distractions that you might not recognize in advance. The obvious distraction is the internet. Leave your phone at home. Bring a watch instead. Use the SelfControl plugin, or leave your computer at home, or disable internet access. Whatever you have to do, do it.
Study alone, or with people who will actually focus and call you out on it if you’ve been on Pinterest for more than ten minutes. Find a few different places you can be productive in, and alternate those for a balance between a change of scenery and a consistent psychological association with studying. To be honest, I hate studying in libraries. Everyone is always so anxious when finals come around; people start sleeping between bookshelves or having breakdowns from stress. I get second-hand anxiety in the library. It freaks me out even more and saps my mental energy. I’m more of a casual coffee shop studier.
Some of the less-obvious distractions are hunger and health, which kind of go hand in hand anyway. Go grocery shopping before you get really busy with studying. Buy a bunch of things that will last for a fairly long time but are actually healthy. Prepare meals (freezer meals are a godsend) and snacks in advance. One of my friends constantly has a bag of veggie straws going. She pre-portions them into little snack-size bags so they’re quick and convenient, but it also makes sure she doesn’t eat the whole bag in one sitting. Genius.
You’d be surprised how much money you can spend on takeout during exams, and how gross you feel afterwards. I have to prep snacks and meals ahead for exam season, otherwise I can’t do my best work because I’m either starving from not eating at all, or greasy from fast food. When we get busy, we tend to neglect our health, and then we can’t work effectively. Prep ahead and save yourself from that vicious cycle!
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
It’s easy to think that cramming and pulling an all-nighter will land you a better grade. Here’s the thing: often, sleep will serve you better than cramming. If you don’t sleep, you’ll just be exhausted trying to write that sucker tomorrow morning. In first year, a girl I knew tried to pull an all-nighter and actually ended up falling asleep and missing her exam! Go to bed at a reasonable time, otherwise you might not remember any of the material—or worse.
Work in short chunks of time; for example, work for an hour, then take a 10 minute break. Go outside and take a walk. Daydream a little bit about the holidays. Reward yourself for completing decent amounts of work: paint your nails, spend 5-10 minutes on Instagram, watch a Ted Talk, or have a mini dance party. De-stress with rewards that aren’t food, because that’s how exam pudge happens. Taking breaks helps your stress levels and avoids burnout. Planning small rewards helps you get over the “I don’t feel like it” mentality.
Another tip for getting started it to plan out your time. Make a study schedule with realistic goals, like what time you’re going to wake up and how much you can get done. The easiest way to prioritize is to set two or three main goals each day, like “Finish Chapters 1, 2, and 3”. Make them realistic, but not so small that you don’t actually get anything done. When you actually go through your day, you can write what you actually did and at what times beside it. This lets you see where your time is actually going, so you can see if you need to get rid of one more distraction or allocate your time better.
Again, figure out what will be tested. If your test is likely to be straight memorization, try rewriting notes over and over and using mnemonics. If your exam will likely be about implications, make diagrams, connections, and ask what would happen if you changed something. This works well for chemistry, history, or cell biology.
Understand your learning style and adapt. Do you learn best by drawing diagrams and colour-coding? Do that! Are you an auditory learner? My roommate, who is in health science/anatomy, has a 4.0GPA. She knows she’s an auditory learner, so she studies by reading out loud, and trying to explain her notes and memorize out loud. Genius. If you’re a kinesthetic learner, act things out. Remember the bone song from Hannah Montana? Use it! Point to your femur or whatever. You do you!
Talk to other people. Discuss things. If you can explain things and discuss with others, you’ll remember it so much better. It helps if you do this all the way throughout the semester—just talking about the material covered in class that day can help spark your memory later.
Going through and rereading notes periodically throughout the semester (I like every weekend) will help you be able to study less come finals season, too!
Using these tips, you should be all set for exam day!
Comment below to tell me your best exam studying tips!