Based on an article by Dana S. Dunn, Ph.D.
Across the country the end of the academic year is approaching. So now, many are faced with the daunting prospect of getting the most out of the final weeks of studying for exams. So here are a few suggestions for students to do some last minute pedagogical triage as they prepare for their aptly named “finals.”
Know where you stand in a class.
You should know more or less what your grade is up to now. When I say that, I also mean factoring out wishful thinking (e.g., “Although I’ve not earned an ‘A’ on any test in this class this semester, I think I can get one on the final if I just study a little bit more”) and divine intervention. Be as objective as you can about your grade. If you don’t know where you stand — and in my experience, a surprising number of students have no clue — go see your teacher/tutor now to find out.
Plan your study time.
How many final exams will you have? When are they scheduled? Create a study plan so that you spread out sessions for each exam across however many days are available. I think it is a better idea to study for one test for time, take a short break, and then switch to studying for another test, and so on. Cramming for one test only before taking is usually not a good idea because you lose focus and interest quickly. Mix it up a bit.
Modify your study time based on where you stand.
If you know, for example, that you have a solid grade in one class then study less for it. Use the extra time now available to prepare for an exam in a class where you are more concerned about how you will do (i.e., you want to pass!) or where your grade is borderline, say, between a C+ and a B -.
If necessary, satisfice.
If you think extra study for one exam (say, history) is likely to lead to a better final grade outcome than extra study for another (say, geography), then hedge your bets and focus more study time on the former. Note that I am not advocating that you abandon studying for a course if you are doing poorly in it—again, you want to pass.
Don’t study in popular places.
If you know your pals are going to be studying in the library or the campus centre or the coffee shop, don’t go there. You can socialize and commiserate or celebrate when the exams are done. Social support is nice, but not when it eats into the time you need to read, think, and study key concepts that will be on the exams. Study groups, too, are only a good idea if you are meeting for a specified amount of time (e.g., an hour or two) and amiable chit-chat is brief at the start. If you think the group is going to spend too much time shooting the breeze skip the meeting and study on your own.
Put yourself in the examiner’s place.
As you study, ask yourself this question, “If I was setting the exam, what sort of questions would I ask? What are the key ideas in the course? What’s most important?” This mental exercise can often pay dividends. Reviewing with these kinds of questions in mind is likely to help you happen on at least some of the questions that will appear in some form on the final (and in any case, thinking about a course’s main points won’t hurt you).
Take care of yourself.
All nighters are a waste of time—they make you more tired and they certainly aren’t going to improve your well-being or mental acumen. So, get a good night’s sleep before an exam. Eat before an exam, but not too much, and don’t skip breakfast, especially if you have an early morning exam. A teacher I always encouraged his students to bring a candy bar to the final for a burst of energy mid-test. Not a bad idea. If you can, exercise during finals week. Take some breaks between rounds of studying – go outside, meet a friend, go for a walk.
What’s done is done.
When you turn it an exam paper, forget about it for the time being. You can’t change anything once you finish the test. Focus on preparing for your next exam. If there is no next exam, then go do something fun or get some rest or sleep. Don’t ruminate about grades. If need be, there will be time for that later.