All articles

How to Study for Finals

a desk full of study materials and a snack

Whether you're taking your finals or midterms, doing well on these tests is important! When I was teaching, too many of my students stressed and procrastinated because they didn't know how to study effectively.

We put together this list of tips to ensure that you feel confident going into your exams. Sure, studying effectively requires some work, but the payoff (and excellent grades) will make it worthwhile. Let's jump right in. 

Know how much of your grade depends on the exam

Some teachers make finals a big part of your total grade, while others make them worth only a small fraction of it. So, going into final exams, knowing which classes affect your final score the most may help you prioritize your effort. 

If your final grade depends heavily on your final exam score, it could affect your GPA, college acceptance, and scholarship eligibility.

Get clear on what the final exam will cover

Will your final exam be cumulative and cover everything you've learned over the semester? Or will it cover only the last few chapters? Are there any critical topics your teacher will emphasize? Will you need to answer multiple-choice questions, write essays, or provide short answers? 

If you don't already, be sure to ask. Most teachers are more than willing to help because we want our students to succeed. It's a reflection of our teaching ability, after all. 

Design a study schedule

By designing a study schedule, you can account for the time you have available and what you want to accomplish in that time. Not only will this keep you organized, but it will help you avoid procrastination and study more effectively.

Here's what you should do:

Decide what you want to learn: List all the subjects and specific topics that need to be covered. Then, prioritize them based on factors like how important knowing the content will be for your grades and how much time you can devote to the topic.

Map out the time you'll have for studying: Whether it's three or thirty hours each week, plan to devote a set amount of time to studying. Then, look at the list of what you need to learn and create your schedule. 

It helps to start each week working from your schedule. You can even add your classes, assignments, tests, and other commitments. But plan to be flexible and adjust your plan as needed. 

Create your study guide

Another way to maximize your time and master the material for your finals is to create your own study guide. This will give you organized control over what you'll learn and help you save time that could otherwise be spent on aimless research.

Here's how to do it:

Review and organize your notes: Sort through information and arrange it in a manner that resonates with you, whether chronological, thematic, or based on complexity. If applicable, incorporate visuals like charts and tables to help with retention.

Create a summary or topical outline: To keep things organized, summarize the content using concise sentences, ideally in an outline format. This will help distill the material and aid in memorizing it, making it easier to review.

Gather additional study materials: You can use other tools to help you master the material beyond your in-class notes. Whether you find the subject in a textbook, YouTube video, through Kahn Academy, or Quizlet, note these additional study resources on the outline you created. Then, they'll be there to support you as you work through the material. 

Set up (and protect) the ideal study environment

As you know, studying can be difficult if your space is noisy or you're frequently interrupted. A recent study confirmed this, revealing that doing schoolwork in noisy areas disrupts your cognitive ability and causes a drop in academic performance. 

Establishing a productive study environment helps protect your focus and ensures you benefit most from your time. To do this, you'll want to manage noise levels by using earbuds or headphones. Alternatively, playing white or ambient noise can be helpful. Basically, do all you can to reduce distractions or the need to multitask, which reduces your ability to learn and memorize things.

You should also keep your space neat and tidy and ensure you have everything you need to succeed. After all, you'll be wasting time if you frequently stop to run and get things like sticky notes or notebook paper. 

Use effective learning techniques

To make your study sessions more effective, consider adopting the following learning techniques:

Write practice test questions: This technique prepares you for the actual exam's format and encourages you to think from your professor's perspective, helping in understanding what might be deemed necessary.

Memorize the smart way: Using proven strategies to memorize material can help you achieve mastery of the material. Here are some practical tips to help improve your memory:

  • Use mnemonics: Mnemonic devices are tools that help you remember information through association, like acronyms, rhymes, or creating a story. For example, you could use the acronym "HOMES" to remember the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).
  • Practice repetition: Repeating information multiple times can help encode it into long-term memory. This is often referred to as 'rote learning.' Ideally, you should review the material frequently and regularly because it's highly effective in solidifying concepts in our memory.
  • Use visualization: Try to create vivid mental images of what you need to remember. This is particularly useful for visual learners. For example, if you need to remember a list, visualize each item in a specific location in your house.
  • Teach what you've learned: Explaining the material to someone else in your own words is a great way to reinforce your memory. Teaching requires you to learn and organize the information comprehensively. Consider putting together a study group to collaborate in this way. 

Ask for help if you need it

If you're struggling to understand a topic, don't hesitate to seek help from your teacher. Most teachers appreciate a student's desire to learn, and they can offer different explanations, additional resources, or alternative learning methods that might resonate better with you. 

Ideally, you should approach them either after class or during office hours, when you can have a focused conversation. Start by explaining the specific part of the material you find difficult. It's helpful to show them any attempts you've made at solving a problem or understanding a concept, as this can give them insight into where you might be going wrong. 

This proactive approach helps clarify complex subjects and builds a positive rapport with your teacher.

Wrap up your studying with your why

By using these systems as you study for final exams, you can maximize your time and achieve the grades you want. But why does all of this work matter? Because you're preparing for college applications, and keeping your eye on the prize can help with motivation.

Click the button below to learn which colleges accept students with GPAs like yours. You'll create a free Appily account, where you can see essential details about colleges you're interested in, such as the average GPA they accept, average test scores, financial aid awards, and much more. 

Create a free Appily account to find, finance, and attend the college that's right for you Get Started Now