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Best Ways to Prepare for (Next Semester’s) Finals

Every year, November and December always seem to fly by. You finish your last final exam and finally get to relax with family and friends over the winter break. Yet, while you’re trying to enjoy mashed potatoes and ham, thoughts of self-doubt creep into your mind…

I wonder when my grades will post… I hope I didn’t bomb all my exams.

What if there was a way to prepare for next semester’s finals, now? Maybe there is.

Next time, know where you stand in your classes. Before you go in to take your finals, you should have a clear idea of what grades you have in your classes. Don’t guess, don’t attempt to calculate it yourself, don’t say a little prayer, but go find out exactly what your current percentage is. As finals approach next year, make some time before you begin studying and take advantage of your professor’s office hours.

Don’t study in popular places. If you know that all your best friends are going to study in the library or at the campus center or at the local coffee shop, don’t go there. Stay far away! Friends are notorious for being huge distractions, especially when you have to do something you don’t want to do, like study for a psychology exam. In addition, stay away from the places you know your crush will be. Save the study dates for the beginning of the semester or for less important quizzes.

But what about study groups? Study groups are only a good idea if you are meeting for a certain amount of time and the team you’re working with is motivated to get work done. Best rule of thumb, if your study group this year spent more time cursing the faculty and talking about the latest viral Youtube video, skip the meeting next year and study on your own.

Plan out your study time. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised by how many students don’t actually plan before they study. They just sit down with a book and expect some magical osmosis to occur. Make a list of valuable questions to consider before you begin studying, such as:

– How many final exams will I have?

– When are they scheduled, how long will I have to complete them, what should I bring to the exam, and where will they take place?

– Are they comprehensive exams (everything covered during the semester) or on a specific topic/section of the course?

– Will the tests be multiple choice, essay, take home, online, or a combination of things?

Knowing exactly what to expect on the test day will help alleviate anxiety. This in turn, boasts confidence and clarity of mind, which leads to better recall… which leads to higher scores.

Create a study plan for each subject so that you spread out sessions for each exam across however many days are available. When I study for exams, I like to study for one test for a few hours, take a short break, then switch to studying for another test. Sometimes I’ll devote one day or half a day to only studying for one exam, and then study for another the next day. The brain (or maybe just my brain) can only focus on something academic for a set amount of time before I lose the ability to concentrate all together. So remember to keep learning interesting and mix things up!

Modify your study time. Next semester, study a little harder for the classes you know you have a less-than-awesome grade in. It’s basic logic, if you have a solid A in your history class, but are straddling the fence between a B- and a C+ in your German class, spend more time on your vokabular.

Think like your professor and imagine you’re writing the test. As you study, ask yourself some questions about the course and about your professor:

– If I were Dr. McIntyre, what sort of questions would I ask on the final?

– What topics in class came up the most?

– What are the key ideas in the course?

– What’s most important and why?

– What topics are highlighted on the study guide?

– What ideas are representative of the course as a whole?

Reviewing with these kinds of questions in mind is likely to help you before and during the exam. Thinking about a course’s main points won’t hurt you and may even help you get the score you need. Another great study method, that literally made the difference between As and Cs for me in college, was to teach the course’s topics to a friend or family member. If you can explain it to someone else, chances are you will be able to explain it and remember it for the test.

Take care of yourself. You won’t do well on your exams if you’re sick. Stress shuts down the immune system like nothing else can. In addition, all nighters are a complete waste of time. They make you more tired than you were before you started studying, which makes it more difficult for you to retain and recall information. Get a good night’s sleep before a test and review for a little bit in the morning, rather than cramming it all in the night before. Eat before an exam, drink water, and maybe have a little coffee to boast your mood and keep you alert. If you can, exercise during finals week. Take some breaks between studying sessions to get outside, meet a friend, go for a walk, or watch your favorite show.

And lastly…

Bookmark this article so that you can refer to it when you need it. Next year’s, next semester’s, finals will be here before you know it. Final exams are stressful enough, do as much as you can to physically, mentally, and emotionally prepare.

I wish you success!


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