Person on their bed with a laptop studying for final exams for an Outlier course
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How To Study & Prepare for Final Exams

06.01.2023 • 7 min read

Mia Frothingham

Subject Matter Expert

Learn why it’s important to stay organized and be prepared for study week. It focuses on providing tips along with recommendations to study for final exams and have a great performance at college.

In This Article

  1. Prepare for Your Final Week

  2. 12 Best Tips To Study for Final Exams

  3. Remember To Prioritize

Final exams can be ‌like running a marathon.

You put in all of this work to show up and perform the best you can. You spend months thinking about the big day.

You have one chance to prove you can do it.

You’ve contemplated preparing, but you also have your life to balance.

Here’s the secret.

The preparation makes the biggest difference.

Can you imagine running a marathon with no training beforehand? Yet, this is how many college students get ready for final exams—just get up off the couch and do it.

In this article, we’ll talk about how to prepare for final exams. You’ll learn everything from how to set up your study space to getting your mind in the right place.

Prepare for Your Final Week

Final exams are universally dreaded. Exams and significant semester-end papers are among the most demanding aspects of the college experience. They test your overall learning from an entire course and they impact your GPA.

While we can all agree they are incredibly stressful, there’s a reason why schools have finals. Multiple studies have found that cumulative tests are helpful in learning information. A study done in 2020 found cumulative exams are critical to both short-term and long-term knowledge retention.

Final exams are typically cumulative, meaning they cover all the information throughout the semester. These exams can have huge point values attached to them and really impact your grade. So they can also motivate students like you to revisit earlier material you might have forgotten. It’s helpful to review past lessons at the end of the semester since you have a broader understanding of the class.

Of course, it’s doubtful you’ll retain everything you were taught in a class! But remembering the most essential information can better prepare you for higher level courses in the future. This knowledge may be crucial when it’s time to apply for the high-paying job you went to college for.

We get it.

There’s so much to learn, keep organized, and remember as you head into finals week, especially when you feel like you have no time to study. College requires many tactics to be successful. With coursework using practical study tips can make all the difference in reducing your stress and increasing your grade point average.

Remember, though, different study techniques work for different students. Experiment with essential study tips to find which works best for you before exam day. Let’s go through some of the best studying tips to prepare you for finals season.

12 Best Tips To Study for Final Exams

1. Work On Your Procrastination

I know this can be a big ask. Procrastination is one of the most universal college experiences. (Don’t even get me started on all-nighters and cramming.) However, the harsh reality is leaving things until the last minute can lower your scores.

Planning for final exams and papers can start as early as the beginning of the semester (easier said than done). When you have a practical strategy for studying, you can decrease the weight of study sessions—and your hesitancy to get started.

Mel Robbins, a motivational speaker and author, believes that nobody is a procrastinator. They just have a “habit of procrastinating.” Robbins’ science-based method to break procrastination is called the 5-second rule.

To change your habit of procrastination, you have to train your brain. The moment you think of doing something, you have to act within 5 seconds, or you won’t do it. So, when it comes time to take a practice quiz, let the 5-second countdown begin, and take action. This way you will change your initial response to one of action, instead of procrastination.

Your study sessions don’t need to be long. You just have to act when you think about it.

2. Find Your Ideal Study Space

Where you choose to study is vital. Removing all distractions might be impossible, but try the best you can. If doable, set up an area exclusively used for coursework and studying.

Try to create a dedicated study space with these 5 elements:

  • Limited electronic distractions

  • Natural light

  • An organized desk

  • Quiet

  • A comfortable seat

In today’s digital world, going more than a few minutes without looking at your phone can be tricky. For the best results, consider turning your devices off for an hour or so and leaving them somewhere safe away from your study spot.

3. Focus on Understanding, Not Memorizing

Try to focus on understanding when you create your study plan. One of the best ways to do this is to teach concepts to others. Think to yourself—could I explain this to someone else?

Memorizing means finding methods to recall and recite facts. Understanding goes deeper. It shows you can apply new knowledge to different scenarios and how it associates with other concepts. College exams usually test ingrained knowledge, not just memorization.

4. Review Early and Often

We tend to forget 70% of what we have learned within 24 hours. Combat this with a study schedule so you can spread out your learning. Think about the consistent times you have each day or each week when you can review.

Going over new ideas every day after class will help increase retention and comprehension. Make time each night for a quick review session as well. Break chapters into sections and review the material at the end of each section before moving on.

Make notes by summarizing the reading so you can study without rereading whole chapters. Bookmark tricky sections to ask your professor about later (which leads us to tip #5).

5. Go to Office Hours

If you need help with a concept, professors are there to guide you. Professors usually make time for office hours where you can stop by to ask questions. You might also gain helpful study tips to prepare for your exams or write better papers. Plus, you can create a relationship with your instructor that could lead to valuable mentorship and a great reference.

6. Work with Peers and Friends

Meeting classmates and arranging a study group to go over the material together is excellent practice—and fun. You can quiz each other, compare class notes, and teach concepts to one another. This will make it easier to keep each other accountable.

7. Find a Tutor

You can find tutors on most college campuses, and they usually are fellow students who excel in a given topic. Try talking to your academic advisor or academic support services. You could even chat with classmates in a course you’re struggling with. Oftentimes, peers are happy to help.

8. Get Your Sleep

All of your studying and hard work for college finals are only helpful if you get enough rest. Sleep experts have examined the effects of sleep on the brain, especially memory. Trials revealed rest enhances the mind’s ability to concentrate and plays an active role in structuring memories. Remember tip #1? The earlier you start studying, the less chance you’ll need to survive all-nighters later on!

9. Take Frequent, Restful Breaks

Remember to take deep breaths and rest, rather than trying to work and study for hours straight. A purposeful study break—from 5 minutes to an hour—refreshes your brain while increasing your energy, productivity, and concentration.

Here are some activities to try on your break:

  • Quick walk

  • Stretches

  • Meditation

  • Power nap

  • Cooking a healthy meal

  • Cleaning your workspace

Pro tip: The best thing to do on a break is exercise. Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, giving you more vitality and better understanding.

10. Eat Healthily

A nutritious, balanced diet is crucial for your health, but this is particularly true during finals season. Eating the right food and healthy snacks can help you stay focused and energized during your study sessions. And, of course, drink plenty of water.

Incorporate some of these brain-stimulating foods as snacks or in your meals.

  • Berries

  • Nuts (especially walnuts)

  • Fatty fish

  • Green veggies

11. Reward Yourself

Rewards are a great way to motivate yourself to put in the time to study. The rewards don’t have to be big. They can include indulgent snacks, lovely walks outside, or your favorite TV show or movie.

When you reward yourself for your hard work, you teach your brain to be more focused while studying. Think about watching a movie or show after a study session instead of trying to study while watching a show.

It could also be helpful to give yourself a larger reward after your finals. Consider going on a weekend trip or taking yourself on a solo date!

12. Dedicate Time for Focused Work

Let’s face it, anyone would get burnt out if they tried to study for several hours on end. Besides, your brain doesn’t work that way. Research shows, to get the most out of studying, you should break it down into high-quality, short-duration chunks.

One way to do this is to use the Pomodoro Technique of time management. This is where you set aside time to study, which is broken down into 25-minute stretches of focused study. After the 25 minutes, you take a 5-minute break and then continue studying for another 25 minutes.

Once you hit 4 study sets in a row, you take a longer 15-30 minute break.

Remember To Prioritize

As a college student, neglecting your well-being is easy to do with so much on your plate. You prioritize your school work, extracurricular activities, work outside school, and social life, leaving the health of your body and mind behind.

Studies have proven a healthy diet and daily exercise are critical for well-being. Greater well-being improves your performance at college, eases stress, and boosts self-confidence.

Here are a few ways to practice healthy living while you navigate everyday challenges.

Eat Right

We discussed this in one of the tips above, but it’s crucial to prioritize. Eating right and drinking plenty of water (around 3-4 liters depending on the person) allows you to live a more productive and healthy life as a college student. The food you eat is proven to impact your brain’s ability to function and retain information.

Do your best to follow the guidelines for a balanced diet, choosing from diverse food groups to ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs.

According to the World Health Organization, a healthy diet includes:

  • Fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans), nuts, and whole grains

  • 5 portions of fruits and vegetables per day

  • Less than 10% of your total food intake contains sugar

  • Less than 30% of your food intake contains fats

  • Less than 5 grams of salt per day

Move Your Body

Exercise is one of the best things for self-care. It improves mental and emotional health by stimulating brain chemicals to help you feel happy and relaxed and promote better sleep.

The Mayo Clinic suggests you get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day. You should also limit the amount of time you spend sitting. While studying, try to get up after each hour and walk around for about 5 minutes.

Get Quality Sleep

Your mind and body alike need consistent, quality sleep to keep you at your best. Just 1 or 2 nights of bad sleep can lead to irritability, fatigue, and decreased motivation—3 things not conducive to your academic or social life.

When you eat right and exercise, you improve your sleep dramatically. If you’re still having problems sleeping, try to work on your sleep hygiene.

Good sleep hygiene means you:

  • Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day

  • Don’t look at electronic devices an hour before bed

  • Have a dark, quiet, and cool room to sleep in

  • Avoid big meals and caffeine in the evening

Manage Stress

College can be a stressful time for many students. Use relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, set goals to help with time management and procrastination, and do something to make yourself laugh (it helps reduce tension).

Take Some Time for Yourself

Even if you enjoy being social, everyone needs the opportunity to recharge with some solo time. Don’t feel pressured to always say “yes” to campus activities and social events. It’s ok to prioritize your needs and say “no” when you need a break.

College life is all about balance. Set time aside for studying, but also remember to set time aside for fun and physical activity. When you take care of yourself in the ways your body needs, you will feel more at ease. With this feeling of calm comes clarity of mind, which helps you focus on your studies and breeze through your finals.

How To Get Started

Remember, it’s not a good idea to run a marathon without training. A semester final in college is definitely a marathon when you think about it—you learn all this information and then show you know it on one test.

If you really want to commit the information to your long-term memory, you have to practice. To practice the right way, you need to break up your studying into chunks throughout the semester. Of course, it’s hard to put the time aside each day to study, but the results will be well worth it.

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”

Keep this adage in mind when you study for final exams. If you study first thing in the morning, then you’ll be done for the rest of the day. You will be prepared for your final exam and have the time to enjoy your life.

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