For most students final exams are right around the corner. While most of us think of finals as the most stressful part of the school year, I like to think of it as the best opportunity of the school year. Typically final exams represent anywhere from 15-25% of your total grade for the semester. That means you can significantly increase your final grade with a strong performance on your final exam. So how can you ensure success on these test? Let’s look at some strategies to help you ace your finals.
1. Keep it in Perspective
Yes, final exams are stressful. Many of these tests cover material from the entire semester, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of information. However, since there is so much information on the test, that means teachers typically won’t go into great detail and instead focus on larger concepts. Just remember that this is only a test, just like every other test you took this semester…only a bit longer. There’s no need to place a greater amount of pressure on yourself than you normally do.
2. Know Your Final Exam Schedule
This may seem obvious, but it’s good to know which exams you have on which particular days and times. Having your 2 hardest finals on the same day may require a different strategy than having them on separate days. Also, if you plan on being absent for any particular day (dentist appointment, early vacation flight), you must make sure to notify your teacher or counselor. Typically schools have a make-up day, and you may need to take advantage of that if you miss a scheduled final.
3. Plan Ahead
Even though your final exam may be a couple weeks away, now is the time to start planning your study schedule. Take a look at your commitments for the next few weeks and put them on a calendar. Be sure to include extra-curricular activities, social time, family trips, etc. Once you get these on the calendar you can begin to pencil in days and times you can study. Try to devote 1 hour a day to final exam review and use that 1 hour for a particular subject. Planning ahead will help break the large task of studying for multiple finals into smaller, more manageable pieces.
Hopefully you have been putting all your old tests, quizzes, and notes away in a binder so that everything is already organized. However, if you have not, you should clean out your folders and backpacks. Get rid of papers that you no longer need and keep the ones you do. Once you sort through them, you can put them in chronological order with the oldest in back and the newest in front. Keep these papers separate for each class and put them in a folder. This will help you when you begin working on your review sheets.
5. Talk to Your Teachers
Even though you see your teachers just about every day, it’s important to spend time with them outside of class. This is a great time to discuss important topics that will appear on the final and maybe even get some extra advice on what to focus on. You can also catch up on anything you may have missed in class, either from an absence or just not understanding a particular concept. Meeting with teachers outside of class also shows them you care, and may even help you get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to your final grade.
6. Set Up Accommodations
If you have a 504 plan or some other accommodation plan you will need to set this up ahead of time. Since final exams are usually longer than regular class periods you will have an even longer amount of time for your finals. A 2-hour final may now be a 4-hour final if you have double time. This will impact your entire final exam schedule. You may also qualify for a reduced-distraction testing environment, a reader, or a modified final, all or which require approval and set up ahead of time.
7. Work on Review Sheets
Most teachers will provide students with a comprehensive review sheet for their final exams. These sheets are invaluable as they will tell you what will be on the exam and give you a guideline for studying. Make sure you have the review sheet for each class. If you find that you are missing one talk to a friend or your teacher to get it. The best way to use review sheets is to use the book and your class notes to fill out a blurb about each concept. You can do this with notecards, by writing on the actual review sheet itself, or using a separate sheet of paper to elaborate. The important part is to fill them out completely and go over them periodically. Talk out loud to yourself if it helps you remember the information.
8. Form Study Groups
Study groups can be a good way to help prepare for final exams. Some students may have better notes or a better understanding of a topic than their peers and can help fill in the gaps. It also can be helpful to talk about concepts. This strategy is particularly useful for auditory learners as it allows for constant verbal reinforcement. If you form a study group just make sure you are working with students who are as motivated as you and can contribute in a positive manner. Study groups can easily turn into a social hour, so stay focused and take breaks when needed.
9. Sleep Well
Making it through finals week is like making it through a marathon. Final exams are usually longer than a regular test, and you will likely have multiple exams on one day. That means you will need more test-taking stamina than usual. Many people like to pull all-night study sessions, but the best advice is to start earlier in the day or evening and wrap it up at a decent hour, like 9:00. Try to get a full 8 hours of sleep, especially for the few nights before finals begin. And make sure to shut off the electronics after 8:00 p.m.…that will help you fall asleep easier.
10. Bring Snacks
Since final exam week is a marathon, it only makes sense to bring snacks. Choose something that is fresh, wholesome, easy to carry around and quick to eat. Kind Bars, bananas, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or a bag of carrots are all good snacks that will keep you and your brain sharp.
With some good preparation and consistent studying you will have a great chance to ace your final exams. Just take a deep breath and dive into it. Before you know it you’ll be on winter break with an excellent report card!