Excerpt from: Chegg Study- By Professors Lynn F Jacobs and Jeremy S Hyman
Survival Guide: Top 13 Tips for Finals Success
It’s December and the semester is just about over. Or is it? Standing between you and your winter vacation are the dreaded final exams: that make-or-break week that determines whether you go home happy or wondering about what might have been. You’ll be sure to go home full of holiday joy if you follow our bakers’ dozen of best tips for acing your final exams:
#1 Turn it on. It’s as strange thing, but many students run out of gas just as the thing that counts most in the grade is coming down the pike: the final. So, fire up your jets and devote yourself for the next week or two to getting prepared for your finals. Really prepared.
#2 Lighten the load. Many students, predictably yet irrationally, take on additional commitments just as finals season comes along. Some have extra social commitments, like helping arrange the end-of-semester party at their frat or sorority. Others turn to family obligations and brave the long lines at the mall to buy thoughtful Christmas gifts for their family and friends. Don’t. Focus on the task at hand – doing well on your finals – and, where possible, shed commitments: let someone else string up the Christmas lights; and put off your academic plans till the beginning of next semester.
#3 Scope out the scope. One of the most frequent mistakes students make in studying for finals is not being 100% sure of what’s going to be covered on the final. Before you start your preparation for any final ask yourself the following questions: Does the final cover the whole course, the material from just the midterm on, or the material just from the last test on? If the final is comprehensive, does it cover the whole course equally, or is it weighted in favor of the second half? And, is the exam going to be similar in form to the previous tests or is there going to be some new kind of question or problem? To be forewarned is to be forewarned.
#4 Divide and conquer. No one eats an elephant in one bite. So, divide up the material to be studied into manageable chunks, and spread out the units over the number of days you have for studying. Not only will you be more likely to cover all the relevant material if you have a reasonable plan, you’ll build up your speed – and confidence – as you work your way through the material in a graduated fashion.
#5 Focus on the focus. Whether you’re aware of it or not, every class has a focus: the keys point(s) that the professor is most eager that you learn, the highest points of the material you’re studying. Rather than simply reviewing all the material of the course (which you couldn’t do anyway in a week or two), concentrate your studying on the most central concepts, events, or methods that the professor was trying to communicate.
- 5-Star Tip. In many cases the syllabus provides the best indication of what the key points of the course are. Look for phrases such as “In this course we’ll consider…” or “Some topics to be studied include…” or “We’ll focus on…” If the syllabus is the prospectus for the course, it’s likely that a retrospective look at it, at the end of the course, will be productive.
#6 Answer questions, don’t study areas. Students sometimes think that the best way to prepare for a final is to survey areas or topics, rather than answer specific questions. But for an essay test, it’s rare that a professor merely asks you to spit back everything you know about a topic; far more common is to ask a specific question about a specific issue, then to assume that the way the student addresses that question is representative of how he or she understands the more general and broad topics.
- Extra Pointer. If your class has a “schedule of lectures” that pinpoints the theme of each lecture, use it to locate the main, specific points of interest. If not, try to give each lecture a title – or try to view each lecture as asking (and answering) a specific question. Doing either of these should help you formulate questions to focus on in your studying.
#7 Do the samples. Many professors – worried that their students will bomb the final, thus making the professor look bad – give out substantial advance information about what’s going to be on the test. Sometimes it’s a copy of a previous final exam, sometimes it’s a sample exam, and sometimes it’s a set of study questions or a study guide. But what students don’t realize is that in many cases these materials aren’t just general hints and suggestions, but contain the actual questions – or variants of the actual questions — that are going to appear on the test. (So too, for problem exams: sometimes the sample problems are very similar indeed to the actual problems on the test). Advice? Whenever you get previous or sample questions, do the actual questions or problems – that means write them out in the time allotted. You’d be amazed how much this can help.
- Extra Pointer. If yours is a problem-based course and has a textbook, do the relevant problems in the book (even if not assigned). All of them.
#8 Use all the resources. Be sure that in preparing your answers, you’ve considered all the materials of the course: your lecture notes and section discussions (if any), the readings and any handouts, the homework, quizzes, and previous tests. Professors expect you to be on top on all that went on in the course, and you can land yourself a low-B (or worse) if the essay question on the final presupposes material from, for example, both the lectures and the readings.
#9 Use the “freebies.” Many professors (and TAs) offer substantial in-person help the week before the exam. Especially in large courses there are review sessions and extra office hours; sometimes the professor is also available by phone, email, or Skype. Be sure to attend all the “formal” activities: they’ll help you better understand the material and, what’s more, your professor (who often has just made up the test) is likely to drop hints about what questions or problems will be on the test. And don’t be afraid to reach out to the prof for some one-on-one help; he or she would like to see you do well.
#10 Don’t “inter-study.” Some students think it’s a good idea to divide up a given study session between different subjects. 40 minutes for biology, 25 minutes for economics, 30 minutes for English lit, then back to the biology. While this might seem like more fun – and it is, because just at the time the econ gets hard, you can flit to the English lit – it’s an easy way to put off the hard parts (and perhaps never come back to them). On the other hand, if you spend the entire two-hour session on the biology, you’ll not only gain a deeper understanding of the material, you’ll get into the “zone” of studying that field: your studying will become more pleasurable and you’ll feel that you’re making genuine progress (which you are).
#11 Control the breaks. Be sure that you’re not taking so frequent breaks, even short ones, that in two-hours of “study” time you’re only really getting 45-minutes of study time. This is one of the easiest things to deceive yourself about — especially if you’re used to punctuating your academic focus with Facebook, IM-ing, walking around, getting some air, and so on.
- Rule of Thumb. 40-50 minutes studying, 10-15 minute break.
#12 Don’t let the exams “bleed” into each other. In most schools, you’re taking four or five exams spread out over four or five days (or more). Quite likely you’re going to find yourself doing differently – or feeling you’re doing differently — on each of the exams as finals week progresses. Do not let your (bad) feelings about one exam spill over onto the others. You don’t really know, in most cases, how you did. And even if you did know, each exam is a separate event and, hence, a separate chance to do well. You pollute this chance if you carry over bad feelings from the previous exams.
#13 Seize the opportunity. While most students view final exams as a stress-filled chance to be tricked by professors into constructing half-baked answers, in fact the final exam is an occasion to show off how much you’ve learned: to strut your stuff in front of the professor and, more important, yourself. When you walk into the exam and recognize the question as asking about something you know; when, as you write your exam, you develop your thoughts into a coherent whole; and when, as you leave the exam, you have that engulfing feeling of “hey, I really did this thing,” you know – with 100% certainty — that you’ve really accomplished something in taking, and completing, this course. Savor that feeling – you’ve not only survived the course, you’ve thrived in it.