final exams

The end of the semester is almost here, and that means one thing should be at the top of your mind as a high school student: finals week. And since final exams can count for as much as a month or more worth of regular school work in the grade book, it’s important that you do your very best.

Although it may seem overwhelming to study for a massive test covering everything from the entire semester, it can actually be very manageable if you know how to study smarter, rather than harder. Here are our top 10 tips on how to prepare for final exams.

  1. Start two weeks early
    Don’t wait until the night before the test to start studying for your exams. Instead, create a schedule for how many hours you will spend studying for each course in the two weeks leading up to your exams, and break your studying up into manageable chunks of time. This will also give you enough time to make appointments with teachers or tutors to ask for additional help if you need it.
  2. Find out what will be on the exam
    Wait, you’re allowed to find out what will be on an exam? Yes! It’s ok to ask your teachers what sections they plan to cover and what format the questions will take (i.e. multiple choice, short answer or essay). This will help you strategize about how to study.
  3. Gather materials
    The next thing you need to do is find all of the materials you have from the course and get them organized. Look for your course syllabus (this will give you clues about the main topics that were covered), class notes, returned homework assignments, returned tests and quizzes and graded essays you did throughout the semester. You’re going to need to review all of these materials as you start studying.
  4. Think like a teacher
    This is probably the most important one on the list. If you were the teacher, what would you ask on the exam? Think about the big picture. What are the major concepts that they have been trying to teach you all semester? Make a list of all of the units/chapters or big topics that you have covered in the course, writing each big topic in all caps so they stand out. Under each heading, list the key concepts you discussed in each unit with a few details you should know about each one. For example, if you did a chapter on minerals in earth science, you probably discussed subtopics like classification of minerals, how to identify different minerals and how each of these minerals is formed.
  5. Create flashcards/timelines, etc.
    Once you have a list of the big concepts covered in the class, it’s time to delve more deeply into each one. Create flashcards for key terms, dates and names you’ll need to know and describe each one on the back of the card. You can also write a one-sentence summary of the main idea of each section of class notes or create a timeline of key events.
  6. Go over past tests, quizzes and homework
    When you’re studying for an exam, you have to use your time wisely. Instead of reviewing material you already know, make sure you spend time understanding questions that you got wrong on previous tests of quizzes. If you still have questions, this is a good time to seek help from a teacher or tutor.
  7. Create a practice exam
    One really effective test prep strategy is to create a practice exam with questions similar to those you think your teacher might put on the exam. Exchange your test with a friend and try answering each other’s questions. It’s a great way of getting inside your teacher’s head and rehearsing your answers in advance!
  8. Focus
    Do your best to concentrate and stay focused on your studies during finals week. Start by turning off your cell phone and the TV for at least an hour at a time. Vow not to log on to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other social media platform, and don’t respond to any texts during your study time. For more on breaking your cell phone addiction, check out this recent post on the Learner Blog.
  9. Reward yourself
    To keep yourself going, set short-term goals and then reward yourself when you meet them. For example, tell yourself that after you spend 60 minutes studying — reviewing a stack of flash cards until you know every one or re-reading one chapter — you can reward yourself with 15 minutes of checking social media, watching a show, or having a snack.
  10. Stay calm
    On the day of the exam, try to stay as calm and relaxed as possible. Spend some time doing deep breathing or meditation. Think positive thoughts, such as “I am doing my best, and that will be enough,” to relieve your anxiety and avoid psyching yourself out. Once you’re taking the test itself, try not to think about how long the test is taking you or how your peers are doing. Pace yourself, focus on one question at a time and do your best!