How to Create a Study Guide for Final Exams

How to Create a Study Guide for Final Exams

Now that they’ve started playing holiday music in all of the stores, you can be sure that final exams are just around the corner.

Since your final exams can often count for up to 20 percent of your grade, it’s important to take them seriously — and not wait until the night before the exam to start studying.

To really retain the information, it’s best to start studying for exams a full two to three weeks before finals. That means you’ll need to figure out a) what you need to know and b) how much time it’ll take you to learn it.

So what’s the best way of creating a study plan that you’ll actually stick to? Follow these steps.

Step 1: Figure out what will be on the test
One of the easiest ways to find out what will be on the exam? Ask your teacher. You may be surprised at how forthcoming your teachers are about what they expect you to know, as well as what format the test will be in (multiple choice questions, essays, vocabulary words, etc.), which will help you determine what your priorities are.

Next, make a list of all of the units/chapters or big topics that were covered in each class. Put each unit name in all caps and beneath each one, list the key concepts that were included in that unit. On the right side of the page, next to each concept, write an example of what you need to know.

For example, let’s say in Earth Science you had a unit on rocks and minerals, a unit on earthquakes and volcanoes and another unit on Earth’s history. Under the unit on earthquakes and volcanoes, you would write down the main concepts you covered such as plate tectonics, how earthquakes work, how volcanoes work, and how mountains are formed. Next to earthquakes, you would write down specific concepts you need to remember, such as the difference between body waves and surface waves. This is a great way to identify where your gaps in learning are.

Step 2: Focus on what you struggled with
As you make the list above, take note of any topics that you struggled with as you were learning it. Review your past tests, quizzes and returned homework assignments to get a sense of where you didn’t understand something. This is what you should spend the most time on! Also, if you see there is something you still don’t understand, this is when you should make an appointment with your teacher or a tutor to get help.

Step 3: Estimate how much time you’ll need to study
Make a list of all of your subjects. Under each subject, estimate how many hours or minutes it will take you to do each of the following things:

  • Rereading assigned texts
  • Reviewing and rewriting notes
  • Creating vocab lists or flashcards and studying them
  • Doing practice problems or taking practice exams
  • Outlining essay questions

Remember, you don’t need to spend as much time studying for subjects that you have been doing well in all semester, and you don’t need to review topics you already know. When you’re mapping out your time, plan to devote more time to covering things you don’t know.

Step 4: Create a schedule
Now that you know how much time you’ll need for each subject, you need to find time in your schedule for extra study sessions. In your planner, write down all of your commitments for the weeks leading up to exams, including family events, social events, work, and more, and see where you can squeeze in a few extra hours of study time each day. Block out the study time in your planner, and stick to your plan.

One easy way to work in a little bit of study time each day is to take advantage of downtime, such as in the car or on the bus on the way to and from school or when you have a free period. It’s also a good idea to devote a few hours to studying on the weekends leading up to exams.

Step 5: Schedule in some breaks
Most people can’t concentrate for more than 30 to 50 minutes at a time, so it’s a good idea to schedule in short breaks to help keep you focused. The key is to be intentional about your breaks. Get a snack, run around the block or check your email for 10 minutes and then get back to studying.

It may not sound like fun, but planning ahead and sacrificing a little free time can make a big difference in your grades!

Want some more exam tips? Check out these blog on reducing anxiety for final exams, and 10 tips for studying for final exams.