You have one final on Monday, another on Thursday and then two the following week. Oh, and in between you have a paper to finish, you have to pack to move back home for the summer, and a bunch of other commitments. What to do first? Do you ever feel paralyzed?? This is perfectly normal. Finals are stressful, and tough! No one can tell you exactly what to do when for success, but here are some thoughts and strategies to help you make an effective game plan:
- First, and perhaps counterintuitive, get enough sleep, exercise, and good healthy food in you to sustain “high gear” concentration during final exams. Your instinct may be exactly the opposite: burn the midnight oil. But, to work super efficiently, many of us need the sleep, sustenance, and energy producer that is exercise. (Working out also burns off stress that distracts us.)
- Next, during all of finals period, reduce (try to eliminate) distractions including social media, people who are not supportive, and any commitments you can put off until after exams. Put your phone away altogether while you study for a final exam. (This may be something you have never done, but trust me when I say you will learn more when you are not checking social media sites every few minutes.)
- Then, consider which subjects are more difficult for you. Study subjects that you find most challenging when you are most awake and alert. Work on subjects that come more easily when you are “taking a study break” from a more difficult subject, or when you are not quite at your peak performance times. (Let’s say you are a morning person. Study the toughest subject when you first wake up. Tackle one that is easier later in the after or evening.)
- Try to get a sense of how much time each task will take. If you have a paper to write and it’s a 15-20 page paper, you will likely need much more time than if it’s a 5-7 page paper. Obvious point, I know, but many students leave only a relatively short amount of time for any paper, regardless of its length or complexity, and then get frustrated with themselves when it is hard to “knock out” quickly. (Note: I say “likely” in the previous sentence because sometimes it is not the length of a paper that makes it difficult to write, but rather how much you like or are interested in the subject, how easy it is to find references if it is a research paper or some other factor. To effectively estimate how much time a paper will take, think about those types of concerns and how much time a previous, similar task took you to complete.)
- Study generally, and particularly for difficult subject, in long enough blocks to really learn well, and retain information. You may need to read a concept several times to master it. You might need even longer if you need to memorize something. I know the trend is to spend just minutes on something before changing thoughts. Our brains are used to clicking on a new link every few minutes, if not every few seconds. But for college, graduate school, or law school, you may need more focus than for reading a typical blog. Expect to spend more time initially on concepts so that you can learn them more thoroughly.
- Be in one subject at a time. Do not study for your first exam while worrying about the others. But all the “worry” in a box, and forget about everything else while studying each particular subject. Resist the temptation to let you mind wander.
- Carefully review any instructions, hints, or other information your professor has given you about the exam. Know the format. Know how much the exam is worth, and if it will be broken into components, how much each component is worth. This can help enormously in strategizing about how to allocate your time and energy, and knowing what to focus on, during your preparation before the exam and on the exam itself.
- Take practice tests. See if your professor or another professor teaching the subject of your class has any old finals on file anywhere and study them. This will help you master the material in the subject but also the form of testing that your professor will use.
- Take a break after each exam, even if it’s a meal and a walk, but do something to make a physical demarcation between the end of one exam, and getting ready for your next exam. This will help you mentally shift focus.
These are a few strategies for success. Write in and share your favorite exam time tips!!