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101 Ways to Prepare for Final Exams NOW!

Part I: Keep Your Goals in Mind

1    Remember your dreams. Why are you in college? What do you expect to become?

2    Read your textbook:

  • to gather information
  • to understand ideas
  • for entertainment; to see why the author did what he or she did
  • to develop your own attitude or opinion

3    Go to class:

  • to get help with facts or ideas
  • to gather important points in the course (that may or may not be in the book!)
  • to get explanations of facts and ideas in the textbook
  • to challenge what you're reading so you'll think more. [If you get any of these from your instructor, you're getting your money's worth!]

4    Remember you're taking the basic courses to learn

  • background information
  • vocabulary
  • basic formulas
  • basic skills

5    If you don't understand something, get help fast!

  • talk to your instructor
  • go to the learning center and work with a tutor
  • look for alternate reading material
  • find a programmed text for people who like to learn independently
  • study the workbook companion to your text
  • work with a study partner
  • study with a computerized program

6    Be unique.  You are different from all other students.  Use what is different about yourself to your advantage.

7    Analyze your strengths and weaknesses.  Find your past mistakes and correct them.

8    Be self-reliant.

9    Find a mentor in your field of study.  Buddy up to the lead teacher in your division, or find a faculty member or upper level student with whom you have something in common.

10  Keep substance before style.  The quality of your thinking earns more respect from your instructor than fancy report covers or elaborate language with no depth of thought.

11  Be willing to grow.  College years are a time of emotional, intellectual, physical, and social growth.  Students unwilling to bend with the changes end up expressing their frustration through shyness, withdrawal, sarcasm, guilt, alibis, or other unproductive means.

12  Do more than you have to do: If man does only what is required of him he is a slave, the moment he does more he is a free man. —Cicero

13  Believe you'll succeed.  Remember the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy, and believe in yourself.

14  Expect to get what you paid for.

Part II: Study in an Organized Manner: Establish Good Study Habits and Learn Study Skills

15  Get the name, phone number, and/or Email address of three classmates from each class the first day of school.

16  Use time and place to your advantage.  Try to study the same subject in the same place at the same time.  Your brain will be set to study as soon as you're in place, and you won't spend a lot of time getting in the mood.

17  Use that same time period when you're studying for your exam.  You'll have setting working for you when it counts most.

18  Don't (necessarily) start a study session with new material.  Two minutes of looking over what you studied last time can help you carry over the familiar ideas to the new information.

19  Eliminate interference when you study.  The cafeteria is not the ideal location.  Find a spot away from people and noise. 

20  If you're a nibbler, keep snacks and/or drink close by, so you don't have to take unnecessary breaks.

21  Study with the intention of remembering what you learn for a long time.  (Remember tips #1, 2, 3, and 4!)

22  Allow time between study sessions to take advantage of the ability of your subconscious to reinforce your memory between sessions. Space your memory between study sessions.  One possible plan:

  • 1st review:    5 to 10 minutes after the first time you learn the material.
  • 2nd review:   Later the same day.
  • 3rd review:    One week later.
  • 4th  review:   The night before the test

23  Get enough sleep and eat well while you’re in school, especially during exam time.

24  Study to recall the subject matter, not merely recognize it when you see it on the exam.

25  Battle laziness. It is the unwillingness to make a decision and commit to follow through with it, the opposite of decision and action.

26  Avoid frittering, the tendency to ponder simple decisions endlessly and change your mind often.  Pay attention to how you spend your minutes, and you may find out where the hours go.

27  Be realistic about how long you can study.  Don't set up a four-hour study session if you know you'll poop out after forty-five minutes.  Listen to your body!

28  Keep study sessions short and finite.  Your time will be more efficiently spent if you know exactly how long you have to study.  Wide-open spaces of time may encourage you to lose your focus.

29  Get in the habit of carrying a calendar around with you so you can make note of the changing events leading up to and including final exam week.

30  Revise your schedule before final exam week. Add extra study time and adapt to the changes in class times, but still allow time to get enough sleep, exercise and leisure time. Determine how much preparation you need.  Make a "Things-To-Do" list, and adjust your schedule accordingly.  Analyze your required reading, assignments, labs, essays to write, etc. left in the semester

31  Set study goals.  For example:  "I will finish XXX by 8:00." or "I will know all of YYY by Thursday."

32  Break big projects/assignments into manageable parts.

33  Be polite in the classroom.  Show up on time, and don't stare at the clock or noisily pack up your books before class is over.  Teachers appreciate a show of respect.

34  Think hard before deciding to miss a class.  Don’t allow yourself to make lame excuses

35  If you're behind in class, catch up NOW!

36  Review your syllabus.  If you haven't looked at it since the first day of class, you may find new insight into the purpose and goals of the course that will help you focus on the final exam.

37  If you are absent, get the notes from a friend, AND see your instructor about what you missed.

38  Be actively involved in the study process: listen actively, read actively--pay attention, ask questions, concentrate!

39  Know your teacher.  Talk with him or her before or after class or during office hours.  Establish a working relationship.

40  In the classroom, adjust to the difference between your rate of thinking and the speed of the lecturer--coordinate your listening and thinking with the teacher.

41  Go to class with all your "stuff."  Don't forget your pen, pencil, eraser, textbook, etc. 

42  Keep notes for each class separate and orderly.

43  Label class handouts with the course and date they're given to you.

44  Don't rely on a friend to take notes for you unless you must be absent.

45  Use a note taking system that works for you.  Use a shorthand method you can use, remember and understand when you read later.

46  Avoid doodling.

47  Adapt your reading techniques from pleasure reading to reading for information.  SQ3R is one tried and true technique that works. 

48  Mark your textbook appropriately.  Read first and mark selectively. Avoid “coloring” huge blocks of text with a highlighter.  Write your own ideas in margins, including information from other classes.

49  Use resources in your textbook: outlines, summaries, glossaries, etc.

Part III: Try Another Way: Use Your Imagination

50  Make your whole body remember. Take notes!  Research shows taking notes in class makes you learn more.

51  Start a study journal to help you tune in to how you learn and then adapt your study habits accordingly.

52  Learn how to use study groups to your advantage:

  • Tune in quickly and focus on the topic
  • Read, prepare before sessions
  • Keep reference materials open in front of you
  • Keep an open mind
  • Listen actively, think about what is being said, maintain eye contact
  • Stay objective; there’s room for fact and opinion

53  Use sight and sound (the show and tell approach).  Talk about the course with a friend or yourself.  Use visual imagery--make a picture in your mind of the concept you're trying to learn or remember.

54  Practice "selective listening."  While you are driving to and from school, listen to the various sounds all around you.  Try to single out and listen to those sounds you want to hear, like birds chirping or your car engine humming.  Then, apply that skill in the classroom focusing on the lecture.

55  Adapt to your instructor’s style. Tune into what makes him or her excited about the subject matter.

56  Find a different logical order for your notes and then rewrite them in that order.

57  Pick out key words and/or phrases and write them on cards with information about the words on the back.

58  Mix up the order of your notes or your key words and test whether you can remember the facts and ideas out of order.

59  Group facts and ideas into categories that make sense to you.

60  Associate ideas with each other by forming links you'll remember.  Try "mapping" facts or ideas.

61  Reword ideas or facts.

62  Take notes as if you had to rely solely on them to pass the course.

63  Use mnemonics, memory aids, to help you remember difficult material.  For example, take the first letter in every key word of a list or outline, find words that begin with the same letters to form a sentence you can remember..."On old Olympus' Towering Tops..." is a mnemonic for the cranial nerves.  Another way to aid memory is to create acronyms, like NASA or NAFTA.

64  Expect your teacher to require excellence.

65  Use common sense to judge which study methods are best for you.

Part IV: Be Test Wise

66  Appreciate the usefulness of tests--to provide a scale to measure your knowledge and abilities. Keep in mind that to do less than you are capable of doing is unfair to yourself!

67  Start compiling clues to what the test will be like; figure out the format early.  Will it be True/False? Multiple choice? Short answer?  Essay?  Is the final comprehensive or only over material covered in the last four to six weeks of the semester?  Will you have to memorize formulas or will the instructor provide them?

68  Start making a pre-test!  Assemble questions, problems, essay topics, etc. from past exams and homework assignments.  Take the test a week or two before the final exam to see where you need to focus your studies.

69  Where do the test questions come from, the textbook, the lecture or a combination?

70  Ask the instructor about the final.  He or she may tell you more about the test if you ask and if you ask early.  You're demonstrating motivation, preparation and interest in the class.

71  Look over past exams for clues to the teacher's test-giving format:

  • Did the teacher want recall or recognition?
  • Did the tests focus on detail or main ideas?
  • Did the questions require abstract or concrete answers?
  • How are the exams scored? By a machine or a person?

72  Does the instructor have a quick and easy grading system, or is it an involved process?

73  Are the questions tricky or straightforward? Analyze the instructor's style and priorities:

  • Is the instructor a stickler for details?
  • Does he or she look for facts or ideas?
  • Does he or she like outlines and lists?

74  If possible, get your hands on last year's final exam.  Learn not just correct answers, but why they are correct by understanding the underlying reasons and principles.  This year's questions may not be the same as last year's, but the concepts may be.

75  Beware of the instructor’s prerogative to change his or her way of teaching.  Last year's test may be worthless.

76  Know how long you have to take the test.  One hour?  Two hours?  Weigh the allotted time against the amount you have to study and the likely length of the test.

77  Ask your instructor for sample questions.

78  Get the study guide early, if possible.  Some instructors have study materials on the computer center network or in the library.

79  Ask what aids you are permitted to bring to the final exam: calculator, dictionary, and thesaurus.

80  Will there be bonus or extra credit questions?

81  Determine how much the test will count toward your final grade.  This information can really influence how much studying (and worrying) you need to do.

82  Figure your current grade in the course.  How good a grade do you need on the final?

83  For open-book or take-home exams, realize your instructor may be testing you on how you can find and use the information.  Become familiar with the textbook, and tab important pages with formulas, facts, etc.

84  Learn and understand "direction" words: “define,” “evaluate,” “discuss,” etc.

85  Be alert during class lectures for clues to test items.

86  Ask your instructor only about what you need to know and that have not already been answered in class.

87  Take control and responsibility. If it hurts, you're doing it right!  Don't expect studying to be an easy task.  Accept that learning is something no one can do for you.

Part V: Keep a Good Attitude: Get Your Emotional Self Ready

88  Psych yourself up!  Believe that you will do well!

89  BUT, don't become over-confident!

90  Plan for comfort.  Make a note of the temperature, lighting, etc. in the classroom, so you can dress appropriately and sit in the most advantageous seat.

91  Be nice to yourself.  Take good care of the person who's working so hard to get ready for finals.  Knuckle down, but try to schedule some respite.  Go to a concert or buy yourself something.  Put yourself in a happy state of mind during finals. Remember it's normal to feel anxious about tests, and anxiety can help you work harder and concentrate better, if you keep it in check.

92  Be realistic in your worries.  Keep in mind few people have actually died from final exams.  Worry about the right things.

93  Get help for test terror now.  If you have nightmares about exams, become physically sick or habitually oversleep and miss exams, get help from a counselor early.  And, be sure and talk with your instructor about your anxiety.

94  If you have a routine, such as relaxation exercises, to keep you calm during tests, start it now!

95  Don't panic just because people around you do.  And, don't be too easy-going if others appear calm.  Gauge your own readiness.

96  Take the time to analyze the attitudes of critical friends or relatives.  Set them straight: it is your life and your choice to get an education; or, find a way to cope with their "parenting" role.

97  Know who your friends are.  Don't listen to bad advice or bad-mouthing against you, your instructor, or your courses.

98  Don't give up your regular physical activities.  You still need your exercise—maybe more than ever!

99  Weigh the pros and cons of altering your physical self before the final.  Will the benefit of staying up all night studying outweigh the need for sleep?  Will the "pep" pills and/or caffeine help or hurt your ability to concentrate?  It's best to rely on your "natural" self.

100 Guard against feelings of resentment or anger against the instructor or other test administrator.

101 Table your emotions. Try to put feelings about relationships aside for the time being, so you can concentrate on your studies.  If you are overwhelmed with anger or grief, see a counselor now.