9 Ways To Prepare For Your Final Exams

There are several reasons why they call the holidays the “most wonderful time of the year,” but if you ask any college student what makes the holiday season so great, they are most likely to respond, “Are you kidding? Finals are over!” While mom and grandma are busy stressing and running around getting gifts and cooking holiday meals for everyone, Tiny Tim is working up a sweat cramming in study time for his final exams before he goes home for the winter break. It’s an exciting, and sometimes debilitating time of the year for everyone except grandpa (who just has to stay out of the way and fall asleep after the turkey).

Chances are, if you are a college student, you are going to your last class sessions today and likely looking over study guides your instructor has written out for the final exam. If this sounds like you, these nine tips for how to prepare for your final exams are just what you need to make it to mid-December.

1. Get enough sleep.

You might be thinking, “What does sleep have to do with studying?” But actually sleep can be a big factor in whether or not you are fully prepared to take your final exam. Studying a large amount of information requires downtime to allow your mind to fully absorb the material and enable you to start thinking holistically about the subject matter.

Sleep, by the same token, plays an equally vital role in the learning process because the REM cycle allows your brain to process the information from your short-term to your long-term memory. That, coupled with the fact that lack of sleep prevents you from focusing and efficiently retaining new information, makes getting enough sleep during your final exam week even more important, so be sure to get at least six or seven hours before your test.

2. Turn off your phone.

One of the best ways to study during exam week is by distancing yourself socially. Turning off your phone notifications for text, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and whatever else might make it start buzzing can keep you from getting distracted and wanting to run off and have some fun with your friends. Remember, there is always plenty of time to have fun with your friends; right now, you have to try and be an adult and think ‘big-picture.’ If you have goals and aspirations for your life and pending career, then consider these final exams the next set of steps that you have to climb in order to reach them and start climbing.

3. Eat and snack healthy.

Proper nutrition allows your body to remain energized and your mind to stay focused on what you are studying, making for much more productive preparation for your final exam week. It is particularly important that you avoid eating a bunch of junk food like candy bars, chicken wings, and pizzas. More importantly, you should also avoid drinking a bunch of coffee or soda. All of these foods are high in fat, caffeine, and sugar content, the combination of which will make you sleepy, bloated, and even hungrier later on. When you study, be sure to drink plenty of water and eat healthy, balanced meals three times a day. You can also snack on fruits, mixed nuts, or nutritional cereals in between meals.

4. Make a schedule and take breaks.

When preparing for several exams at one time, it is usually a good idea to make yourself a schedule for your studies. A good way to do this is to write out the dates and times of each of your exams and prepare your studies accordingly. For example, say your history exam is not until Friday but your sociology exam is happening on Tuesday. Hypothetically, you will begin studying for your finals on the weekend before, possibly even on Friday night. If this is the case, a good method for preparing for both exams is to quickly read over your notes for Friday’s exam every day, several times a day, and in between the more in-depth studying you will be doing for Tuesday’s exam.

Taking a break from one subject to leisurely read over some material for another will allow your mind to process the information you have just read and take a small break from focusing entirely on one subject. It is also important to take small, ten-minute breaks once every hour or so to allow your mind to retain the information you have just read. Once you have finished your exam on Tuesday, you can then focus more closely on your exam for Friday. Chances are you will have more than just two exams to study for, so in short, try and prioritize your studies by proximity, focus in bulk on the next upcoming exam, and revisit your other subjects briefly in order to more easily familiarize yourself with the material.

5. Outline your notes.

These days, note taking during lectures has become much simpler thanks to laptops and digital notebooks. That being said, the value of handwriting your notes can be astronomical compared with leisurely typing out notes in a Word document. Handwriting is known to play a crucial role in developing areas in the brain responsible for language, critical thinking, and memory. This plays an important role in test-taking because coordination of your handwriting and critical thinking abilities allows you to focus comprehensively on the material and not so much on minute facts or your ability to physically write. So even if your exam does not include a writing component, handwriting the information that will appear on the exam in order to study will make recalling it for the test that much easier.

6. Study the material with a classmate.

Studying with a classmate can make the learning process that much easier. Once you and your classmate(s) have a solid understanding of facts, key figures, major events, and other vital information regarding the subject, you can then openly discuss the material with one another in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the course. Studying with a classmate is also great because it allows you to quiz each other over the material and make the learning process a little more fun and a little less formal.

7. Utilize different areas for study.

Just because you have to isolate yourself for study time doesn’t mean you have to remain trapped in the same small room for the entirety of finals week. Utilizing different study spaces is a great way to keep yourself focused because it allows you to refrain from dorm room distractions like music, television, video games, and other leisurely activities you indulge in your free time. Take advantage of the campus library or an empty classroom or quiet study space. Having a change of scenery can help keep you focused on why you are utilizing that space but also keep you grounded in reality and not feel totally alone and isolated while studying for your exams.

8. Study old tests and quizzes.

Reviewing old test and quiz materials is a great way to prepare for a final exam because it gives you an idea of what kinds of questions you can expect to see on the final exam. It also allows you to gain a better understanding of how questions related to this particular subject are asked and how you are expected to answer them. Take some extra time to review questions that you missed on older tests in order to familiarize yourself with the material. A good way to practice the tests and quizzes is by making an answer key for each of the questions and then white out your original answers so that you don’t just jump to read your original answer and make a legitimate effort to think about the answer. You should also review the questions out of order from the original test so that you don’t get into the habit of simply remembering which answer goes with each question and which one is coming up next. 

9. Master the study guide.

Most professors will provide their students with a study guide before sending them off to study for the upcoming exam. If your professor takes the time to do this, then you should definitely take the time to review it and make sure you are familiar with all of the material listed in the guide. Do not, however, make the mistake of solely relying on the study guide with the hopes of getting really high marks. It is, after all, only a guide, and will simply touch on the important information you should be familiar with. It will be up to you to know the smaller details that revolve around each point and the spaces in between. Consider writing out your more extensive study notes right on the study guide and then utilize your other notes in order to study each point one at a time.


Good luck, and happy studies!