Much like a game of chess, a clear strategy is needed in order to conquer finals exams. Finals can be a source of stress for some students, as a semester’s worth of work is at stake. The purpose of a final is to assess the retention of a full semester of learning.  Finals count anywhere from 10-20% of a semester grade. As such, these exams can cement a solid grade, or drive a grade on the verge up or down. Many students have a difficult time determining where to begin to prepare for exams, but the following tips can set them on the right track.

Make a plan

Before you crack your first book, determine what needs to be studied (vocab, grammar, formulas, timelines, plots, etc.). For example, an English exam will likely have questions pertaining to grammar, vocabulary, literary terms and any books read over the semester. Some teachers will provide a study guide, which will make it much easier for you to decide what to review. For classes that don’t offer such a luxury, refer to the syllabus to remind yourself all that you’ve studied this semester. As with all tasks, knowing what’s ahead makes the job easier. 

Budget time

Create a calendar that allows for studying, review and exams. Most exams will require several hours of review. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide how much time to dedicate to each subject. Allow extra time, as it’s always better to finish earlier than to become frustrated when things take longer than anticipated. Incorporate 15-minute-long, active breaks (walk, swim, run an errand, etc.) between subjects. This gives you a chance to recharge. 

Once you’ve formulated a plan, plot it out on a calendar. Have all review materials (study guides, flash cards, etc.) completed the day before your first exam. Spend the night and, if possible, the morning before each test reviewing your study materials. The ride to school is an excellent opportunity to quiz yourself one last time. Avoid television, Facebook and cell phone until you’ve finished studying for the day. They are too tempting and can derail your plan.

Study tools

Know what works for you. For instance, if you are a visual learner, drawing images or mapping concepts would work well for you, while making flashcards may work for others. Tools can also vary by subject. It may be wise to draw a plot line for the novel you’re reviewing but flashcards may be more appropriate for Spanish vocabulary words.

When you are completing a study guide or creating your own tools, make sure you grasp the concepts rather than just copy down information. You can do this by thinking of the big picture. Find patterns. Link similar concepts. Look for the story that is being told. Try to make connections between events. Put definitions into your own words. The object is to think critically, not to regurgitate a textbook. 

Focus on items that aren’t clear to you. For example, rather than being satisfied with a correct answer to a math problem, be certain you understand why the answer is correct.  If essay questions are provided ahead of time, outline possible answers. You don’t need to go into great detail, but taking the time to think things through prior to the exam will save time on test day. 

Review with someone

Merely completing a study guide or creating flash cards does not constitute studying. You’ve only prepared yourself to begin studying. Now, you have to put those tools to use by reviewing them. Have a friend or family member quiz you with your cards or outlines. Better yet, teach them how to use the Pythagorean Theorem or illustrate the events that led to World War I. If you can teach something, you have mastered the content.

Pep talk

Once you’ve completed your plan, you’ve done everything within your power to prepare. You should feel confident. Remind yourself that you’ve done the work; you know the material. Now it’s time to celebrate your knowledge.