The Red & Black

The Final Countdown: How to Prep For Your Year-End Exams


Finals. The mere mention of these dreaded exams sends shivers down every student’s spine, reminding them of the impossibly large amounts of long-forgotten information from (in many cases) the entire year, compiled on a single test that determines 10% of the total grade. Needless to say, final exams can be stressful. While we look forward to the last few days of school, the threat of final exams closes in WAY too quickly. The task of reviewing can seem pretty daunting, especially if you’ve never really done it before. Whether you’re feeling extra-nervous for a subject or you want to secure your precious 4.0 GPA, here are some tips and strategies for the final exam grind.

There are a lot of different ways to review the material in and out of itself. Start by looking at your notes from class, as that’s almost entirely the stuff that lands on the final exam. I like to start at the beginning of the year and work my way through the fourth quarter, since later topics you learn in class often build off of new ones in a process called cumulative learning. If you don’t understand a topic, can’t read your handwriting, or couldn’t be bothered to take notes, try using an assigned textbook or the teacher’s online resources, as whatever info came from the notes can likely also be found in those provided sources. If all else fails, Wikipedia, SparkNotes or other similar websites are a good last resort, but try to leave these for last, since most of the info that these websites provide is almost always nowhere to be found on the exam.

Whatever you end up doing to get the information, try to write it down or type it out while you study. Scientific studies show that forcing yourself to copy the information or put it into your own words, rather than regurgitating what a textbook said, helps your brain remember what you’re actually trying to remember. Write out physical flashcards, make an online cheat sheet on Google Docs, or use my preferred medium of Quizlet. Making things for yourself ends up helping more than reading someone else’s.

While studying, it’s important that you focus, so that you don’t only recall texting your friends when you try to remember who won the election of 1852. (Answer: Franklin Pierce.) When studying, try to pick a quiet place, like the library or your room. Get rid of as many distractions as you can: shut off your phone, or at least place it away from yourself, and full-screen your tab on the computer. If you’re a stress eater, bring a bottle of water or some gum to give yourself something to do. Study with music only if you don’t find it distracting. Similarly, if studying with friends helps you, do so, but don’t use final review as an excuse to hang out. Your grades deserve better.

Instead of cramming, start studying earlier rather than later. Teachers generally don’t assign formal homework during final review week, and most afterschool activities have already wound down, so students should have some extra time on their hands. While rewatching The Office for the third time can be a viable way to spend your free time, try starting your study guide or doing some practice problems instead. Even if you don’t study consistently, you’ll feel better about yourself if you just start. Try not to procrastinate like I’m doing right now through writing this article.

If you don’t have all of an extra week to spare (or you really want to rewatch The Office), stagger your studies over a few days in chronological order, so that you first prepare for your first exams and save the last test for last. If you have history after Spanish, don’t study for Spanish after history. This way, the information is a little bit fresher in your head. (Personal experience says you can do this during finals week, but it’s smart to get a head-start before you drown in formulas or historical dates.)