Since much of your semester grade likely relies on your success on the final exam, it is essential that you score well on it. Final exams cover a wealth of material, making preparing for and succeeding on these exams challenging. However, having a focused study plan and following test-taking strategies on the big day can result in a passing grade. Absorbing the material in class and reviewing material throughout the semester can keep things fresh and make final exam preparation less overwhelming.
Before the Final Exam
Review key points that your professor made during class. If he chose to emphasize this material, it is likely important enough to include on the final exam. Find content in your readings that supports your key points. This supporting material can help you build a strong argument for an essay final exam.
Make flash cards with key terms. Write the term on the front of the flash card and the definition or explanation on the back of the card. For example, if you are studying for an English literature final exam, write authors' names on the front of the flash cards and their works on the back. Carry these cards with you in your purse or backpack, and review the material whenever you have time.
Anticipate questions that your professor might ask. If you're preparing for an essay exam, consider broad concepts that relate to all of the material from the semester. Categorize the material, and identify how different lessons tie into each other. For a multiple-choice exam, focus on facts, definitions and scenarios that relate to your content.
Review class readings, assignments and tests you took throughout the semester. Final exams can distinguish between students who simply took notes in class and those who absorbed the readings and assignments. Re-read your required readings a few days to a week before the final exam. Taking in this content again can refresh it in your mind.
Organize a study group for the final exam with classmates. Reviewing the information together helps you share ideas and better understand material that is difficult for you.
During the Exam
Read directions thoroughly. If an essay question asks for three examples from class readings, then give three -- no more, no less. If multiple-choice questions can have more than one answer, remember that as you work through the exam. Paying attention to directions is a simple way to improve your final exam grade.
Manage your time. Assess how many questions you have to answer in the time allowed. Don't waste time struggling through a question that confuses you. Skip it, and return to it later. Work through the final exam at an efficient pace.
Write notes to trigger your memory. If you find yourself drawing a blank, write down key terms or concepts that you remember studying on a scratch sheet of paper. Seeing these concepts in writing can help jog your memory and guide you through the final exam.
Stay calm. If you focus on the one question you can't answer, your stress can hurt your concentration on the rest of the exam. Take deep breaths, and remain focused on the rest of the exam questions. Remember that one question will not result in a failing grade.
Read back through the questions and your answers if you have extra time after you finish the test. The review allows you to identify mistakes and proofread your essay answers. You don't gain any advantage by turning in your final early, so use that time for a review.
- Get rest and eat well while studying for your finals. If you are exhausted or living on junk food, you are less likely to focus and retain the information.
- Start studying early. Waiting to cram the day before the final exam causes you stress and doesn't give you enough time. Plan out your study sessions a week or two in advance so you can review a little each day.
Barbie Carpenter worked as a technical writer and editor in the defense industry for six years. She also served as a newspaper feature page editor and nationally syndicated columnist for the Hearst Corp. Carpenter holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in professional writing from the University of Central Florida.