While the promise of a winter break from the daily grind of college life sparks glee in student populations, there’s one problem – you have to finish final exams first!
Finals and the stress that comes with them can seem like an immovable obstacle on the path to holiday freedom. But we talked to college grads and test experts to compile a list of college finals tips to help you get through finals and on your way to a festive holiday season.
While acing a final exam is sometimes rewarding enough for the hours dedicated to studying, Bara Sapir—the founder of City Test Prep—notes that creating positive incentives at the end of study sessions encourages effective studying and can add a bit of fun to a laborious process. Sapir says, “when you meet your goals, award yourself with small or larger rewards.”
Now, the average college student probably isn’t rewarding themselves with a vacation or a fancy meal at the end of each study day. However, the reward can be as simple as time with a friend, holiday planning, or attending an end-of-semester party.
Ask For Help
Having the humility to ask for help when reviewing testing materials is absolutely vital. Reaching out to your professor for review or clarification not only allows you to get info directly from the source but shows faculty that you care enough to engage with them. Additionally, what else is an instructor for but to teach? Fewer students than you think actually take advantage of a prof’s expertise, and starting a dialogue can build some serious goodwill.
Asking for help can also extend beyond the realm of the classroom. Testing expert Bara Sapir also suggests that “counseling is often available for students, as are campus tutoring services.”
Break It Down
When attempting to start the studying process for a final exam—especially cumulative exams—refamiliarizing yourself with a semester’s worth of academic content is undeniably daunting. You may wonder, “how am I supposed to remember information from three months ago?” Sure, reviewing countless pages of notes, PowerPoints, and books read can result in study overload, but experienced professionals have a practical fix: break down big tasks into smaller ones.
Bara Sapir suggests that you “break down everything” into more manageable, digestible pieces. Instead of trying to study 6 chapters for your final, break it out into 6 or 12 separate study sessions with each session focusing on one area within a chapter. That way, you can become an expert in a little at a time, which will help you relearn rather than just memorize the information
Further, when study fatigue inevitably sets in, Sapir suggests that consistency is vital: “Just do SOMETHING, no matter how small it seems! Consistency is key.”
Experiment and Know Your Learning Style
By the end of a college career, most students have a pretty clear idea about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to studying. But if you’re a relatively new college student, experimenting with various study methods can keep materials fresh while you figure out what works best for you.
Whether it’s making flashcards, printing and highlighting the powerpoints, re-reading textbook chapters, or studying in a group, it’s good to try different techniques throughout the semester. Take the time to research specific study methods, try them out, and see what can enhance your academic performance.
Current higher education Ph.D. student, Colleen Stevenson, suggests joining or creating a study group. Similar to asking for help, working with others allows you to bounce questions off one another. Additionally, as you bring your own set of skills and knowledge to the table, Stevenson notes that “studying with others allows you to learn from them, and teaching others is also a really effective way of cementing ideas in your own mind.” Plus, it’s a lot more fun to study with others than locked away by yourself in the corner of the library.
Review Frequently and Take Breaks
Exhausting yourself physically and mentally is not a recipe for success. You need a break, even during finals. Go out to dinner with friends, take a walk to see the sunset, grab a coffee on campus before starting a study session. Colleen Stevenson encourages students to avoid burnout:
“So many students skip sleep or skip breaks and just try to push through. You won’t be learning as effectively, and your memory can suffer. Taking regular breaks and getting rest is key to a successful semester.”
Similarly, reviewing course content frequently is more valuable than cramming. The most effective studiers regularly engage with academic materials.
As we mentioned before, start planning your study schedule early so you have time to break the material up into several study sessions. And remember when they always told you that you need eight hours of sleep? Well, that doesn’t change in college. Getting enough sleep is crucial to help you feel, learn, and remember better. Pulling all-nighters can actually hinder your learner and your test performance.
How loud is your inner critic? And more importantly, how kind and compassionate is your inner critic? Challenging yourself to improve is an excellent quality, but negativity tends to breed more negativity, and this cycle doesn’t necessarily lead to more productivity. Additionally, a guilt-wracked approach to studying can actually hinder your ability to get things done. Bara Sapir keeps it short and sweet: “Be kind to yourself.” It will all be over in a week. And then…winter break!
Study Smarter, Not Harder
Studying smarter, not harder, often means utilizing tools that can enhance productivity and help you save time while working more efficiently. There’s a relatively substantial market of apps and other digital tools designed to help you study in the most effective way possible. Additionally, there are tried and true note-taking methods that can keep you organized, enhance recall, and make the retrieval of essential testing topics an easy process.
Final exam season is no doubt a stressful time of year. With projects, papers, and exams all colliding at the same time, it may feel like there are just not enough hours in the day to tackle everything on your plate. That said, forgoing self-care during this time can lead to burnout, sickness, and substandard academic performance.
Be sure to get enough sleep, eat properly, keep your workout schedule, and set aside time to relax periodically. Like studying, forcing every existing self-care tip into your day is about as helpful as cramming for finals in a single day. Instead, Bara Sapir suggests that you “pick ONE self-care item or way to have some balance in your life, each day.”
Setting up a quiet workspace not only creates an atmosphere conducive to getting work done, but creating a space that’s outfitted with everything you need can also develop a sort of study ritual. In addition to keeping it stocked with the standard materials you need, a study ritual can signal to yourself that it’s time to get down to business. Infusing your study space with other sensory triggers like coffee, music, and incense can enhance the experience but also tricks you into studying, even when you really don’t want to.