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How to Prepare and Study for Your Final Exams

In order to properly prepare and study for your final exams, you’ll need to be able to answer the five questions I cover in these week’s Soulful Studies Sunday Episode.

Question #1: What’s going to be on your exam?

One of the things you want to find out is whether or not the exam is cumulative or will your professor only test you on the last few week’s material. What percentage of the exam will be old material and what percentage of the exam will be new material?  This will help you plan out how much time to spend on each topic being covered on your final.

Question #2: What’s the format?

Not all final exams are sit down multiple choice exams, some professor will ask you to write papers, give presentations or write several short essays during your final exam period.  You’re going to need to know how your final is going to be structured so that you can study appropriately.  The way you prepare for a multiple choice exam is very different than how you prepare for a short answer or even an oral response final.

Question #3: How will you study?

You should base your studying on how you will be asked to apply the information. For example, let’s say your history final is 5 short essays covering the several wars you discussed throughout the semester. With short essays, you’re not going to be required to remember minuscule details but rather the overarching themes and key events that happened during the war.  The best way to study for this type of exam is to verbally walk through those key events and themes or even practice writing an outline of those key themes and events.

With a multiple choice exam for your developmental psychology class, the best way to study would be to practice answering multiple-choice questions from the back of your book -or- the online study guide companion -or- by using your past exams.  It would be great if you could get together with a few of your friends and take turns asking yourselves questions from past exams. Like, what is the main difference between Erickson’s and Freud’s stages of development?

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Question #4 What are your weak areas?

I will say this once, final exam study week is not the time to try to learn a semester’s worth of information.  It should just be a review of everything you’ve learned up until this point. With the exception of information that was covered with in the past 2 weeks.

Do not try to cram a whole semester’s worth of material into an all-nighter, it won’t work. You’ll end up failing.

FOR STUDENTS WHO’VE DONE PRETTY WELL THIS SEMESTER: Chances are that if you missed a majority of question on a particular subject that you will see those questions again on a cumulative final exam.  In order to make sure you don’t get those questions surrounding that topic wrong again, you need to fill in your knowledge gaps.

The way I like to figure out my weak topics is by gathering all my exams for that class. I organize them from lowest grade to highest grade.  Then I go through and identify the questions I got wrong and what topics they were on.  These topics are where I focus most of my attention during my final exam study period. You want to spend the most amount of time on either the stuff you didn’t know or the material which is going to be the biggest section on your final exam.

You don’t have to go back to your book and read those sections again, try maybe attending some tutoring session just for help on those specific topics or looking for some simple to digest material online.

FOR STUDENTS WHO ARE BORDERLINE PASSING:  If you haven’t done well up until this point, it’s actually wiser to try to focus on really mastering the newer content covered within the past 2-3 weeks or the information you have a decent understanding of from your past exams. This will allow you to get as many of those questions right as possible, which will increase the chances of passing the final.

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Question #5 When will I study?

I suggest that you start studying 3 to 7 days before your final exam.  Mark the date for all of your final exams in your planner and count 3 to 7 days from that. That is the date that you start studying for that particular exam.

When I say studying, what I mean is quizzing yourself, seeing how much of the information you actually know.  This is not the time to try to catch up on the reading assignments and notes.  That should have been completed at least 1 day before you actually started studying.

Each day that you dedicate to studying should have a specific goal.  I suggest you always start with the material you know the least, that way you have more days to review it.  Save the material you know the most for the day before the exam.

For example, Monday you will study material from Biology Exam 1 (grade: 65%) by doing all the online quizzes from the book related to those chapters.  Tuesday you will study Biology Exam 4 (grade: 74%) by go over and verbally answering all the questions from the study guide the professor handed out.

FOR STUDENTS WHO HAVE MULTIPLE FINALS IN ONE DAY: My strategy for this is to divide your study days into a morning session and an evening session.  Dedicate your morning study session for one particular class and your evening session for the other class.  You could also divide it up by hours. So you spend 2 hours in your morning session for Class A and 2 hours for Class B and you would repeat for the evening. See the image below for an example.

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It’s now time for action! Take out your past exams and planner and start mapping out your final exam study plan and strategy using the 5 questions above.

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