How to Study for Finals

The end of the calendar year approaches, carrying a wave of powerful moods into our school communities. On the one hand, holiday spirit flows through our halls and homes, spreading excitement, gratitude, and joy. At the same time, however, December calls up the last obstacle standing between you and your winter break: finals.

Finals. The word itself is heavy enough to make your eyes roll, your shoulders slump. After covering months of challenging material in 5+ classes, the prospect of reviewing everything for the sake of a single test can seem daunting, to say the least. At Green Ivy, we understand the dread. But we also know that with careful planning, organized studying, and healthy habits, you can make the winter storm of finals feel just like a gentle breeze!


  1. Gear Up

Before you even begin studying, you’ve got to secure the materials you need to review. At least a week before your exams, create a folder of study materials for each class. Collect anything that could possibly be useful — old tests, key handouts, formula sheets, notes, study guides, etc. — and file them neatly away for use throughout the week. The simple act of compiling all useful study materials saves you time later on in the study process and, as an additional benefit, reacquaints your brain with unfamiliar terms and concepts as you sort through your binders for helpful resources. Indeed, by interacting physically with your materials (sorting papers into groups, marking up the difficult sections on old tests, etc.) instead of studying online or just passively reviewing notes, you can greatly enhance learning. One study, for example, examines the “Bond Effect” of our hands in the learning process, concluding that our sense of touch facilitates deep learning, aiding in the acquisition of new skills.


  1. Find Your Weak Spots

It’s important to take some time to figure out what you don’t know. That is, sift through your compiled study materials to identify the concepts, problem types, and chapters that caused you the most trouble throughout the quarter or semester. By locking in on the hardest or most confusing material, you can focus your studying on the areas most likely to hinder you on the big test.


  1. Plan Out Proactively

A solid, organized structure is key to any effective study plan. Significant research, including this study published on ScienceDirect, illustrates the diverse ways that organized planning improves adaptive performance and learning outcomes.


At least a week before your tests, sketch out a detailed schedule for when you’re going to study which subjects throughout the week. In your planner or calendar, block out a two-hour study period for every day leading up to finals. Within each of these blocks, devote half the time to one of your more difficult subjects, and the other half to a less intimidating one. By splitting each of your study blocks into two subject-specific periods, you’ll encounter every subject multiple times throughout the week, increasing your brain’s memory retention.


Use the week before finals to do your most intensive studying. In other words, make sure all study guides, flash cards, formula sheets, review packets, etc. are done before finals week comes around. You can continue to study throughout finals week, but any work you do between tests should be light review rather than heavy lifting.


  1. Pace Yourself

Don’t forget to be kind to yourself! Finals week imposes an inevitable degree of stress, but you can take simple steps to alleviate the wear and tear. For example: take breaks. Use a timer to remind yourself to take a 5-minute rest after each 25- to 30-minute period of focused studying. Use your breaks to take a walk, grab a snack or a drink, use the restroom, or stretch — do your very best to avoid gravitating toward technology! As many of us know on a personal level, a “quick check” of YouTube or social media can easily spill into an hour-long binge. If you can restrict yourself to healthy, refreshing activities during your breaks, not only will you avoid tiredness, but your attention and memory retention will also improve!


  1. Rest Up

Embrace the importance of sleep! Countless studies have demonstrated sleep’s crucial role in maintaining memory and focus. Make sure you’re getting at least 8.5–9.5 hours of sleep per night, especially leading up to and throughout finals week! In many cases, an extra hour of sleep will boost your score much more than an extra hour of last-minute review! For more tips on how to maximize sleep, check out our article on sleep hygiene.


With healthy doses of time management, planning ahead, and self-care, there’s no reason you can’t ace finals week and enjoy the holidays!


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