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The Ultimate College Finals Study Guide: Exam Prep 101

Two University of St. Thomas - Houston college students studying for finals on a laptop together in Houston, Texas

Whether you’re gearing up for your first round of exams or you’re a seasoned expert at studying for finals, it’s important to be prepared. Here are some tips to make sure you are ready!


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Exam Prep Tip #1: Know Where to Go for Your College Final Exams

While most professors will make sure this information is shared over and over again, others might assume you know where to go. First, check your syllabus – it should provide you the exact date and time you will be taking your final. Keep in mind that some colleges may schedule finals at a different day and time from your usual class. If it’s not listed in your syllabus, ask your professor. The Registrar’s Office should also have the final exam schedule. Make sure to know when and where you need to be; missing a final exam could cause you to fail a class.

Exam Prep Tip #2: Be Aware of How Many Finals You’re Taking Each Day

In most cases, you will have one or two final exams a day. What do you do if you have multiple finals in one day? Some students may like to get everything out of the way early. If this is not you, check to see if you can reschedule one. At the University of St. Thomas, our policy states that you’re not required to take more than two in one day. Check with your school to see if they have a similar policy.

Male student studying for finals using a textbook and computer at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas

Exam Prep Tip #3: Know What You Need for Your Final Exam

So you made it through your whole semester with just your laptop. Now you find out your final exam will be written. Are you allowed to use regular notebook paper? Will you need a blue book? Do you have either? Now is the time to check and go to your college bookstore to purchase one (or more).

If you are taking your exam in a testing center, you may be required to use a Scantron form. This information should be listed in your syllabus or at the testing center. Speaking of testing centers, do you know where yours is and what you should or shouldn’t bring? Check their policy to find out what you’ll need. Most will ask you to bring nothing with you, or require you to place your bag in a locker.

If you need a calculator for your exam, be sure to bring either a graphing calculator or a single-function calculator. You will not be able to use your phone, tablet or computer’s calculator app while taking an exam. Be sure to test your calculator’s battery and function before the exam.

Exam Prep Tip #4: Accessorize!

Sure, you may think of your laptop or tablet as a close friend. After all, you’ve been together at least since the start of the semester. So what could go wrong? Lots of things… First, if you’re going to take a test online, make sure your computer is charged and you’re near a power outlet. I’ve started many tests during my time in college only to scramble around and lose valuable time searching for a charger so I wouldn’t lose my work. Also, make sure you have internet access and the proper software installed on your computer.

All of these things can be a factor in whether you take the test or miss it entirely. Just in case, identify a backup. Maybe your roommate or college library has a computer you can use.

Exam Prep Tip #5: Know the Exam Structure

It should be safe to assume your finals will test your knowledge of the topics addressed in your class. However, you might get lucky and have a final over the last topic covered, meaning there’s no need to run back to your notes from the first week of class.

You can also guess the questions by knowing how the test will be given. Is it an essay exam or is it a multiple choice exam? If you’re writing short answers, you will want to focus on concepts and examples addressed in class. If you’re taking a multiple choice exam, start memorizing those class details.

Female student studying for finals in the Doherty Library on the University of St. Thomas campus in Houston, Texas

College Finals Study Tips:

College Finals Study Tip #1: Keep in Mind the Class You’re Studying For

If it is a required class that ALL students are taking or a class that requires you to take the test in a testing center or through a program purchased in your textbook, this will tell you what to focus on. In these cases, while your professor is helping you learn the material in the book, you will be tested in a more standardized way, guaranteeing that each student in all the sections has the same opportunity.

Start with the book and only use your notes to help you through any confusing material areas. When you get into more specialized classes you might start to find your teacher using their required books a bit differently. That’s when your notes will become more important. Throughout the course of the semester, many instructors will emphasize when something is important and highlight that you should remember it for the final.

College Finals Study Tip #2: Review Your Notes

Some students are diligent note takers, while others spend more time doodling. Either way, it’s time to start reviewing your notes. Studies show that writing information down actually helps with the recall process. Highlight areas of high importance, but make sure to keep this to a minimum. You should not be highlighting more than one or two sentences per page.

Some classes will provide a student guide. If you are one of the lucky ones, fill it out, add notes and bring it with you. In some situations you will have an opportunity to join a study group, which is recommended. If you have friends who have taken the class before, offer to buy them lunch and ask questions. Take the information from your notes and see what matches up with the book.

Once you’re comfortable with the material, take time to read through acronyms, margin notes and the appendix. Professors may expect you to know this information.

Female college students studying for finals on their laptops in a classroom at the University of St. Thomas - Houston, Texas

College Finals Study Tip #3: Use A Lifeline

Don’t worry! Near the end of the semester it can feel like what you learned is running together. It’s natural not to remember everything. You’re studying to help you recall the material. This is a good time to reach out to a classmate or your professor for a meeting. Sometimes there is something small missing that can help you refocus and make sense of everything. Other times you just need a refresher.

Maybe it will help to get the advice of someone else. Whatever your reason, taking time to focus on one topic with someone can be the difference between success and failure. Now, if nothing looks familiar because you have been skipping class, then it’s time for you to get to know your entire book really well. You will also need to learn from this experience because you cannot expect to be successful in a class if you don’t put in the work required to do well.

College Finals Study Tip #4: Know When to Say When

Everyone will tell you to study, eat a good meal and sleep the night before your exam. If you’ve put in the preparation time to do well, it’s now time to take these more relaxing steps. Pulling an all-nighter isn’t going to make you test better; it’s only going to make you tired. In some cases, lack of sleep will undo all the hard work you just put in.

If you don’t know the material eight hours before the exam, you have a better chance of sleeping and hoping you absorbed the information in other ways. Also, make plans to do something fun when you’re done with your test. It gives you something to look forward to at the end of the day, regardless of how you feel you did on your test. Once an exam is over, it’s over. Now is the time to focus on something else for a while so you don’t burn out on the topic.

Good luck!

written by Emily Stickle, edited by Nikki Miller

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