How to Ace Your Finals
- Take Breaks. A good starting point is a 10-minute break for every 50 minutes of studying. You can break it down even further to a 5-minute break for every 25 minutes of studying. Breaks are essential because they give our brains a brief amount of time to recover, allowing us to chain smaller chunks of studying together and, in turn, study longer.
- Diversify. Research shows that we retain information better when we learn it in different ways, because we have to work to understand it in unfamiliar formats. Read your textbooks and note cards aloud, teach material to a friend, and study in different locations or at different times of the day.
- Test Yourself. An exam is one big recall exercise. Use recall exercises in your studies to simulate the way you will have to recall information for the exam. Try online practice tests, questions in your textbook, and flashcards. Writing out flashcards is the best way to cement them in your mind, but Quizlet.com is great if you need to save time.
- Use Spaced Repetition. Studying 1 hour of biology each day for 3 days is much more effective than studying for 3 hours in 1 day because it increases the number of times information has to be recalled. If you have 3 exams, spend 1 hour studying for each exam, instead of 3 hours for just 1 exam.
- Keep Perspective. Data tells us that deemphasizing the importance of exams makes students perform better. Remember, this exam is not a measure of your intelligence, but of how much information you can recall that day. Life will go on, regardless of the outcome of the exam. Put in the hours and then let it be as it will be
- Don't Just Reread. There’s a second part to it. Research shows that rereading your text can falsely inflate your sense of learning and understanding. Try reading a passage and then writing out everything that you can recall from memory, or reviewing your lecture notes and then taking a practice test without looking at them. What we practice recalling today becomes more “recallable” in the future.
- Don't Highlight. Highlighting your text can fool your mind into thinking you are putting something in your brain, when all you’re really doing is moving your hand. Try to utilize more active study techniques like flashcards, practice tests, and redoing old tests or quizzes.
- Don't Cram. Would you try to bench-press 300 pounds your first time at the gym? Would you enter a 5k if you had not run since high school gym class? Your brain is like a muscle, and it can only handle so much exercise in one subject at a time. Plan accordingly and start studying well in advance, giving your brain time to organize and store all of the information you’re reviewing.
- Don't Overcaffeinate. Skip the espresso-laden coffee spiked with Red Bull on exam day. The safest bet is to maintain your typical caffeine intake and avoid any drastic changes the day of the exam. Also remember to stay hydrated—studies show that losing just 2% of your water stores can lead to reduced memory and mental “haziness”.
- Don't Pull All-Nighters. Many students treat all-nighters like a badge of honor. Let’s change that this semester. Research shows that increasing sleep from 6 or fewer hours to 8 or more hours can increase memory and alertness by 25%! If you do not get a good night’s sleep before a test, nothing else you will have done to prepare will matter!
The resources below were used to compile this page. These resources provide useful strategies for test preparation and exam performance.
- Belluck, Pam. “To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test”. New York Times 20 January 2011. Web. 20 November 2014.
- Glenn, David. “Close the Book. Recall. Write it Down”. Chronicle of Higher Education 01 May 2009. Web. 20 November 2014.
- Oakley, Barbara. A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra). New York: Tarcher, 2014. Print.
- Paul, Annie Murphy. “The Secret to Grace Under Pressure”. Time 28 March 2012. Web. 20 November 2014.
- Willis, Judy. “It’s Smart to Sleep”. Psychology Today 06 May 2012. Web. 20 November 2014.