For some of you, final exams are just around the corner. For many of you, final exams are not until May. Whether your exams are approaching or distant, however, we can all agree that studying for them is nothing short of tedious. Reading pages and pages of notes, watching (or even rewatching) hours and hours of videos, and reviewing endless packets of assignments is not only daunting, but also exhausting. But is it necessary? Is there an easier yet equally effective way to study for final exams? While every student thrives on different study methods, here are five tricks that anyone can use to avoid the feverish frenzy of cramming the night before finals.
1) Create Flashcards
If you are in a very vocabulary-heavy class, flashcards can be a convenient resource to help you quickly quiz yourself prior to an exam. However, I would not recommend making all the flashcards the week (or the day) before your finals. Rather, my advice is that you make flashcards as you complete each unit in class. That way, you not only have a ready-to-go stack of cards at the end of the course, but you also have an additional resource to use while studying for each of your unit tests. It’s a win-win!
It is likely that if you are in an AP class, flashcards have already been made for you. Quizlet is a fantastic (and free!) platform with flashcards on almost everything imaginable. Be sure to check it out!
2) Chunk it!
Chunking refers to the grouping of information into easy-to-understand categories. This can involve creating acronyms, flow charts, graphs, timelines, or diagrams that help you map out the key points you learned from the course. If Bob, for instance, is struggling to remember the order of the planets, he may benefit from the mnemonic My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Noodles. Yet another example is that Lisa may create a nifty table in order to organize all of her world history notes on the Chinese dynasties. This, in turn, would help her avoid haphazardly flipping through her notes in an attempt to find information on each dynasty.
3) Take Practice Tests
Especially if you are in an AP class, practice tests can be useful in showing you how much you know as well as the areas in which you need to focus more of your energies. They can also give you a general idea of what the questions on your exam will look like so that you aren’t completely taken aback on exam day. Because practice tests can be time-consuming, I recommend taking them the weekend before (rather than the day before) the exam. This will allow you to have more time to review and understand what you missed. As they always say, practice makes perfect, and practice tests are a good place to start!
4) Steer Clear of Cramming
Most students tend to prepare for their finals by cramming in all of the course material the night before. However enticing this may seem, cramming is not at all effective in helping you retain all the information you need. Thus, rather than trying to absorb excessive amounts of material in a wee span of hours, you should craft a schedule that permits you to study a little each day. For instance, you may choose to study for 20 minutes each day before school for the two weeks leading up to your exam. Studying in shorter time intervals allows you to have more time to process the information while also preventing you from feeling the all-too-familiar pre-exam blues. As an added bonus, you have more time to ask your teachers questions if you come across something that you don’t quite understand!
5) Most Importantly…Study What You Don’t Know
Many students make the mistake of spending hours upon hours reviewing the material that they already grasp rather than the material that confuses them. However, this is a risky move, as finals usually cover the tricky lessons too. I completely understand why studying the tough content can be taxing; after all, it requires much more effort, time, and brain power than does studying the easier material. Nevertheless, teachers often form questions from the tough content so that they can see how much their students actually understand. Carefully looking over the material that isn’t as fun to study can end up giving you the greatest return — and a more rewarding feeling — on your final exam.
While studying for finals can certainly be a time-consuming task, there are in fact ways to circumvent the inefficient hours of cramming and frantic memorization the night before the test. What is most important to remember is this: Study smart, not hard. Focus more on what you struggle with rather than what you already know. Use flashcards and outline notes to organize your course material into a handy study tool. And don’t forget to relax! Take a deep breath, take occasional breaks, and give yourself a pat on the back. You’re one step closer to conquering your final exams.