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Back-to-School: On Surviving Tests + Final Exam Weeks in College

Ah, exams week. Those last few days of the semester always seem to sneak up on us, and leave us scrambling to cram in as much "knowledge" as possible, before we fall victim to the the term's final, and most important tests.

College Study Tips | Image source: / Photographer: Piotr Marcinski

These study tips will help you get the most out of your reading, note-taking, and memorization of the subject matter at hand, whether you're studying gradually throughout the semester (hooray for you!) or pulling a last minute, all-night study session before an 8 AM final.

Make a List + Pack Your Bags

Determine what you really need to freshen up on and review the most. Has your teacher/professor dropped any major hints about what to expect? Stock up on past handouts, assignments, and notes that you recall being the most focused-on throughout the semester and pack up the textbook for reference. Steer clear of printing off tons of new material and research - that information will be way too new and too intense at this point to remember if you didn't cover it already - stick to what you've got.

Fall Off the Radar

Find a study space that is free and clear of all distractions. Leave your messy room and roommate behind, shut off your phone, and disconnect from wi-fi. The constant need to check up on social media and respond to text messages, and convenient excuses like, "Welllll,could be cleaning my room instead of studying," or "I'm just going to take part in this pizza party for a little bit" are super dangerous, especially if you're low on time. Find a work area like the library, an empty common room, or a coffee shop to do your studying.

Plan for Breaks + Snacks

Plan to give yourself a ten minute break each hour (or five minutes every half hour.) You can turn on your phone and catch up, go for a walk, stretch it out, or just relax to clear your head and prep your body for the next hour. But SET A TIMER. Once it goes off, you're done. Back to the books. Stock up on a few smart snacks, too. Go for water or sports drinks instead of soda and bring along snacks like apples and peanut butter to keep you full, energized, and alert - and away from wasting time at the vending machine or on the phone with the pizza delivery guy.

Review, Review, Review

If you're studying last minute, you don't have time to fully read and take in each and every page of your textbook. Instead, focus on reviewing lecture notes, making flash cards (you can do this online) of key words, concepts, or phrases, and reading chapter summaries and "key notes" from the textbook. 

Speed Read, Effectively

Choose a few sections from your textbook that you need major refreshing on or know that you really should have read before but didn't.  Again, you can't read it all and comprehend it all in a matter of hours, so focusing on just a few major areas is more important. You'll  want to be able to master the SQ3R Method (Survey, Question, Read, Review, Recite.) That is,

  • Survey - Scan the material before you actually begin reading. Pay special attention to titles, headings, bold or italicized words, chapter summaries, diagrams, and pictures with captions.
  • Question - As you read, you should constantly ask yourself what the key take-away point is.
  • Read - Read what you need to read, but focus on comprehending the material. Seek the facts and write information down as you learn.
  • Review - Review what you have learned when you finish reading. Look at your notes, chapter summaries, or things you have written in the margin and then reflect on key concepts.
  • Recite - Recite what you have learned aloud in your own words until you are confident that you understand the material and could explain it to someone else.


Quiz Yourself

Most textbooks offer end-of-chapter review questions. Test questions are often inspired by these, so spend some time quizzing yourself. Flashcards work wonders - especially since you'll have to focus on writing them out and answering them so soon before the test. If you're familiar with your professor's exam style, step back and think about A.) What type of tests he/she usually gives (essay, short answer, multiple choice) and B.) What he/she spent the most time discussing in class - then, create a practice exam based on this information.

Pair Up

Two heads may not always be better than one, but in this case, they might be! If there's a fellow student in class that you get along with, invite them to do some last minute review (the night before, or hour or two before the test.) He or she may have retained different information than you and vice versa, so you can help each other out. Swap notes and flashcards and take some time to discuss and explain what one of you may have missed.

Find Out What Works for You + Use It

After several nights of cramming for a test, you'll find out what the best last-minute study method is for you. For some, it's writing and re-writing information over and over again. Many prefer actually talking about and explaining information out loud to someone in order to make it stick. For others, reading over the material may be enough.

More tips here.

Don't Forget!

Throughout finals week, and the school year in general, make sure you eat well, get plenty of sleep, and take a time out here and there to do things that make you happy and relieve some of that school-related stress!

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