Last Minute Guide to Acing Final Exams

By: Shay Rosen

As the fall semester draws to a close, many college students are faced with increasing anxiety over final exams, or rather whether or not their performance during those exams will elevate their grade to the desired level. While there's no substitution for semester long studying and academic preparedness, there are a few things students can do besides cramming to put their most knowledgeable face forward.

The first step is to know your professor. Most college professors will give plenty of indication as to what the final exams will contain. If not, you can usually expect something similar to the midterm or any other tests you've taken along the way. Some professors take great delight in testing on the most esoteric statements or principles of the study materials or lectures while others simply stick to the salient points. Those who fall into the former category should take up a lot more of your precious study time than those from the latter.

The second step is to study smart by tailoring your efforts to fit the type of class you're in. As an example, few literature professors will ask for specific details of a drama or novel, instead wanting to make sure you understand the overall themes of a story or the motivations behind the character contained therein. Study guides on popular fiction, such as the 'for dummies' series of books will usually impart a high level of understanding in a very small timeframe. A calculus final, on the other hand, will likely require you to have mastered the equations covered in class throughout the entire semester or at least the second half. Systematically going over them and working through some examples, either as a refresher or to learn what you should have already, is a good investment of your time.

The third step is to know yourself, specifically how much sleep you need to be functional. Getting less sleep than normal is a given, but there's a point at which your mind will have a much harder time recalling all that last minute knowledge you've attempted to stuff it full of. Some people can function perfectly with three hours of sleep, while others need six. It's better to be under-prepared and well rested than to be the walking dead.

The final step is to play the odds based on your academic situation. If you have a high GPA and want to retain it, you probably have a class or two that doesn't present much of a problem for you. Skip studying for those and concentrate on the classes that you have a hard time with. Analytical thinkers who dread an essay test may want to brush up on their understanding of sociology themes for a sociology class rather than spend time solidifying their understanding of covalent bonding for a chemistry final. Needless to say, if your goal is simply to pass and you have a class or two for which your performance up to finals leaves you wondering if you'll have to take the class again, spend your time there.

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