Final exams are a fact of life but they don’t have to mean lost sleep and stress. In fact, to success at them, they shouldn’t mean lost sleep and stress.
In reality, final exams are simply meant to be proof that you spent the year productively and are ready to proceed to the next level in your education, be it graduation and employment or simply the next grade. Preparing for them should start, on the first day of school. In other words, it’s never too early to ensure an easy go at exam time.
Setting the right atmosphere
Ensuring that you have a place to study, with as few distractions as possible is key. This means a desk that is free and clear of anything except what you need at any specific study session, and nearby storage to easily put away and reach anything that you need for a different subject or for hobby related activities. It also means a chair, not a bed or a comfortable couch. Proper poster is essential to getting information to flow properly from input sources (eyes, ears) to output (hands, mouth).
You also need to ensure that you have free and easy access to any tools that you may need. Scrap paper, pens, pencils, computer, etc. It all needs to be easily accessible instead of scrounging for scraps or things that don’t work. Consider getting a notebook that you will use specifically for the purpose of rough and practice work. It is bound, neat and stored in a handy place.
Have a pencil sharpener and eraser nearby, along with any digital storage media that may be required. Make sure you have proper lighting. If you don’t have a place that is quite, get yourself some earplugs or earphones. Just be careful, if you are listening to your favorite tunes while studying you are reducing the similarity of circumstances under which you will be writing the test, reducing how much you will be able to recall under the increased stress of a test situation.
Decipher notes right away
A voice recorder and any notes you took in class are great for short term reminders of what transpired. But it is important to transcribe those notes and elaborate on points, as soon as possible after class, into notes that are easily understandable a few months down the line. It is also a great way to reinforce what you learned that day and catch anything that requires clarification. If you didn’t get it that day, chances are you really won’t get it later.
In many cases what you learn early on is used as a foundation for further topics and this means that if you didn’t take the time to fully understand what you were taught in January, you’re entire semester will be impacted. The same goes for what you learn in February, March, April and May.
Talk about it
Study groups and seeking advice from subject matter experts is an invaluable study tool. The single most effective way to learn something is to try and teach or explain it to somebody else. It helps highlight areas that you thought you understood but missed on some of the key finer points. You may be amazed at what you can gain by sharing what you know with others, and get their input.
Rest, sleep, relax
A brain that is stressed is a brain on overload. The more challenging a topic is the more important it is to be able to step away from it and come back with a fresh head. This does not mean that it is an excuse to overload the senses the hyped up graphical content of a video game or pre-scripted laugh track from a sit-com.
Going to sleep, getting some exercise or moving on to an easier subject will help keep you in the right frame of mind for studying while. There is nothing wrong with video games either, as long as it is for a short period of time. The trouble is that it is easy to become absorbed in them and let the time go, foregoing both legitimate rest and constructive studying.
Caffeine, sugar and other ultra efficient stimulants may get you going in the short term but they fizzle as quickly as they jump start, affecting your ability to retain what you were trying to. Staying properly hydrated and well nourished is important in ensuring that your brain is ready and open to function the way you need it to.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Repetition is the key. The stats for the amount of information that the average human mind can retain are numbing. You only keep a small fraction of what the text or prof actual put forward. Of that information, you remember less and less as time wears on. If, at any point, you understand anything less than perfectly, your ability to effectively apply the knowledge in an exam is drastically reduced.
Repetition is your ally here. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It will be worth it.
In reading this, you may be realizing the most important element: none of these tips are geared toward last minute crashing. Inevitably, there will be situations where you have to get some last minute studying in but you should, at all times, attempt to avoid being at the mercy of a last minute crunch. You will always do better when you have been preparing for the inevitable, all along.