10 Study Tips to Survive Final Exams

23623_414967174008_6015206_nBy David Ly Khim

Studying can get frustrating sometimes (read “all the time”). The season of final exams, that dreaded week, has come for some of us and, although this post isn’t the be-all and end-all of your troubles, they’ll help you get through these trying times. Good luck!

1. Get comfortable. Don’t get so comfortable that you’ll fall asleep, but it’s important that you aren’t fidgeting around in your seat while you’re studying. Make sure you aren’t freezing from the air conditioning. Make sure you have enough room to study and lay out all your study materials (and food). Allow yourself a maximum of 10 minutes to set up. Now that you’re comfortable, before you actually get down to business…

2. Know what you’re going to be studying. Hopefully you know what classes you’ve been taking, so you must know what you’re studying, right? Well, here’s the thing, there’s a difference between studying and efficient studying. Some people actually review all their notes and re-write everything. Don’t do that. It tends to be a waste of time. You’ll end up reviewing things you already understand and not put enough time into the more difficult concepts.

Skim your notes with a red pen or highlighter in hand. If you don’t fully understand your notes or a certain concepts right away, then write down key concepts and terms on a separate page. Continue through all your notes doing this. If you see a concept that you’re even slightly uncomfortable with, write it down. If there’s a concept you had trouble with, write it down. If there’s something you don’t even remember learning, write it down. If you find yourself writing a lot, looks like you have a lot of work to do. After you do this…

3. Create a schedule. Ideally, you should create a study schedule a week ahead of time. However, that’s not always possible. Before you study, review the list of topics you need to review and assign a block of time to each topic according to how comfortable you feel about it. Of course, if you completely forgot what you learned about a concept, you should spend more time on that than on a concept you already completely understand. Schedule time blocks for everything you will be studying up until a day or two before the exam (if you have multiple exams, you’ll have to distribute your time wisely).

This study schedule will be your daily checklist for what you will get done each day. Be realistic about how much you can actually complete! It you accomplish those tasks for the day, you’ll feel good and know you’re on track to being prepared. If you aren’t able to cross everything off your list, then you know you have some more work to do!

Important! Quantify your studies by the number of chapters reviewed, number of problems done, or number of concepts you actually completely understand, not by the time you spent on a topic (i.e. I’ve been studying for 8 hours straight). There are 2 things wrong with that. 1. You haven’t been studying 8 hours straight. 2. Time doesn’t mark how much you’ve completed.  Don’t BS yourself.

Also schedule in your breaks! Alright, it’s almost time to get down to your grind, but before you jump into it….

4. Remove all distractions. This means putting your phone away so that it’s out of sight and out of mind. If you can help it, avoid using your laptop/computer to study. Plug in your headphones, put on your music, close your laptop lid, and move it aside. If need be, have a trusted friend change the password to your Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/etc. If you’re studying with a group of friends, you should all agree to follow the same study/break schedule, or make it clear that you’re going to be studying, not messing around. You want to create an atmosphere of “Don’t bother me, I’m studying.” Don’t be scared to say it if you have to.

If you’re studying with a group, try this game: stack everyone’s phone in the middle of the table. If anyone touches their phone (with the exception of emergencies), that person owes the group something (a pitcher at the pub, a dollar to everyone, etc.)

More work can be done in 45 minutes of uninterrupted, undistracted, focused studying than in 4 hours of distracted, unfocused studying.

5. Take breaks and reward yourself. For some people, grinding for hours on end works, so in that case, continue! However, in my case, I take a lot of breaks. Breaks are necessary for information to really settle in. I like to study in hour-long cycles. This means 45 minutes of constant studying. No distractions. No talking. No eating. I try to avoid going to the restroom if I don’t absolutely have to.

Follow this up with 15 minutes of complete mental rest. Be honest with yourself, if you’ve really studied efficiently, then reward yourself. Go for a walk, have a conversation unrelated to studying, watch some TED talks or YouTube videos, do something completely unrelated to studying. Eat! Take a nap if you have to. Repeat. For the entire day. It’s easy to lose track of time, though. Remember to time your breaks! 

Here are some timers you can download to help you with this study cycle.

6. Ask for help and help others! If you understand the material very well, then help someone else through it! Teaching and helping someone else is the one of the best ways for you to study because you’re forced to think about the concept from another point of view. It will help to further ingrain the concepts to memory. Likewise, if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. You’d be doing both you and your study buddy a favor.

7. Take practice tests. Professors give you them for a reason (or you can do a Google search for some). It’s best to review all the material before you take the practice test. If possible, take the practice test a few days before you take your actual exam (this is why you should be done reviewing the material a day or two before your exam). Simulate the test situation as best you can. Time yourself and do not look at the answers until you’re done! If you’re studying with friends, let them know that you’re taking a practice test so they don’t disturb you during the 1-2 hours of your timed exam. Even those brief moments of saying “hi” or “bye” will distract your concentration, and your performance on the practice test will not accurately reflect how prepared you are.

This is a great opportunity to gauge how ready you really are for the exam and it’ll let you know what topics you should spend more time on. After taking the practice test, check your score and carefully look at each question you got wrong and understand exactly why you got it wrong. If possible, cover up the answer and try it again right then and there to make sure you really do understand it. Then later on, try it again to make sure you still remember how to do it.

8. Change locations. A study has shown that changing your study location helps improve memory retention. This works by association. When you study, you associate what you learn with what you see. If you switch locations, there are more objects and scenes to associate information with. This doesn’t mean you should switch your location every hour, but if you spent an entire day in one study room, it would be a good idea to relocate the next day.

9. Remember to eat and sleep! These two should go unsaid, but I’m guilty of not wanting to or forgetting to do both, so I’m sure many others also need the reminder. You have to provide your mind and body with nutrients to push through these trying times. Eat as healthy as you can! This will give you the proper energy you need to study. Don’t eat anything that may upset your stomach (you know what happens)! Sleep will help strengthen your memory retention. You also don’t want to fall asleep during your exam–or worse, you might sleep through your exam.

10. Realize it when you have momentum going. This is very important to keep in mind. If you’re on a get-work-done-high, then by all means, keep going. Don’t take that scheduled break. Don’t get lunch. Don’t worry about how numb your butt is from sitting down all day. Keep going. Ride your momentum out.

For more tips on studying, check out this post by Brett McKay from The Art of Manliness.

Good luck with your studies!



7 thoughts on “10 Study Tips to Survive Final Exams

  1. you’re great david khim! i didn’t even realize i could win coffee/tea until after i shared it. i just thought it was that awesome. i’m totally going to apply your tips now to my studying, esp #3!


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