Around this time of year, students may begin to feel a bit of panic as they realize that final exams are rapidly approaching. Not to worry! I’ve been a college instructor for going on 16 years now and I’m going to spill the beans on how students can get better grades on their final exams. Here’s my list of insider tips on how to study and prepare for that all-important final.
Tip #1 — Think like a professor
How can you prepare for your finals? Think like your professor. What would he or she put on the final? What has been discussed and covered in depth in the course? Still not sure? Ask your professor what will be covered on the final, what kinds of questions will be asked: essay, true/false, problems, etc., and study for that type of exam.
It’s all very likely covered in your syllabus and on the web site for your course, if there is one. But it never hurts to ask. While you’re at it, ask for advice on how you can improve in areas where your performance has been weak.
Tip #2 — There are no shortcuts to success
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts, although students still seem to look for them. One shortcut, cheating, is a tactic that I won’t ever recommend. Sooner or later you will be caught and the consequences can harm you for the rest of your life.
Claire Potter, Professor of History at The New School for Public Engagement in New York offered this advice in a December 7, 2011 post for TenuredRadical titled, “If I Had College-Age Children, I Would Give Them This Advice for the Final Weeks of School: Don’t Cheat.”
“My point is this: because cheating is evidence of rank stupidity, many people do not get away with it. In fact, many people are no better at cheating than they are at doing the work for the course. Others spend time that might have gone into conventional studying devising elaborate systems for cheating,” Potter said.
Tip #3 – Reduce your anxiety — Be honest with yourself
One reason why students don’t do well on finals is that they manage to work themselves up into a frenzy of worry and fear. Do yourself a favor and find a way to reduce your level of anxiety.
In a February 12, 2011 article for Science News, titled, “The Write Stuff for Test Anxiety: Fearful Students Score Better If They Jot Down Their Worries,” Bruce Bower described a method that might be of help to students preparing for finals. That method includes writing down your list of worries before taking the exam.
“Among test-anxious students, those who wrote about exam-related feelings scored an average of 6 percent higher on the final than those who wrote about biology topics. Expressive writers received a B+ average on the final, versus a B- for biology writers,” Bower reported.
Tip #4 — Start early
It may sound trite but the time to prepare for your final exam really begins on the first day of the semester. If you wait until a week before the exam to get serious about studying, you may be setting yourself up for failure.
In a May 16, 2006 post for CastingOutNines.com titled, “Thoughts while grading finals,” math instructor Robert Talbert expressed his thoughts as he waded through a pile of final exams.
“Final exams week is a model for how our campus should look all year long: students asking questions and coming to office hours, all the laptops checked out of the student center, people getting together to study, people talking about what’s going on in their classes [...] there’s an air of a significant undertaking being taken seriously,” Talbert mused.
Tip #5 — Take responsibility
After spending years grading final exams I can tell you that as an instructor I want my students to succeed. I don’t enjoy handing out failing grades. I don’t believe that any instructor does. But we can only assign a grade based on what the student turns in. So it’s up to each student to take responsibility for learning the material, finding out what will be required on the final and then preparing for the final to the best of their ability.
Need more ideas? The staff at Eastfield College in Dallas, Texas have come up with a list of 101 Ways to Prepare for Final Exams Now. Check it out and good luck to you on your finals!