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Your Finals Study Guide: 11 Tips For Conquering the Big Tests

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Finals Studying

The school year is drawing to an end. Soon it will be time for summer fun (perhaps an outdoor adventure or a sports camp?), but first, you have to get through finals. Studying for not just one but several high-stakes tests can certainly be a daunting prospect. So start here, and review our 11 tips for making your finals prep smooth and painless. OK, well, almost painless.

  1. Make a schedule: Start by figuring out which tests are scheduled for when. Then figure out which ones you need to do the most work for. Once you have a sense which exams need the most attention, schedule time into each day to chip away at your studying. Break your study block into smaller sections and assign yourself tasks for each one: Practice trig problems from 8 to 8:45, review physics formulas from 8:45 to 9, and so on.
  2. Know what to expect: Talk to your teachers to find out as much as you can about the format of the test and what materials will be covered. Essay questions or multiple choice? Will you be covering material from the whole year, or just to most recent term?
  3. Learn from the past: Start your studying for each subject by reviewing previous tests and assignments. What were you expected to know on pop quizzes? What kind of feedback to get your get on projects and essays? Your teachers’ expectations earlier in the year are perhaps the best indication of what they will be looking for on the big test.
  4. Study out loud: Printed words are great. Books, articles, and websites are pretty essential to the whole learning-things process. But our brains learn in many ways, so hearing information can help you master your material more effectively than reading alone. Trying reading important details or facts out loud to yourself; for extra impact, record yourself and listen to the playback the next day.
  5. Study with friends: When you make a plan to study with others, you automatically have study time carved out of your schedule. Plus, pooling your information can help you cover more information in less time. And being accountable to other people can make you more conscientious in your study habits.
  6. Explain the material: Tell your mother all about how meiosis works, define literary terms for your brother, and regale Grandma with your analysis of the causes of World War II. When you try to explain information to others, you clarify your own understanding and spot the holes in your knowledge.
  7. Put the phone away: A few texts here, a glance at Instagram there, maybe a couple of Snapchats about how much you hate studying. How much can it hurt? All these little actions can add up to significant lost studying time. Furthermore, every quick break to double-tap breaks your focus — and lack of concentration impedes your ability to learn.
  8. Mix it up: Start the evening with a little history review, then move on to memorizing your geometry theorems. Changing up the material you are working on keeps your mind fresher and helps check the frustration that comes from banging your head against the same information over and over.
  9. Hit the hay: Studies suggest sleep is an integral part of learning. First, when you are sleep-deprived, your brain is not processing optimally, making it hard to really take in information. Secondly, sleep is actually a necessary part of memorization: Facts and ideas learned while awake become more stable and reliable during sleep.
  10. Exercise your body, not just your brain: Exercise can help you relax and improve your mood, both helpful factors for test performance. What’s more, researchers have found that exercise can directly impact your ability to learn, especially tasks that involve memorization. So put the books away and go for a brisk walk: It’s science.
  11. Don’t cram: When you try to do all your studying at the last minute, you get anxious. When you get anxious, your ability to think rationally goes down. When you aren’t thinking rationally, it is a lot harder to perform well on a test. Long story short: Don’t cram.

And most of all: Don’t worry. You’ve got this.

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Sarah Good-profile-picture

Sarah Good is a journalist who has covered everything from small town elections to international financial fraud. She is also private tutor with more than 10 years experience unraveling the mysteries of standardized tests and college applications.