Ace Your Finals!

An older, but time relevant article from, lets you in on ways to do well on your finals.

Over prepare. That might seem like a poor way to study. But over many years of teaching, I’ve found it to be sound advice. It’s much wiser to take an exam too seriously and find it easier than you expected than to wish–when it’s too late–that you’d studied more. Think of the baseball player who swings two or three bats before stepping up to the plate. His on-deck time is what makes his work with one bat stronger.

Don’t confuse over preparing with cramming. If you over prepare, do so in advance, so that you can get a good night’s sleep before the exam.

I personally think this one sort of depends on who you are. For some people it works well to cram up until the last minute. For other people, it’s worthless and just makes them worry. Me personally, I like to relax and then a few minutes before skim the material. This is a good starting place for someone who doesn’t quite know where they fall.

Bring several writing instruments. If your one pen or pencil fails and you need to borrow a replacement, you’ll lose time, annoy others, and look silly.

This is a no brainer! It may seem silly, but I have a little box of 12 mechanical pencils ready just for finals. I keep ’em ready to go and don’t have to worry.

Use your time wisely.

Wear a watch so that you can manage time on your own terms. Many professors and proctors will mark the time on the blackboard, but glancing at a watch is better than depending upon the click of the chalk–distracting at best, stressful at worst–that lets you know that another chunk of time has vanished.

Map out your work. When your professor talks about the exam, make sure that it’s clear how each part will count toward the whole. If, for instance, you have two hours and an essay that’s worth half the exam, give yourself an hour to plan, write, and review your essay.

It’s not unusual for students in the blur of exam week to lose track of when an exam has started and will end. So map out your work not only in minutes but with starting and ending points. Then you can’t lose track of where you are. For instance,

2:15-3:15: long essay
3:15-3:45: short essay
3:45-4:45: identifies

You can work out these details beforehand and write them discreetly in the corner of an exam booklet when you begin.

Don’t rush. This advice is especially important if your exam falls late in exam week, when many students have already left campus. Just take your time; your vacation will be waiting for you when you’re done.

Thinking back to the SATs, and practice prep, they always told you to spend 1 minute one this thing, 2 minutes on this other thing, etc. This is a good way to work with any exam. If you’ve got 30 questions and only 20 minutes, you know you’re only getting about 0:40 seconds a question. But if the questions are weighted differently, or if there are different types of questions, or difficulty levels, you’ll have to readjust for that.

Elaborate. If you have a choice between making a point briefly and elaborating, choose to elaborate. A professor reading a final exam is reading to “get to done”–to assign a grade and move on to the next exam in the stack. So you should show your knowledge and understanding in all appropriate ways. As I tell my students, I like reading an exam that lets me say “Okay, okay, you know the material. Enough!”

This suggestion assumes that whatever you’re elaborating on is relevant to the question at hand. Irrelevancies won’t help your case. Nor will mere bull, which is altogether different from knowledge and understanding.

This is true. The teacher wants to get to his vacation just as much as you do. Don’t add fluff though. They aren’t stupid.

Don’t panic. In the worst-case exam scenario, an exam-taker goes on automatic, misreading questions, skipping key directions (e.g., “Choose only one”), and producing verbal babble as the time zooms by. It’s important to stay calm enough to focus on the work there is to do. You might visualize yourself sitting down, reading the questions, planning your responses, and doing well. Another way to avoid panicking is to remind yourself how much time you really have. A two-hour exam equals four episodes of a situation comedy–a lot of time when you look at it that way.

Okay, this may seem pretty obvious. Most people get worried, and then they do worse. Fairly basic information, but it’s important to remember. This goes back to why I like to relax before the final. Get some sleep, stay calm. Do things that keep you calm, keep you focus. Drink some tea maybe. Get a backrub. Whatever works for you, but take it easy and make sure you’re not nervous when you go into your exam.

How to do well on a final examination –


May 4, 2007. studying.

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