Whether you’re a high school or college student, you know there’s only one thing separating you from Winter or Summer break: finals week. These end-of-term tests carry a lot of weight, and often have a significant impact on your grade, making this time of year stressful for many students.
The best way to reduce final exam stress? Set yourself up for success by becoming a better studier—that means making a schedule, finding others to study with and more. Use these tips to step up your study game and ace your final exams.
Make a Schedule
You are likely studying for 3, 4 or 5 tests in various subjects with a project or a paper to turn in as well—meaning your schedule is booked. So, before you start, make a list of everything you have to do: tests, group projects, assignments, papers etc. It’s a lot easier to conceptualize exactly how much you have to do when you have it written down in front of you.
Go through your list and fill out due dates, noting which assignments or tasks will take the longest. Once you’ve done this, you can prioritize what you need to tackle first and what will take most of your time.
Now, create a plan of attack to avoid last-minute cramming that leads to the stress we’re all so familiar with. When writing your schedule, keep a few things in mind:
- 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. is the best time of day for test-review, problem-solving, report-writing and math-oriented work, according to Rocket Memory.
- Spending an hour studying in a common area or library is a great way to sneak it in between classes, without taking away from social time with friends at night.
- Instead of trying to do it all at once, spread your studying out. I.E.: Monday – two hours after my last class; Tuesday – one hour between my morning classes; Wednesday – three hours in the library during my free afternoon.
Distractions, like Facebook or text messages, make study sessions much less effective and end up taking more of your time than you might think—spending three minutes to answer a text message every five minutes adds up quickly. Turn your phone on silent and put it under your pillow or zipped in a backpack pocket so the temptation to check is lower.
Don’t forget about background noise, which can make it hard to focus. If it’s too loud in your dorm room or apartment, head to the library. Otherwise, turn off the TV and unless you’re listening to classical or instrumental music, which has been found to help with studying and focus, turn off the radio or Pandora.
“While many teens insist they study better while listening to music or texting their friends, research shows the opposite: Information reviewed amid distractions is less likely to be recalled later,” attests Nicole Durdukovic, assistant professor of psychology at Trinity College.
Know What to Study For
Once you know the format (multiple choice, short answer, a combination of the two) and the subject matter (cumulative or focused on recent content learned) of your final, you know exactly how and what to study. If these details are unclear, check with your professor, either in class or during office hours.
Once you know this, you’ll have a better idea of how to study. If it’s mostly multiple choice or fill in the blank, you’ll need to memorize definitions and concepts. If it’s short answer or essay, you’ll need to know how to apply key concepts.
Don’t Just Study, Practice
The way you study can affect how you perform on the test. If you study in bed with a bag of chips, you’re not setting yourself up for success. Instead, focus on creating a test-like environment: Sit at your desk, time yourself so you can work on pacing, put your reference materials away, and see how well you perform.
This study tactic is especially helpful for math tests. “A common mistake is for students to work on math problems in too relaxed a posture,” says Larry Coty, with USATestPrep. “They should be sitting at a desk, with minimal distractions, and working the problems exactly as if they were testing.” You will also feel more at ease when you take your final if you simulate a test-like environment when you study.
Form or Join a Study Group
You don’t need to do all of your studying in a quiet, isolated environment. Study groups can be very effective. Not only does it add accountability—if you’re supposed to meet your study group, you’re much less likely to bail—but you can ask and answer questions, giving you a better grasp on key concepts.
Pick your study group, wisely. Remember that this isn’t social hour; the more people are talking, the less effective the group is. The less studying you do, the more stressed you’ll be, so remember to focus on using this as study time only.
Follow these tips to develop good study habits, feel more confident on test day, and have less stress leading up to it. When it’s time to take the test, you will have the peace of mind that you did all you could to prepare.
About Jessica Thiefels: Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a lifestyle blogger. She’s written for Reader’s Digest, AARP, CollegeRaptor, Shape and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07 for more advice on test prep and study tips.