MIT: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
ACADEX: MIT Center for Academic Excellence

Final Exams - Organize Your Time

Ideally, you would start this process at least three weeks before final exams begin, but you can easily adapt the following techniques to a shorter period.

Use Your Study Time Productively

Plan out your study time in loose blocks, so you're more likely to keep up with all of your subjects and be ready for each exam as it occurs. Say that you plan to study four subjects for 20 hours each over a two-week period. On average, this means you would be studying about 5.7 hours/day, which is manageable. To accomplish the same task in one week, you would be studying 11.4 hours/day, which is significantly more difficult.

Studying is most effective when you plan to concentrate for reasonable periods of time (blocks of two or three hours), and take reasonable breaks (15-30 minutes) between them. It is also more effective to work on more than one subject over the course of an evening, rather than working on a single subject all night. The change of subject will refresh your mind and keep you more alert and engaged. It's easy to spend too long on a subject in which you are not making progress.

Consider the difference between these two approaches to studying three subjects over the course of two days:

Each student completes four hours of study in three subjects, but Student A has more options. If she has difficulty in any of her subjects on Monday, she could follow up with the TA or her study group on Tuesday. In the meantime, she will have made some progress in her other work. Student B is in a more difficult situation, as he faces long study sessions and less opportunity for follow-up. While both students will have done six hours of studying by 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Student B will likely be more tired and stressed, and unfortunately he still has work to do.

People have individual work styles. Your ideal block of study time may be only one hour or it may be four hours. Perhaps it is easier for you not to change subjects once you are making progress. Adapt these guidelines to work for your preferences and style.

Most of the advice on previous pages in this section applies to final exams as well. Review especially the section on Different Types of Tests.