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 a planner or calendar program to chart each week remaining before your final exams and Finals Week itself.
- Date each sheet or entry, and fill in your time commitments between now and your last exam. Include all remaining class meetings, recitations, and labs; assignment due dates, testing dates, and final exam dates; and other appointments like review sessions or study groups.
- You won't have classes during Finals Week, so it will look like you have lots of time then, and you will, but don't leave everything for that week. Planning ahead is the key to performing well and reducing exam stress.
- Make a list of important tasks that you need to accomplish before the term ends (such as meeting with instructors, TAs, or study groups; getting notes back from a friend; packing by a certain date) and make those arrangements. Add any new dates to your planner and To-Do List.
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:
- Student A: Studies subject 1 from 4-6pm, subject 2 from 6:30-8:30pm and Subject 3 from 9 until 11pm on Monday and then studies Subject 3 from 4:30-6:30pm, Subject 1 from 7-9pm and Subject 2 from 9:30-11:30pm on Tuesday
- Student B: Studies Subject 2 from 9:30pm on Monday until 2am on Tuesday, Subject 1 from 5:30-9:30 pm and Subject 3 from 9:30pm on Tuesday and until 2:30am on Wednesday.
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.