By: Amy Z.
Are you a first-timer freshman freaking out over finals? Or a seasoned junior proudly pulling that all-nighter on review weekend? Maybe you’re totally ready to slay that history multiple choice but still wringing your hands at the idea of four passage analyses in 25 minutes? Whoever you are, however you feel about finals, here are a few Gryphon-approved strategies for tackling finals.
First up is BREATHE, my very own original acronym–a helpful reminder in itself (if you don’t breathe, you die, according to our favorite relaxation guru, Cindy) and an easy series of steps to follow during review week.
Basics first: make sure you’re eating a healthy, filling breakfast every morning before classes, sleeping at least eight hours every night (that means being in bed for around eight and a half hours), and drinking water throughout the day to ward off dehydration headaches and cramps. When your body is well equipped, your mind will retain facts more easily.
Refocus in class: of course you were paying attention all year (right?), but now is the time to really hone in on what your teachers are saying. Almost every minute of class during review week can reveal a new hint on what material will be relevant, or what strategies have worked best for students in the past.
Examine your comfort level and knowledge base for each subject. Briefly flip through unit tests and essays. What do you know? What do you feel uncertain about? Make a list and target these problem areas when studying.
Ask for help: never, ever hesitate to ask a teacher, peer tutor, or friend to explain a concept to you, even if it’s for the fiftieth time. The Crystal experience is all about one-on-one support. Use your consultations!
Time your study sessions to avoid fatigue/despair and keep you working efficiently. Shorter attention span? Try 30 minutes of work to 5 minutes of break. Like to switch between subjects? Pick two per night and rotate in 45-minute chunks with 15-minute breaks in between. Concentrate best when uninterrupted? Aim for a hard maximum of two hours before making a stretch and a snack mandatory.
“Hitlist” the very, very major concepts of the year or semester as the last thing the night before the final on that subject. A math hitlist might have eight to ten phrases listed on it, depending on how many units you covered. Each unit should be summed up in a few words, like a title of a chapter in a novel, with just enough detail to spark your memory.
Ease up on intense, nitty-gritty studying of a particular subject the evening before that subject’s final. Last-minute cramming a) doesn’t stick in your brain, b) skyrockets stress levels, and c) generally consists of useless details anyway, since you’re studying for the sake of studying at that point.
But don’t take my word for it! Talk to students who’ve taken the finals you’re going into for advice, too. Here’re general strategic tips from real Crystal-finals veterans to get you started, but keep in mind that finals’ structure can change even year-to-year in the same subject, so your teacher’s advice always comes first. Also, what works for one person may not work for another, so don’t try to force yourself into your best friend’s “failproof” study plan, and vice versa–don’t go around trying to convert classmates to your favorite method.
GETTING INTO THE FLOW:
“When studying for finals, I find it very helpful to have a schedule or specific plan for reviewing. Not only does this help me to manage my time well, but it also reduces my stress because I feel more organized and focused.” –Ella ‘19
“Plan your studying in advance. Let’s say I need to study 5 chapters on the final and there are 7 days before the final. Do one chapter for the first 5 days and then the last two days review the hardest parts of all the material.” –Lauren ‘17
“Don’t get caught up on the minor details of each unit. And remember that since finals cover so many units, only the broader themes are important.” –Alexia ‘19
“Prioritize: know which subjects you usually struggle with and focus on those first.” –Athena ‘18
“I’ve found it helps to give yourself plenty of breaks from studying, especially during the long weekend before finals. It will make you more focused while you’re actually studying, and it will make the whole process less overwhelming.” –Natalie L. ‘19
“My advice would be to make a schedule. Once you mentally think of how and what days you are studying for each subject, the whole final studying process feels a lot less daunting. Don’t attack the studying all at once, take it one step at a time and give yourself some rewards like screen time or a big bowl of mint chocolate ice cream!
“It’s a little late now because we’re only a week away from finals but definitely start earlier. It takes more than just review week and it doesn’t hurt to start making your own study guides during spring break.” –Alex C. ‘19
“Don’t procrastinate and set each day to study a different subject.” –Helen ‘19
“I always liked to make the lead-up to finals a big event. I’d start by making a list of everything I needed to study for and the steps I’d take to get there, and then I’d figure out how I wanted to arrange each piece. I never liked to spend too long doing one subject, so if I had it broken down into subcategories I could more easily stay on track. I’d make a schedule for every day of memorial weekend, and I’d color code each step by subject.” –Zoe ‘17
“I copy down the most important notes from the topics in a finals notebook.” –India ‘19
“I usually do flashcards for vocab, and just re-read all my notes.” –Kevin ‘19
“Even though typing out lengthy study guides can get all the information, writing it down by hand is really effective.” –Natalie B. ‘19
“I do 50 minutes on, 10 minutes off. When I do my 10 minutes off I like to move around and not stare at my phone. If the paper [or studying] isn’t working…get some sleep and do it tomorrow. Or if it’s like 11:00 and it’s due [or the exam is] tomorrow, do a 20 minute power nap and then hit it. Also something people don’t do enough of is take breaks that are GOOD breaks.” –Maddie ‘18
“Studying with friends (as long as you’re not completely distracted) is so much better and makes finals cramming more bearable somehow.” –Lara ‘19
“Don’t doubt the power of being able to check something off! I made boxes to tick for every mini task, every day, and every final taken. It gives you a big sense of accomplishment.” –Zoe ‘17
“For maps, put the blank map in a protective plastic sleeve and then just fill it out in whiteboard marker and erase it to try again as many times as you want without wasting paper. And don’t waste time making Quizlets, especially for Spanish or French vocab. Search them up–they are really easy to find and if you don’t find a cumulative one, use the export option to combine them.” –Kaili ‘19
“I reference old tests and quizzes.” –Ayato ‘19
“Schedule your breaks so that you don’t break for too long instead of studying.” –John ‘19
“I find it useful to spend time going back through old assignments to remind myself of topics or questions I had trouble with. This helps me to figure out what to review in-depth, versus the topics I feel comfortable with and need less review for.” –Ella ‘19
“Don’t over-stress, but don’t under-prepare.” –Anjali ‘19
“Relax and remind yourself that it’s not a life or death situation! It’ll be over before you know it, so make sure to stay calm.” –Mia ‘19
“The biggest thing you can do to mitigate stress around finals, in my opinion, is to be proactive in your studying by making sure to start preparing a couple weeks before. Often what students find the most challenging, myself included, is gathering all the papers, tests, quizzes and various other handouts they’ve been given throughout the year. The earlier you start the process of getting these papers in one place, the less daunting studying for finals can be.” –Jack V. ‘18
“Be careful of studying too much. If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re not absorbing anything and just doing stuff for the sake of feeling good, don’t feel guilty to take a break and get a change of scenery. I’d often cut myself off at like 7:00 pm each day of the weekend and then I’d let myself watch TV or something for the rest of the evening. It makes your brain so much more willing.” –Zoe ‘17
“Good fight.” –Jonathan ‘18
Finally, trust yourself going into the actual exam. If you feel panic beginning to set in, repeat “I am prepared, I will do well” inside your head. Cindy has also mentioned that visualizing yourself succeeding can help. As an extreme case, I actually look forward to finals, because I view them as a game, not a major assessment, and I find they’re often a lot more “fun” than unit tests, because material is generally shallower on each unit yet calls for more synthesis between units. If you can put aside the stress and worries, and just center yourself on the test questions, you’ll also be amazed at how much you’ve learned this year.
Happy studying and good luck!