6 Tips for Finals Success!


by Bob Pleasants, UNC Learning Center

Finals making you feel anxious, intimidated, or stressed? You’re not alone. A common theme we see at the UNC-CH Learning Center this time of year is the feeling of being overwhelmed by the difficulty of making it through final exams. Luckily, our years of experience working with students has helped us formulate the following helpful framework for exam success.

Photo: "Finals Week Sping 2012-005" by Penn State. Flickr Creative Commons.
Photo: “Finals Week Sping 2012-005” by Penn State. Flickr Creative Commons.

1. Prioritize to help make decisions about how much time to allot to prep for each exam.

  • Which exams will be hardest?
  • What portion of my grade is each exam worth?

2. Find out what you know. 

First use your syllabi to make a list of key concepts you must know for the test. Hide all notes and books and test your understanding on each key concept. Ask yourself how well you can summarize main ideas, do sample problems, recall facts from memory, and apply concepts in a new way. Finally, rate yourself. How did you do? Rate your skill and understanding on each bit of content from your list using this sample scale:

3= I know this well

2= I know this some

1= don’t know this at all

3. Make a smart study plan.

Make a study guide, merging main ideas from class notes and readings. Find ways to actively engage with the material and stay accountable to learning. Reviewing lecture notes and assigned readings can often be too passive.  Use active study strategies to practice the content you rated with a 1 or 2:

  • Make mind maps, time-lines, or flashcards.
  • Study with a partner.
  • Teach concepts to someone else.
  • Write or speak aloud the main ideas.
  • Generate higher-level thinking questions to test yourself with.

4. Make a smart study plan.

Once you’ve selected study tasks for the concepts you rated 1 and 2, estimate how much time you will need to complete them. Look over your calendar and lay out a plan, noting exactly what you will be doing and for how long. Break down studying into specific, discrete tasks. “Study Chem” is too vague.  “Complete practice problems from chapter 3” is specific. Estimate how long each task might take and compare it to available time.  Create an “appointment” to complete practice problems.

5. Test yourself.

When you’ve completed your Study Plan, it’s time to test yourself again. Hide all your materials and test your understanding on concepts you rated 1 and 2 the same way you did in Step 1.

  • Can you do a problem from memory?
  • Can you restate or rewrite what you learned?
  • Can you teach these concepts to a friend?
  • Can you answer questions you generated (not simple recall!)

Still stuck on a particular concept? Keep practicing!

6. Come to the Learning Center!

In addition to the strategies above, you can come to the Learning Center for our Study Boot Camps. These camps offer supervised study from Wednesday, December 3rd through Wednesday, December 10th in Suite 0127 SASB North.

Find out more about our Boot Camps and other services such as Academic Coaching and Peer Tutoring at http://learningcenter.unc.edu/.

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