Best Tips for Acing Final Exams

Finals are just around the corner, and with them comes a whole new set of stress for many of us.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  A little stress is great when harnessed for success.  Follow these tips and you are sure to be well on your way to success.  If you are an A student it’s time to make 100s across the board, if you are a B student, it’s A time.  Follow the tips here at Zen College Life and you are guaranteed to have greater success than you have had in previous semesters.

Plan your week around studying

This may seem like a no brainer, but somehow some people still find ways to shop, hang out with friends, and do all sorts of things that are not studying.  For that week you should be a hermit.  Seriously, find a corner in your library and move in.  Plan every hour of study for that week, and plan your breaks.  Know what subject you are going to study at what time, how long you’ve allotted to each class, what time you are going to eat, what drinks you will drink, etc.  Everything you can plan for your week of studying should be planned, and every other aspect of life should be put off till the week after finals.

If your underwear is dirty, then you’ll have to be smelly that week, or go commando, because your laundry time could be better spent with your head in a book.  Tell your little brother/sister to call you in a week cause you’re busy.  Grandma dying? Ok, well you can make time for things of this nature, but anything else needs to be put on hold.  This means forget any thought of a social life.  Your social life doesn’t exist the week before finals.

Create an Environment Conducive to Studying

Stop kidding yourself.  Starbucks is not a place to get good studying done.  Your study locale should be silent, distraction free, well lit, and with enough room to spread your books across a table.  You should have headphones and an MP3 player, whether you listen to music or not.  Put the headphones on when studying, even without music.  This will generally keep anyone from bothering you.  Bring a jacket or sweater, just in case.  And a watch with an alarm. If I’m going to be there a while I sometimes take 15-20 minute naps, and the jacket can be used as a pillow while the watch is my alarm clock.

Bring snacks.  Chex mix is a good snack, and pretty much any kind of nuts work great.  Nutragrain bars and power bars will keep you alive.  Also, even though I’m not a big supporter of large amounts of caffeine, if you are going to drink it, this is the week to do so.  So stock up on coffee, redbull, monster or whatever it is that keeps you awake.  I personally drink green tea.  It’s less caffeine, but I’ll drink 3-5 cups in one sitting, so it adds up.

Meet with a Study Group

Study groups work for some and not for others.  I don’t usually advocate using a study group until after you’ve already completed your studying for that subject.  The reasons are simple.   If you don’t know your stuff you will probably not learn it fast enough with the social distraction, and if you do you can test your recall ability by teaching it to the group.  For these reasons I usually like to meet with friends of the class right before the test, say the night before or the day of.  I don’t usually use this time to learn, so it’s perfect for sharpening my skills.

Schedule in Sleep

I cannot believe how many people walk around like zombies during finals week.  It’s an epidemic, due to non-planning and all nighters, neither of which I advocate.  Do yourself a favor.  If you don’t function well on 3 hours of sleep, don’t try to.  If you need your 8 hours regardless, factor that in and don’t push it.  If your brain can’t take the lack of rest, your study time will be wasted anyways, make good plans for sleep as well as study.


Don’t study for an essay test based on recognition of terms.  They won’t be there, and if you can’t recall them you’ll fail.  In the same sense, don’t try to memorize every word for a multiple choice test.  You’ll see the key elements spelled out for you, and the extra time you spent memorizing sentences could be better spent on that essay test we talked about.

Strategize your studying around the type of test that your professor administers.  If your teacher gives true/false sections of a test, understand the qualities of the fact that would make it true or false.  If there is matching, know the important aspects of key terms.  The only parts of tests that you really need to memorize every aspect of are essay tests, especially if your teacher gives you nothing but a premise and you have to explain in great detail.


This is the one thing that I do not neglect during finals week.  I work out 5-8 times a week, just depending on my mood, and to give that up would be devastating to my stress relief.  Don’t overdo your physical exercise to the point that you are too tired to study, but short, stress relieving activities will only do you good during finals week, keeping that blood blowing through those veins and arteries.

Even if you are the regular couch potato, don’t underestimate the value of a good walk between study sessions, or even during one if you can’t get your mind straight.  Sometimes I need to get away from the books, if only for a few minutes, just to get perspective.

Meet with Professors

Let’s face it, if this is your first time going to office hours the professor probably isn’t going to give you the extra point between an A and B.  But that doesn’t mean it wont do you any good.  Your professor teaches this same subject year after year, and any question relevant to the test could be answered in a matter of minutes.  If you can’t understand something, you pay tuition to have access to them or the TA.  Pick their brains until you understand every aspect of that test.  And ask the professor for old versions of the exam.  The worst thing he could say is no, right?

My Personal Plan (just for reference)

This is how it works for me.  It’s simple, easy, and I’ve made a 95 or better on every single final exam for the past 2 years.

Plan of Study: I have 3 different places of study:  My school library, an empty classroom, and my desk at home.  I try the library first, if it’s full or noisy, I go to a classroom.  The only reason I choose the library over a classroom is that many classrooms at my school don’t have windows, and I like to look outside…  Home is my last choice.  It is quite and I have the space, but there are still too many distractions.  As far as preparing for each exam, I don’t schedule hours for certain exams.  I usually just try to get through one at a time, only switching if my brain starts to reject learning a subject.

Snacks and Supplements: This one I still have some work to do on.  I always have green tea, so that’s not an issue.  But since I work out so often, I’m always hungry.  This semester I’m going to try mixed nuts, carrots and celery, and something sweet.  I don’t recommend candy, because the insulin spike never seems to help with studying. I usually take a multi-vitamin every day along with 1000mg of Vitamin C daily.  If I’m going to lift weights that day I will drink a protein shake.  I stay away from fried foods and fatty foods that week, they just tend to slow me down.  Fast food is already banned from my diet, so that is not an issue.

Study Breaks: I make study breaks fun.  The way I work is an hour and a half of study and a half hour of break time.  This may seem like too long a break for you, so go with what works for you.  But with this plan I can study for 12+ hours a day, so it works for me.  I like to keep my breaks fun so that once they are over I’m ready to study again.  I usually take my guitar, laptop, mp3 player, and a fun book to read.  I take turns between those for each break.  Planet Earth is probably the most fun thing to watch during studying.  It’s educational so your brain doesn’t go to sleep, but it is still very interesting.

Naps and walks: I don’t kid myself.  Studying isn’t fun, and sometimes I just can’t concentrate.  For this I don’t take a break, since I haven’t yet earned it with an hour and half worth of studying.  I take a 15 minute nap, or a 10 minute walk.  Usually if I’m going to nap I close my eyes and visualize myself taking the exam, visualize the success of answering each question correctly, and turning each page with a smile on my face.  You’d be surprised at how quickly that can melt away stress.  If I’m walking I do the same, or just try to empty my mind of all thoughts, like a Zen walk of sorts.

Test Day: I don’t study on the day of the test.  Some people keep their books open till the professor walks in, and they look at me like I’m crazy.  The truth is that is just too stressful for me.  I give myself a break.  If I don’t know if by the day before, I just wont know it, but I’m not going to cram in the classroom before the test.  It would be too hard on my brain and I probably still have other finals to worry about.


Well this was quite a long post, but I hope you found a few diamonds in the rough.  Like I said, I have great success following this plan and I’m quite sure if you take it and modify it to your needs you will have great success as well.  And once that week of finals is over you are free.  You can sleep in late, and waste all day playing video games if you want.  Keep that in mind and be disciplined about your finals.  You’ll be glad you did.  What do you do when studying for finals?  Have any tips or tricks to share? Leave a comment, we’d love to hear them.

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