How College Students Can Start Preparing for Finals Early

How to Start Preparing for Finals Now


Finals are a stressful time for everyone. It’s common to have several finals, whether it’s over the span of a few days or back-to-back on the same day. Because of this, it is extremely easy to get quickly overwhelmed. For students with test anxiety (or anxiety in general) it can be even worse. However, there are a few ways to counteract the stress and anxiety that comes with finals week. The number one way is to start prepping for finals early. Here are some tips for preparing for finals now to avoid the stress:

Non-Cumulative Finals

One thing to keep in mind is that not all classes have cumulative finals. There are many classes that test the “final” exam as just a normal exam, and therefore will only cover the last few weeks of material that is covered after the last exam before the “final.” These sorts of finals are a lot easier to prepare for than cumulative finals, since the material is a lot lighter.

In this case, it may be tempting to procrastinate studying for these sorts of exams. DON’T. One thing to keep in mind is that because the exam is not cumulative, the professor can add a lot more detail-oriented questions.

The first study tip for a non-cumulative exam is to read the book. Yes, read the book. You know, that thing that you paid for or rented at the beginning of the semester and never opened. The book is required for many classes because it’s a good source of information and is the basis of the class itself. Since the final won’t be cumulative, that means that your readings are much more limited. By reading and taking notes, you can refresh your memory on topics that you may be shaky on or create a stronger foundation on topics that are have a strong basis in already.

Another tip, and this one is also very useful for cumulative exams, is to do practice problems or go back over homework from the chapter you’re covering. Make sure that you understand how each problem is done and why. The “why” is very important! This is because it allows you to take your understanding of each problem and apply it to problems or questions that are similar. Because the exam won’t be cumulative, it is very possible that many of the problems you see will be reminiscent of those on homework or suggested practice problems.

Related: Everything You Need to Survive Finals Week on Amazon

Cumulative Exams

Many of the tips and tricks in studying for a cumulative exam can overlap with studying for a non-cumulative exam. However, where non-cumulative exams are much more detail-oriented, cumulative exams are usually broader. Cumulative exams will cover all the material throughout the semester. This means that there is an overwhelming amount of material that needs to be covered. With this in mind, it’s very important to begin studying for the exam as soon as possible. Reviewing the material from the beginning of the semester is extremely important. Classes are structured to have the easiest material first and use that material as a basis for more complex concepts later. Even if you have a strong basis in the concepts from the beginning of the semester, don’t skip reviewing. It may seem a bit tedious to go back to the beginning of the semester’s material, especially if you learned it well enough, but it is very important to make sure that you didn’t skip over any concepts.

There are a few different ways that you can start reviewing. Here at Purdue University, there is a feature called Boilercast where the lectures are recorded by Purdue and uploaded into Blackboard. If your university has something similar, or if you recorded the lectures yourself (with the permission of your lecturer) this can be a great tool for review. This allows you to listen and see the lectures from the beginning of the semester all over again, which can be vital as the lectures may provide some material that you left out of your notes. With this form of review, it is especially important to begin your review as early as possible.

Another option for review is looking over old notes and tests. This review option can work in conjunction with the re-watching of the old lectures. If you’re re-watching old lectures, I recommend also following along in your notes (assuming you’ve taken notes as all good students should) and annotating them with any details you may be missing. If lecture recordings aren’t an option, go back to the textbook. Reading the book will cover way more details than re-watching lectures will, and not all of them will be necessary. In this way, it is important to use your notes as a guideline for which topics are okay to skim over. However, it is important to make sure you keep in mind to update any of your notes. Make sure that you really understand what you read, as it will become more important for later topics.

If you can, look back over old exams or practice exams and take one to test yourself on the material again. If you pass it with flying colors, then you can move on to review later topics. If you didn’t do so well, make sure you review what you did wrong on the exam, revisit the material in your notes, book, or the lecture, and try again.

This may seem like a lot of work. The thing is: it is a lot of work. A cumulative final covers an entire semester of material, and this means you can be tested on anything and everything. All the material is fair game, and if you try cramming it all in days before the exam, there is no way you’ll be able to cover everything thoroughly.

As you get closer and closer to the day of the final, it is important to make sure you’ve reviewed and covered all the material that you need to. Studying before the exam is fine, and last-minute reviews are okay. However, keep in mind that if you didn’t learn or understand it from the beginning of the semester, chances are that last-minute cramming isn’t going to help you magically understand the topic. Things might click for you that didn’t click before if you start studying now, but the night before the exam isn’t the time to try and understand complex concepts that have been building up for an entire semester. Study in depth, and as early as you can, but make sure to not slack off on the new material being presented. Of course, this is all easier said than done. But, if you begin studying earlier, it will give you a more solid basis on the past material and will allow you to have less material to study later on (which can relieve a lot of stress and anxiety).


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