Final Exam Study Strategies

We are reaching the end of the school year and many students need to take final exams. Unfortunately, too many students have never learned effective study strategies to prepare. Even worse, many of us as parents and educators are giving bad advice when we say things like “re-read your notes” or “look over the study guide.”

Effective studying is more than putting information into the brain. Students have to practice getting that information back on demand. Simply looking over and re-reading frustrates students and usually doesn’t result in better exam grades.

Fortunately there is a solution that will make studying more effective (and hopefully less boring.)

You may know I co-host a weekly education podcast with Gretchen Wegner, an expert in learning theory and effective study skills. I’m sharing a few of our top episodes on preparing for final exams. Hopefully you and your student will find a handful of tips to make this year’s finals less stressful and result in better overall grades.

189: How to Make an Anti-Cram Plan for Final Exams

We all know it’s bad to cram for finals.  It is bad for your brain and usually creates more stress and panic than results. But what should you do instead? Plan, of course! (And start thinking about studying differently– make it an ongoing system rather an end of the semester, term, or unit cram.)

During this episode of the podcast, Gretchen, my co-host who is a study skills expert, walks us through the steps to get ready to rock your finals, including:

  • Mistakes teachers & students make when preparing for exams
  • Why the Study Cycle is so important, and how to teach it to students
  • What the Study Senses are, and how to incorporate them into your study plan
  • A simple formula for how to learn, so students can identify and fix their weakest link, and
  • How to create a final exam study plan that (hopefully) kicks cramming to the curb

134: Easy Tips for Prepping for Finals Over the Holidays

We recorded this episode before winter break last school year, so the title refers to fall semester finals, but the information is relevant to spring exams as well.

Listen to find out:

  • How to put in more effort to studying without feeling like you’re working too hard
  • The importance of testing yourself using “spaced retrieval”, and a few simple ways to do this over the holidays
  • How to get yourself organized so you don’t waste time later finding important study tools
  • A crucial tip for how to use your notes so that you’re actually learning (rather than just faking it)
  • and more!

084: Everything You Need to Know to Rock Your Finals

It’s time to study for final exams! Are you ready?

In this episode, Gretchen outlines 7 tips for how to plan and study for your finals, while saving time to have some fun too. Here’s the short version of Gretchen’s tips; tune into the podcast for more details about how to put them into action.

  1. Map out your entire approach to final exams on one page, so you can see it all at once.
  2. Plan in breaks so you don’t forget to have fun
  3. Practice breaking down each final exam into actionable parts, so that you’re clear exactly what you need to do each day to study.
  4. Organize all your papers and supplies so that you locate notes, worksheets, and old tests that can serve as quizzable study tools.
  5. Study in the manner of the test, and plan backwards.
  6. Build in incentives so you follow through with your plan.
  7. Create clear study routines that are attached to a) things you already do or b) things you like doing.

014: How to Study So Well You are 100% Ready for Every Test

Tests are boring to study for and stressful to take.

But they are the key to good grades…and to effective learning (according to some studies). In this episode, Gretchen lays out four key techniques that help students get great tests grades much more often with less stress.

1. Think Like a Teacher. Too often we assume that teachers are the ones who do the teaching, and kids are simply passive recipients. However, studying is a time when students are actually in charge of their own learning, and so it can help for students to think of study time as teaching time. It is very helpful to learn how to think actively about how learning works, the way teachers do, and the next three techniques are examples of how to do this.

2. Study in the Manner of the Test. This may seem like a “no duh” point, but studies prove that students perform better on tests when the way they study looks exactly like the format of the test. Gretchen explains in detail how students can apply this technique to their study processes. She also refers to Quizlet as an effective tool for creating your own multiple choice tests.

3. Make a Quizzable Study Tool. Too often students fail to think about how they can prove to themselves that they have mastered the information and skills on which they will be tested. An answer to this is to create a study tool that is formatted in such a way that they can easily test themselves. Gretchen describes several different types of study tools, and how students can use them to prove that they are ready for the test.

4. Plan Backwards. Too often students simply start studying, flipping through text book pages and notes as a way to study. A more effective process is to work backwards, understanding what content and skills will be on the test, planning your quizzable study tool, and calendaring the specific actions you are going to take to study. Gretchen explains in more detail how to create a Backwards Plan for yourself before every test.

Take a little time to make sure you are studying effectively for your remaining exams!

Back to School Tips for All Ages

A version of this article originally appeared in MomsConfession.

The barrage of back-to-school commercials begins now, pushing everything from notebooks to computers, eyeglasses, furniture, and appliances.  Whether your child is starting pre-school or going back to college, here are some back to school tips to make the end-of-summer a breeze:

1.  Start practicing your school routine now.

Begin to transition from the lazy days of summer by setting alarms (and bedtimes!) earlier and following your normal school-year routine: have kids make (or help make) breakfast and/or pack lunches; let older kids practice driving to the high school parking lot on their own.

2.  Communicate clearly with teachers.

Tell your child’s teachers and counselors about any learning difficulties, behavioral issues, or other concerns ahead of time…whether your preschooler gets anxious around strangers or your middle-schooler has a learning difference.  Help high school students develop the ability to communicate for themselves.  When students can act as their own advocate, they are more likely to receive the help they need.

3.  Set expectations for “study time.”

When kids know ahead of time that you expect them to do a little schoolwork every day, you will have fewer fights about it.  Let them help establish goals for learning, and schedule study time into each day. I’ve seen many students, usually in middle-school, who can actually complete all their homework in study hall or on the bus ride home.  Just because the school isn’t challenging them academically doesn’t mean they shouldn’t develop regular study skills.  Set a minimum study time for your house; homework or not, your child will spend this amount of time reading, reviewing, or completing academic goals.  High school students could spend a minimum of an hour a day completing school assignments, researching a topic of interest, reading, working SAT sample questions, and so on.

4.  Identify academic weaknesses and potential resources.

Don’t wait for the first progress report to take action.  Sometimes it is enough to recognize that your child will need to spend a little extra time learning his multiplication facts or completing her geometry homework.  Other times, the weakness may be serious enough to require help.  Look for study tools, peer tutors, tutorial time from teachers, counseling resources, and outside assistance if necessary.  Every year I have families call me a few weeks before exams looking for someone who can help with math.  All of the quality math tutors I know tend to book-up by the end of October.

5.  Insist students participate in activities.

Activities allow kids to develop leadership, teamwork, and talents.  School clubs, sports, Scouts, church, music lessons, UIL academics, community service, theater, and recreational activities help develop interests.  And active students have an advantage later when it comes to college admissions: Schools want students who have taken time to give back and cultivate their talents.

Keep in mind colleges are looking for dedication and depth.  Students are better off committing to a handful of meaningful activities than trying to join a bunch of groups that don’t do much.  It is a good idea to keep a list of all activities, honors, awards, service, and work because these are the items typically found on a college-bound resume.

6.  Allow time to adjust.

As parents, we expect kindergarteners and first-year college students to experience some difficulty adjusting to their new environments.  But even students returning to the same school may need time and support to adapt to new classrooms, teachers, friends, routines, and expectations.  Be aware that all students react to change differently.

7.  Take time for yourself.

Even if it is a five-minute coffee break or a hot bath after the kids go to bed, take time for yourself.  Back to school can be stressful.

What are your back-to-school survival tips?