A Freshman Girl's Guide to Final Exams

You’ve almost successfully survived your first semester in college. You’ve passed your midterms, learned how to battle the “freshman 15” and even how to party at frats without looking like a freshman. But there’s still one major rite of passage you haven’t overcome yet: your first round of final exams.
You may or may not have taken multiple AP, IB, SAT, ACT, etc. tests during high school, but how do these compare to college exams? And how can you go about studying without a Princeton Review study book? Will these exams cause your grades to plummet?
If it’s your first time taking final exams in college, you’re likely feeling anxious and a little unsure about how to prepare. But never fear, collegiettes, Her Campus has gathered some tips from college girls across the country to help bring your semester to a successful close.
DO make a study schedule (and stick to it!).

A few weeks before your finals, figure out which exams are on which days and when you’re going to study for each. This will help you stay on track by allotting enough time to study for all of your different exams. “Studying over a period of time will help reassure you that you know the material and will certainly reduce your stress,” says Robyn, a junior at the University of Southern California. If you know some exams will be harder than others, set aside more time to study for those tests.
DON’T underestimate the value of mnemonic devices. 

It may seem silly, but when you have a long list of words or phrases to memorize, mnemonic devices can be the key to making sure you don’t forget any. For example, let’s say you have a list of nine key terms you have to remember. Take the first letter of each word and create a phrase with it. The funnier, the better! “I like to make flashcards with mnemonic devices because it makes it easier to study things quickly,” says Karen, a senior at San Diego State University. Just don’t forget the meaning behind each one!

DO choose your study location wisely.

Whether it’s your dorm room, the library or a local Starbucks, find a study location that works for you and then call it home during finals week. “It’s important to find a place where you know you’re going to get work done,” says Jordan, a junior at the University of Washington. So if your roommate is too distracting, or the library becomes a (really fun) couple hours of people-watching, relocate!
DON’T try to reread the whole book/books for the class.

At this point, you’ve probably had to read thousands of pages per class (assuming you actually did the reading in the first place). But whatever you do, don’t try to reread the whole book! First, this is a lofty goal and you’ll probably give up a couple of chapters in. Second, even if you make it through the book, you’ll be so inundated with information that you won’t be able to keep any of it straight. Instead, go back over your notes, and then make an outline of each reading or chapter. That way, you’ll keep the most important information fresh in your mind.
DO actually look at your notes again.

Your notes truly are your best resource for the exam, so don’t forget to use them as a critical component of your studying. Even if your professor is nice and decides to hand out a study guide, it might not include everything. Also, looking over your notes is a quick way to discover what concepts or chapters are confusing you. “I usually skim my notes a few times to make sure I know what topics I need to review more,” Jordan says. If you took notes on paper, typing all your notes in one document on your computer can be a useful way to organize all your lessons.
DON’T pull an all-nighter the night before the exam.

You may think that pulling all-nighters is a college norm, and it may be for some people. But it certainly isn’t something that you should do. In fact, Dr. David Vanata, a professor of family and consumer sciences at Ashland University, says students who pull frequent all-nighters frequently have lower GPAs. “All-nighters tend to result in a decrease in productivity and mental sharpness,” he says. Chances are, you’ll probably do better on the exam if you get a few more hours of sleep versus trying to cram the semester into one night.

DO organize a study group with your classmates.

Sometimes the best way to review something (other than staring intently at your notebook for hours on end) is talking through it with your classmates. Get together with your friends from class or send out an all-class email and see who’d be willing to study with you.
DON’T assume you’re already well prepared for the exam.

This is a key difference between high school and college. In high school, you may have been able to do well on exams if you paid attention throughout the semester and did all of your assignments. In college, however, the tests are much more challenging and require that you know all of the information and can apply it to new situations or problem sets. Simply stated, don’t count on winging the exam! When in doubt, study more.

DO give yourself study breaks.

Don’t plan on locking yourself in a room with a Red Bull and a bag of chips for hours on end. Your mental alertness will start to diminish and you won’t retain what you’re learning. So take 30 minutes to go get frozen yogurt, Skype with a friend or go for a walk. Then refocus on your study materials feeling refreshed.

DON’T Cheat. Ever.

You may have been able to get away with the sly copying-off-your-best-friend’s-exam routine in high school, but college is a whole different ballgame. Sure, you might be able to get away with it now too, but the punishment of being caught is extremely severe, ranging from failing the class to being expelled from the university (not to mention the fact that cheating is unethical). Keep these scenarios in mind before you decide to do something you might regret later.
DO review your midterm in case any questions are repeated on the final.

Most professors aren’t trying to trick you. So if you’re given a midterm (or multiple midterms) and the final is cumulative throughout the semester, you’ll probably see some repeat of questions, or at least concepts. Go over any previous tests in great detail. Not only will this help you understand your professor’s testing format, you might see some of the exact same questions.
DON’T forget the blue books and Scantrons.

It is really important that you have all of your materials when you show up to the exam. This isn’t the SAT. Some schools will give out blue books at the exam, but if you’re told beforehand that you need to bring them yourself the professor probably won’t have extras handy. It’s crucial that you realize what you need to bring before the exam starts. Don’t count on your classmates to have extras either! And if you’re using a Scantron, double-check to make sure you didn’t skip any rows and throw off all your answers. Since college classes are often way bigger than high school classes, you won’t be able to talk your way out of a big mistake like that!
DO get some exercise during finals week.

One of the best ways to blow off some steam (literally) is by hitting the gym. “Working out during finals week helps me distress, clear my mind and get my endorphins going,” says Karen.
“Besides the obvious short-term benefits of exercise, in the long-run general fitness improves our ability to withstand the stresses of the day,” Paul Leavis, PhD, associate professor of physiology at Tufts University School of Medicine said in an interview with a Tufts student publication.
DON’T show up late to the exam. 

This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people stroll into exams late. “I’ve seen people show up late to exams and run out of time,” Jordan says. So if being on time isn’t your thing, change that… at least for finals week.

DO find out if you know anybody who has taken the class before.

As a freshman, chances are you aren’t the first person you know to take a class, especially if it’s a big introductory course that you’re worried about. So ask around your sorority, sports team or post a status update on Facebook and see if anybody you know has taken the class already. If you find somebody (and they had the same teacher), there’s a good chance that the test will be similar—if not exactly the same—so ask the person for study advice!

DON’T throw out (or burn) your class materials until you get your official grade.

Though this doesn’t occur often, sometimes grade disputes happen and you feel like the grade you received doesn’t reflect your final grade. However, you can’t prove this to your advisor or other school faculty members without showing examples of your work and tests. “I had a professor give me a low grade in one of my classes. My school had me create a binder of all the work I had done throughout the semester, and my grade in the class went from a B to an A,” Robyn says.
DO dress in layers for the test.

Final exams may be a pain, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear uncomfortable clothes. Wear leggings or comfortable skinny jeans and a tank top, sweater and jacket so you’ll prepared whether the test room is hot or freezing. “I usually wear athletic shoes or sandals, workout pants, a t-shirt and a sweatshirt to finals. That’s my go-to outfit because I know I’ll be comfortable throughout the test,” says Grace, a junior at the University of Oregon.
DON’T help anybody out unless it’s a two-way street.

Okay, that sounds a little harsh. But, whatever you do, don’t make an awesome study guide and send it to everybody in the class. It’s great if you collaborate with your friends or other classmates to create a study guide (in fact, you shoulddo that!), but don’t just give your study materials to other people in the class because you’re feeling a little generous. Make your hard work pay off for you!

DO tackle the hardest part of the test first.

If you’re taking a long test, start by doing the hardest section first. On many tests, this means the essay section. If you can power through the essay(s), you’ll feel better knowing that they’re done and can easily finish the multiple choice. “I like finding the essay question that I know is going to be the hardest so that I can finish in a timely manner and still have time to do the easy ones,” says Grace.
DO bring extra pens, pencils, erasers, water—whatever you might need!

Whenever you walk into a test, think worst-case scenario. You might lose a pen, break a pencil or be in desperate need of an eraser after you realize your Scantron bubbles have been off by a question. So be prepared for this! Don’t expect other people to help you out mid-test. “Last semester, I forgot to bring a pencil because I’m bad at planning ahead, so I was scrambling and I had to take the test in red pen. It was kind of embarrassing,” says Michelle, a senior at the University of Southern California.
Use these tips and you’ll surely be on your way to final exam success. Remember, the best way to study and prepare for a test is to learn what works best for you. Good luck and keep your eyes on the prize (winter break!) collegiettes!
College girls across the country