How to Stay on Top of Your Studying Before Finals Begin

We’ve all been there. The clock reads 2 a.m., we’re caffeinated beyond belief and finals week seems like it’s about to ruin our lives. At this point, you’re praying for a miracle, or for a fairy godmother to bless you with a semester’s worth of knowledge. Here’s how to avoid that stressful cram session.

1. Revisit the syllabi from all of your classes

The first step should be to dust off the syllabi handed out on the first day. In order to successfully survive finals season, you need to know when they are happening. Maddie Gordon, a freshman at Lehigh University, says, “I forgot about an important paper because I was too busy focusing on my other subjects. I should have looked at the syllabi more closely.” The more time you have to prepare, the higher your chances of doing well.

2. Pick out an organization method (planner, white board, app, calendar, etc.)

Remembering important dates is much more effective if you have them written down or programed to remind you about them. This is where the usefulness of a planner of some sort comes in handy. Input all exam dates, review sessions and tutoring you may have the few weeks leading up to the tests.

And if writing down your dates is not your thing, there are plenty of other options to get you organized for the big day. If you’re more of a tech type you can use any number of apps and websites to help organize upcoming dates. Theresa Sansone, a freshman at the College of New Jersey, utilizes Google Calendar. “It has helped me stay on top of my schoolwork,” she says. “Sometimes you get flustered with too many assignments, the calendar helps me prioritize what needs to be done.” You too can take advantage of her system by using a whiteboard calendar, a virtual planner, etc. The style of your organizer is up to you, and that’s a part of what makes organization universally helpful. By customizing what you want and need, you are better able to tell if reminders on your phone or sticky notes work best for you.

Related: 5 Bad Academic Habits You Had Last Year (& How to Ditch Them!) 

3. Color code

To make routine dates blend in and important dates stand out, color-coding is the perfect trick. Once you have picked a preferred method of organization, the next step is to sort different subjects and activities by a variety of colors. For example, club soccer can be in blue while English is in green. You could even extend this method of organization to study practices as well. Ariella Silverstein, a freshman at Lehigh University, says, "I like color coding my study guides before tests so I know what material to look for in the textbook, and what material I don't need to revisit." This is definitely an opportunity for your creativity, but if you aren’t crafty and/or don’t have the patience, writing in different pen colors and using highlighters still does the trick. 

4. Make a study plan

After you have a handle on what the next few weeks will be like, it’s important to create a plan in order to master those hellish times. We do not want mental breakdowns and cram sessions. While having pretty pen colors and ornate agendas can be somewhat of an illusion of successful study sessions, it’s important to remind yourself that organization is only half the battle to acing your exams. Blocking out time for studying should be the next course of action. Ideally, you should have about two weeks in advance to study for cumulative final exams give or take depending on the subject. That cushion of time may seem like a lot, but when you’re juggling four or five subjects, it may not be enough.

Using your well-crafted planner, block out certain hours that are devoted to studying a certain chapter of a subject. For example, under Monday, May 1st you might write, “Study for Biology chapter 2 from 5:00 p.m.- 6:30 p.m.” This way, you have specific guidelines of when and what you’re supposed to be doing. Students make the mistake of rewriting “study for bio” every single day leading up to the exam in their planners with no intention or motivation to execute because their plan is not specific. Without the specificity, the task of learning an entire semester’s worth of biology seems daunting and impossible, thus demotivating students to execute it.

Josh Newton from Rowan University mentions how he struggles with staying on top of his work without using a planner. "Unless I write specifically what I need to do that day, I usually forget. Writing down each task seems tedious but it works." Making a plan provides some direction in the super stressful weeks before finals. And with this method, you’ll be able to know how much studying you have already completed.

5. Execute the study plan (say goodbye to procrastination!)

Lehigh University’s Center for Academic Success promotes the use of planners and other hourly agendas in order to promote good study behaviors. A certified method of actually tackling those written out plans is to do things such as “setting realistic goals, and asking for help when necessary.” The following are quick tips and tricks in order to study smarter, not longer.

  • Review and revise notes soon after class
  • Take notes as you read your assignment
  • Review for exams by explaining concepts to others
  • Create sample exam questions and answer them as you study

Utilizing these five tips and tricks will definitely prepare you more for finals season. To be honest, staring at the textbook blankly and wishing for a miracle is not a valid method anymore. Take charge of your academic future and your grades will reflect it. Good luck!