Hand writing on calendar planner

It’s nearing the end of the school year, which means it’s almost time for final exams. While the best way to prepare is to stay up on homework and assignments throughout the year, it’s always a good idea to go into finals week with a study plan in place.

Creating a plan—and sticking to in—minimizes stress and ensures you’re efficient with your precious time. Get started early (like now-ish) for the plan to be most effective.

Here are six tips for developing a study plan that will get you ready to ace those tests.

Print Out the Week’s Calendar

It’s wise to have a visual that shows all of your exam dates and times; it helps keep you on task and aware of what tests are coming up and when. Even if you have the dates in your planner or planner app, a printout of finals week is useful to have on hand.

And spoiler alert: If you’re doing things right, finals week should be more like finals month. Meaning you should pay attention in class leading up to each exam to make sure you’re aware of what will be tested. That way you can prepare well in advance of the few days prior to each exam.

Rank Your Exams—From Most to Least Intense

Woman studying on computer

Some instructors give a final exam that is just another test, while others make their finals cumulative for the whole semester. Some exams will be harder than others. If you’re not sure about an upcoming exam, check the syllabus for that class. Or better yet, talk to your teacher to get a sense of what material the final will cover.

Once you get a handle on what topics each of your instructors will have on their finals, make a list for each class and a summary of what is on each final. Then, put them in order from the most amount of material covered (and most challenging subject matter) to the least.

Set Goals and Prioritize

You need to adapt your study plan based on a few things:

Man writing on desk
  • your goals for each individual class
  • the scope and difficulty of the final exam
  • your grade in each class going into finals

The math final might be one of your most in depth, but maybe you’re most comfortable with the material—and have a strong A in the class. This might go lower on your study priority list.

Your science final might be worth 20% of your grade (and you struggled on those last two exams), but you have an opportunity to replace those grades with the final exam grade. This would be an exam to spend some extra time preparing for.

Your English final exam may be the one you feel the most prepared for, and therefore it could theoretically require the least amount of your study time. But if you have the chance to raise your grade from a B to an A, you definitely don’t want to blow this one off.

Think about each class in this way—ranking them in order of importance. Then spend your time according to this priority list.

Develop a Study Schedule for Each Exam

Some final exams will require more time to thoroughly prepare for than others. Create your study schedule based on what material you know the exam will cover—and using the goals and priorities you set up in the last step. Do your best to estimate how long you’ll need for reviewing each topic.

If there’s content that the instructor has indicated might appear on the final, you’ll need to build in study time for that too. Once you have an idea of how many hours (or sessions) you’ll need to prepare, then put that schedule into your planner or smartphone calendar.

For example, your cumulative chemistry final might cover six chapters worth of information. You can work backward from the exam date, like this:

  • Final exam date: May 6
  • Review all: May 4-5
  • Review Chapter 5-6: May 1-3
  • Review Chapter 3-4: April 28-30
  • Review Chapters 1-2: April 25-27

Treat your Body Right

There’s no getting around it: Finals week is very hectic. It’s tempting to stay up late studying—but you’ll be far more successful if you plan ahead and avoid cramming.

But how, you ask?

Start by setting yourself a reasonable, consistent bedtime so that you’ll get the sleep you need. Don’t save your most important studying for after midnight. Do the highest priority work earlier.

fruits and vegetables

Fit in time to de-stress. Schedule it if you need to. Whether that’s taking a quick walk—or unwinding with a friend for an hour in between study sessions—make sure you take breaks (even if they’re short).

And last but not least, skip the late-night junk food. Feed your brain what it really needs: balanced meals, healthy snacks and plenty of water. Hit the store the week before finals to stock up.

Now Get Even More Specific

Finals study plans work best when they are detailed. Using a Google sheet, list out everything you need to do for each class, each day. This is important because there might be days where you’re taking one final and studying for another.

Man studying

Lay it all out—day by day. For example:

May 10:

  • Calculus: Review study guide
  • Calculus: Address difficult problems from chapter 3
  • Communication: Final look at study guide and notes
  • Communication: Final exam at 4:00

Worth the Effort

Final exams are important and, depending on the class, they can make up a big percentage of your grade. Take them seriously and give them your very best effort. No one ever said, “Man, I wish I’d studied less for that final.” Right?

With a strategic and detailed plan for your finals prep, you’ll be able to approach your studying in a more organized, efficient way. In the end, the effort will be totally worth it!

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