Preparing for Finals: Some Practical Tips
Translation: Mark Ioli
It may be dark outside, but strings of lights illuminate the windows of nearby houses and point the way toward campus. The study hall is filled with the scent of mandarins and the sound of a can of malt being cracked open. Christmas is certainly right around the corner and on students’ minds, which can only mean one thing: finals are underway. For many this is the first finals period at university, while for others this time of year has taken on a fixed form and routine. Whether you’re a veteran academic or a beginner, there’s no need to be filled with anxiety or anguish over the upcoming exams, as there are many ways to make this time of year both rewarding and enjoyable.
Academic and vocational counselors at the University of Iceland know this well, and recently their department gave a lecture on methods and strategies for studying and test-taking. Kristjana MöllSigurðardóttir went over the most important aspects of the finals period and gave some practical advice on preparing for the upcoming exams. The lecture covered how to organize during the exam period, the days prior to a test, the test itself, and finally suggestions on how best to utilize the time at the end of an exam. A reporter for the Student Paper was a fly on the wall at the lecture and jotted down the main points worth keeping in mind for the coming test time:
Before an exam
It’s important to have an overview of the exam period. Write down the most important dates and times. When are the deadlines to hand in projects, and when and where are your exams?
The right environment makes all the difference. Avoid studying in bed or on the couch. Your concentration won’t be as good, and there’s a risk you might fall asleep. It’s a good idea to change your surroundings regularly, for example, walking from the study hall over to the library, giving your brain a little oxygen along the way.
Arrange your study material for each exam well ahead of time. Print out slides or organize the material in folders on your computer. But don’t spend too much time on this if time is short before the exam; it’s better to use that time to study the material itself.
Use your time wisely in the days leading up to the exam and avoid putting things off – too much procrastination can cause stress and feelings of unease.
The key is to review before the exam. The more often you read over the material, the easier it will be to retrieve it from your brain during the exam. Read the same material several times in short sessions rather than just once over a long period of time.
It can be beneficial to approach the material from different angles utilizing a variety of methods. For example, you can read both the textbook and slides, prepare a mind map or flash cards, and discuss the material with other students. Notes are a student’s best friend; things stick best in your memory when they are written down.
Be mindful of your health: sleep, activity, and sensible meals make all the difference during finals. Stand up and move around at regular intervals and avoid sitting hunched over for too long. Get enough sleep, since while you are asleep your brain is hard at work processing all the information you learned earlier in the day.
Make studies a priority – the party can wait until finals are over. Then you’ll be able to celebrate your freedom and toast all your hard work – not before.
Think kindly of yourself. Giving yourself a constructive pep-talk makes all the difference during stressful times such as these and contributes to good results. You are awesome!
The Day of the Exam
On the day of the exam don’t let anything knock you off balance. Eat a good meal, show up on time, and trust that your preparations the past few days will pay off. Don’t increase your anxiety by having to look for a parking spot at the last minute or rushing through the material early that morning.
Once the exam begins it is important to use your time well. One suggestion is to allocate time in accordance with the weight of the questions, and to leave yourself about 10 minutes at the end to go over the exam and correct any mistakes.
Read the directions well and answer the questions asked. Avoid spending precious time writing about something that wasn’t asked about.
Be here and now: Focus on the exam itself and don’t waste time looking at your fellow students or thinking about something you could have done better earlier in the day.
After the Exam
When the exam is over it’s good to clear your head and relax. It can be good to listen to relaxing music or jump into the pool, for example.
What’s coming up next? Plan your next steps and think about new material.
Avoid getting stuck thinking about how the last exam went. Right now, it’s important to be filled with optimism and begin preparing for your next exam with a positive outlook.