Tips for Helping Students Prepare for Finals

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by Shannon Dobranski, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Academic Success

It's never too early to begin planning for finals. If your son or daughter feels overwhelmed by the prospect of exams, here are some ideas you might want to share:

Plan ahead. Finals are overwhelming because students are "suddenly" accountable for a semester's worth of information for each class. The truth is that the final schedule is published at the start of term, and students should be able to anticipate and prepare for these exams with a little foresight and some time management tools.

They should start with a list of everything that should be reviewed for each class, a list of the remaining assignments and obligations for each class, and a calendar (many students use Google Calendar, but there are free paper templates and other resources widely available online). Estimate the amount of time required for each task on the lists, and then plug those tasks into blank spaces on the calendar. Each night students should review which tasks they have completed and how they might adjust to make more progress the next day.

Study strategically. Students will find that there is a lot of material to cover—more, perhaps, than time will allow. They should try to identify, then, which ideas and topics are most critical to review. The syllabus and class notes provide two good resources that will indicate which information the professor especially values and that may appear on the final. Students should also identify a distraction-free space and a high-energy time in which to study. Some will need to power down their electronics to stay focused.

Take breaks. The human mind isn't designed to focus on physics for six hours at a time. Urge your student to study in blocks of no more than a few hours. Brief breaks allow students to return to the material with a fresh outlook that can hasten understanding.

Try group study. Studying with knowledgeable classmates can be an efficient way to review material. Why spend an hour struggling with a problem alone, if a classmate can clearly explain the material in a few minutes? Group study is also valuable because it forces each group member to explain concepts and ideas out loud. We understand information best when we can teach it to others. Advise your son or daughter to choose study partners judiciously. If the group consistently wastes time, move on to other study partners or independent study.

Take advantage of review sessions. Professors, TAs, and tutoring programs sometimes offer review sessions before major exams. These sessions are almost always time well spent.

Sleep, eat, and call home. Too often, students pursue academic success at a cost to their personal and social selves. Remind your son or daughter that a healthy mind requires a healthy body and urge them to maintain a regular sleep and dining schedule. Students should also seek reassurance and advice from a support network of family, friends, academic advisors, and other campus professionals. A pep talk or sympathetic ear can work wonders for a student under pressure.

The Center for Academic Success offers 1-on-1 Tutoring, Peer-Led Undergraduate Study (PLUS), Academic Coaching, and other success programs for students who want to take their learning to the next level. We have time management tools and other study aids for free in our reception areas, and we're conveniently located in Clough 273 and 283. To learn more about our services, visit


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Sara Warner
  • Created: 03/31/2015
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016


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