This Is How I Went from B- Exam’s to a 100% on My Final
Updated: May 14
As I look back on this article as a recent college grad, I still stand by every piece of advice. I implemented these tips after this course experience, and I was able to graduate with honors. Take it or leave it, but it works.
Originally published: 4/27/2018
Finals are make or break. Although you worked hard throughout the semester, the weight of your final exam is enough to completely change your grade—for the better or for the worse.
With such high stakes, it can be an incredibly stressful time. The last week of the semester is consumed with sleep deprivation and too many withdraws from your bank account for crappy takeout.
But hey, how else can you manage your five cumulative finals in four days? The thought of the amount of work and the importance of the exams is completely overwhelming.
For that, I’m here to help.
In the past, I have googled finals study tips, and there are so many vague, generic lists out there. How do you know if they’re actually effective?
Let me just say, everything I’m about to tell you really works.
I was in a position last semester where I was taking a course with 3 exams and minimal grade padding. For the first 2 exams, I got an 80% and an 84%. In order to get an A in the class, I needed to get a 99.5% on my final exam.
The feat seemed impossible. All I knew is that I wanted to study hard and get an A-. You know what? I did better than that. I got the A and was able to do it with a few simple steps.
Following that semester, I felt like I understood how to properly prepare for my exams. It’s easy to brush these tips off as unnecessary, but I guarantee following these steps will only make you do better.
Here are my study suggestions for when you're preparing for your finals.
8. Tidiness Boosts Productivity
During such a stressful time, the last thing you want to do is keep your room clean. I hate to break it to you, but studies have shown that disorganization leads to less productivity.
With the stress of work piling like the stack of dirty clothes in the back corner of your room, a messy space can impact your overall mood. All of that clutter can add more strain onto an already overwhelming time.
In my case, having a clean room makes me feel on top of things, like I am organized and I can accomplish anything. Having a similar mindset is critical when working for a specific grade.
7. Don’t Forget About Fueling Up
You’re studying in the library for 8 hours when you realize you haven’t eaten a real meal all day. Since you’re so far from your apartment, of course you’re going to order a pizza. I mean, that’s less time to worry about food and more time to study, right?
You’re lying to yourself if nothing I said above applies to you. As a driven individual, there have been many times that I have forgotten to eat and drink water. It’s really not okay. You need to eat real meals and stay hydrated.
Don’t fall for the takeout trap, either! It may be convenient, but greasy, heavy food will not give you the energy your body deserves when working so hard. Try to make yourself a good dinner, or, if you’re out of the apartment all day, pack a lunch with healthy snacks to hold you over.
Give your body the proper fuel that it needs to get through your exams.
6. Unplug and Sleep
Raise your hand if you don’t look at your phone before you go to sleep. 🙋
I’m going to confidently assume no one rose their hand. How can you help it? Once you’re snuggled under your covers, getting that last bit of information or entertainment from your phone is the period on the end of your long day.
I challenge you to try and avoid this when you’re preparing for your finals.
Although incredibly tempting, looking at your phone before bed is unnecessary and can keep you up longer than you intended. Your phone needs to recharge at night and so do you.
Also, avoid throwing off your sleep schedule. It’s tempting to study during all hours of the night, but retaining the information becomes more challenging with every hour you stay awake.
If you’re that concerned with not having enough time to study, wake up early, make yourself a hot beverage, and then go back to your study materials.
5. Concentrate on the Best Way You Learn
I’m a very visual person. However, I didn’t always know that about myself.
I used to try a bunch of different study methods like recording myself reading my notes and then listening back or reading through my notes and putting a star next to things I didn’t understand.
All of those methods worked to an extent, but it wasn’t easy for me to retain the information. I learned that, for me, going into a classroom with a huge white board to make diagrams is an amazing study tool. I love when information is organized in a way I understand.
This is what I did right for that perfect final. There were four main sections we covered in class, and I broke down each topic into subtopics and more subtopics. That way, when I got to the exam, it was so much easier to recall information as I would mentally picture what sections it went under.
I’m not saying this is your key to success, but understanding how you best retain information is critical.
To find out, just try out multiple methods and see what comes to mind when you retain the information. Did you hear it before? Did you see it before? Did you read it before?
4. Work and Walk Away
It can’t be that surprising that the girl with the forever looming concussion would suggest taking breaks. I must say, however, that learning to take breaks has changed my life for the better. Not only that, but it has made my time studying so much more efficient.
There have been times in the past where I would read through information and tell myself I understood it. I would keep going in search of a finish line where I could finally stop studying. The problem was I would go back the next day and not know a ton of the information.
Instead of just plowing through, reading notes, and rushing to finish, I have learned to work and walk away.
It’s hard to pull yourself from something when you want to finish but avoid giving yourself a mental knot. Study for a couple hours, go to the gym, and then come back to your work.
If you catch yourself reading the same line 5 times, and it’s still not resonating, you know it’s time to step away.
3. Buddy Up
I think it’s a great idea to study with others! I don’t do this the entire time when I’m preparing for a final, but it’s a nice way to change up your work environment.
It can be hard to avoid distractions from your friends, but here are some perks to consider:
-You can talk through concepts to make sure you fully understand them.
Because each person brings their own knowledge to the table, sometimes they may have information you didn’t know you needed to cover.
It takes the edge off of working tirelessly. Sometimes going off topic to talk about that adorable golden retriever video is okay, as long as you don’t let it get to your head.
2. Use All Your Given Resources
When I was in high school studying for exams, I used to look over a review sheet and call it a day. I trusted that whatever was on the review was what the test would look like.
College is a different beast.
What I’ve learned is that you have to study every resource to be fully prepared for a college exam. Saying the review is good enough, just isn’t.
For past exams, although I was tired of studying the material, I would force myself to cover the last little bit of information I really didn’t look at when studying prior. Amazing enough, I always came across a question that covered that last-minute topic I studied.
Doing this is incredibly rewarding. It’s an awesome feeling to know you put in the right amount of work.
If you work through the material and do not give up halfway through, I am telling you, you will do great on your exams.
1. Study in Advance.
This is the #1 reason I feel so much more confident when walking into an exam. For my first few exams when I didn’t get the grade I wanted, I think I studied one to two days in advance. For the final, I studied an entire week in advance.
It may seem overkill, but it can’t hurt you in any way—it only gives you more exposure to the material.
Whether it’s reading your notes, taking a Quizlet while watching Netflix, or doing a practice exam, studying days in advance will help you fully retain the material.
If self-discipline is an issue, think about the fact that you’re paying a lot of money to get this material in the first place. Don’t waste the opportunity. Learn the information to better yourself in life and to take advantage of your large college investment.
**Quick Additional Tips**
-Don’t study in bed because it will make you feel lazier and in turn less productive.
-Stop checking your phone while studying and set alarms at times you feel you should be allowed to look at it.
Study smart, not hard. I know you probably hate that expression (because I always have), but it is true.
Being smart looks like getting plenty of sleep, going to the gym, and making good quality food. The key is to wisely manage your time and be self-disciplined.
No one is taking you by the hand and telling you what to do. Take control of your work and get it done!
Remember, never settle for what is easy. The reward comes from what you can achieve.
Good luck on your finals.