1. Visit your professors’ office hours.
Of the already small number of students who actually use office hours, few of them know how to take full advantage of the face-to-face meeting.
Rather than asking the professor what’ll be covered on the exam – a question that should be obvious and was probably already asked by the inattentive student in the back of the room – ask some thoughtful follow-up questions related to subjects from class.
Even more valuable than asking questions is the chance to help your professor put a face and personality with the name (or worse, student ID number). When your professor is slogging through hundreds of answer sheets the night before grades are due, she’ll remember the personal interaction with students who bothered to take advantage of her office hours.
2. A) Make a list of distractions. B) Don’t do those things.
Important Desperate times call for pro-active desperate measures.
Delete Facebook, Twitter and Angry Birds from your phone until after finals week. If you’re especially prone to compulsive Facebook use, give your username and password to a trusted friend to avoid the temptation while in the computer lab.
Fill your Netflix queue with some documentaries that complement your classwork so you won’t be tempted to watch an entire season of The Wire all in one sitting.
Find a study carrel that faces away from high-traffic areas. It might be terrible feng shui, but keeping your back to passersby can improve focus and limit the temptation to compulsively hit “refresh” on your favorite news sites.
Finally, have some good excuses ready for when your friends come calling with invites to Benihana.
3. Make your own study guides.
At least one week before the test, complete typed study guides for each chapter or subject that will be covered on the exam and carry them with you everywhere. Summarize the information in your own words and use small pockets of time between classes or waiting for a friend to quiz yourself.
Once the semester is over you can stick the study guides in the chapter’s scholarship file for future brothers who take the same class, provided they meet your school’s honor code guidelines.
4. Explain the class to your grandmother.
You’ve probably heard the popular saying “You don’t truly understand something until you can explain it to your grandmother.” (Those who’ve tried to explain Twitter to their relatives at Thanksgiving dinner can relate.)
Okay, maybe you’re not actually going to give Nana an organic chemistry lesson over the phone. But explaining the core concepts of a class to a friend or family member can be a useful way to see how well you know the material. If they can repeat it back to you then you’re on the way to owning this exam.
For another strategy, try forming a study group with classmates and assign a different section to each person. Sometimes you don’t really understand something until you teach it to others.
5. Simulate the testing experience.
A buzzing cellphone, a new building, a frigid classroom, an unfamiliar testing format. The tiniest [or justifiably maddening] thing can throw off your concentration. Thankfully there’s a way to prepare for that.
Don’t let the actual exam be the first time you’ve been tested on the information. Write some practice tests using class materials and the study guides you created earlier, and then take one in the same building where the exam will be administered.
Trick yourself into thinking this is the actual thing – however you do here will be your actual grade. This is it, no redo. Use your score to make adjustments accordingly. Repeat.
This is how prospective graduate students master entrance exams like the GRE, GMAT or MCAT. Simulate the testing experience so the real thing feels like a piece of cake.
6. Take care of yourself.
Eat. Sure, you may not have as much time to cook or sit down to eat during exam week, but this doesn’t mean you need to eat stale Funyuns from the vending machine every day. Make a trip to the grocery store and stock up on some relatively healthy snacks you can carry around campus. Eating small meals every few hours will help you stay focused.
Sleep. There are various conflicting studies out there about how many hours of sleep we need each night. The important thing to remember is that there’s a point of diminishing returns to sacrificing sleep for cramming sessions. No matter how well you’ve prepared, don’t expect to ace that 100-question multiple choice psych exam after sleeping for only two hours the past five nights. (If you’re following these tips ahead of time, you won’t have to.)
Exercise. You don’t need to hit the gym twice a day or schedule a Tough Mudder during finals week to stay mentally awake. Just commit some time each day – as little as 15 minutes – to take your mind off studying with a little exercise. Jog around the block a few times. Do a few sets of push-ups and pull-ups in your room after waking up (hopefully after more than 2 hours of sleep). Walk to campus instead of driving. Or maybe you’re more of a desk treadmill kind of guy?
7. Leave nothing in doubt.
This final tip for exam week preparation is more of a mindset than a tangible study habit. “Leave nothing in doubt” means you’re going to leave the exam room already knowing your score. You were so focused and thorough in preparing for the exam that you don’t even need to wait for the grades to post to know how you performed.
Congrats, you killed it. Now you can go home and watch all those Netflix documentaries.