Making a Final Exam Study Plan, Step by Step

May 25, 2016

Birds-eye view of students studying at a desk

Planning is a reflective process. We all know we should do it, but where do we begin?

1. Figure out your goals

This needs to be more than just “I want to ace all of my courses.” Be specific, and be realistic. Consider how much time and commitment each goal will require.

2. Decide on a system

How far do you want to plan in advance? A few days? A week? A month? For final exams, it is advisable to be as forward-thinking as possible, without overstretching your capability to keep up with your plan. Remember, if you don’t plan before, you are doomed to plan between.

3. Get a sense of how much time you have for studying on each day

Do you have a long commute, a weekly work/volunteer schedule, or other time-consuming tasks that may impede studying? Remember that studying without single-minded focus is barely studying at all. If you are very busy, map out how much focused study time you will have on each day. You can write this onto your study plan itself.

4. Fill in study topics.

Working backwards may help here. Write your exam dates and times first, and you will often find that the exam weeks themselves are not flexible. For example, you may choose to leave the day before the exam exclusively for content review. This way, you get the “mandatory” study topics out of the way by studying them before the last day, and can get to the more detailed planning later.

5. As you work backwards, be sure that you are being specific.

It is okay to devote the day before an exam to a full review of that exam’s material, but the week before an exam may be a good time to review specific chapters or units. Once again, be specific. Don’t write “Study CHEM 123”. Try instead, “Study CHEM 123 acid-base and electrochemistry.” Aim to cover all the topics of a course well before that exam to leave time for clarifying confusing topics with your instructor, TAs, or friends. Note that it is a good idea to break up courses across many days when preparing in advance because that forces more frequent recall. This realistically assesses your understanding of the topic, and reinforces learning and understanding.

6. Follow through

There are many different tactics for this. If you are tech savvy, you can save your schedule items as smartphone calendar reminders each day, so you wake up to the tune of what you have planned to study. Another effective tactic is to plan the next day’s study items hour by hour each night, and sticking to the schedule. Whatever you do, do something! Do not simply assume that having a plan means you will follow it. Take active measures to motivate yourself to follow through.

7. Consider what happens if you go off your study plan

Panic may seep in when you find you are losing confidence in one or more courses. In most cases, stick to your plan! Trust yourself. If you find that you cannot complete a study topic in the time you have allotted, skip it! Do not let it stop your studying for other topics. Try and find time to fit it in later on. This mentality may also help motivate you to work more efficiently and with more focus to finish study topics in the designated time.

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