Katelyn Rice/Staff Photographer

By: Cristina Kerluke, Academic Support Program Specialist

For many students, the concept of final exam preparation brings to mind the vision of end-of-the-semester cramming efforts and pulling all-nighters. However, it doesn’t need to be this way. Starting your preparation now, four weeks before Final Exams, will put you in a position to maximize your success!

The first step to preparing for the end of the semester is to ensure you are aware of your Final Exam specifics. (Most of this information can be found in your syllabus, but if you are having difficulty, consult with your instructor.)

  1. When are your Final Exams? Know exam dates, times and locations. (You can find your Exam Schedule in MaineStreet by selecting it in the “other academic” dropdown menu in your Student Center.)
  2. How much does each exam contribute to your final grade? This is critical to understanding how each exam can impact your standing.
  3. What will be covered on the exam? Is it over the last few chapters or is it cumulative?
  4. What is the exam format? Multiple choice, short answer, or essay?

Now that you know your specifics, it’s time to make your “practice” plan! Instead of waiting until the week before a final to prepare, you’ll want to start your practice now. Waiting until the last minute to cram for exams is one of the most common learning traps for students. Why doesn’t it work? The brain can only hang onto a small number of facts or thoughts at one given time. Cramming also does not create the opportunity for the brain to actively make connections between concepts, or to allow time for the brain to “digest” the information and find the connections. Most learners become fatigued after a few hours of academic time on task, so the longer a person spends cramming, the less effective and efficient it becomes. Cramming also typically involves memorization, and at the college level, the need is to understand in order to apply concepts, not just remember them.

A few weeks ago, we touched upon the importance of practice for effective learning. Spaced practice is practice broken up into a number of short sessions over a longer period of time. Spaced practice means scheduling several practice times with the information throughout EACH week leading up to Finals, not just before the exam. (20 minutes here, 30 minutes there–study in short bursts frequently.) It also means using active learning strategies to make connections, test for memory and understanding, and to create the foundation of memory upon which new information will be built as the weeks progress. We forget less with each “practice” session and the repeated effort results in learning. Instead of cramming for Final Exams, spaced practice is going to be essential.

How to practice? Avoid the “illusion of knowing” by using self-testing strategies in your Final Exam preparation. Examples of self-testing include annotating a chapter of text while reading, summarizing key points from a lecture right after class, explaining concepts to others during group study meetings, and creating mind maps to show how concepts are connected and determine what can be recalled and what still needs more review. Self-testing strategies will show you what your gaps of knowledge are and where you need to focus your additional efforts leading up to Finals.

Sometimes one of the biggest challenges to end-of-the-semester preparation is motivation. Here are a few ways to make motivation work in your favor:

1. Remind yourself of the “why.” Let’s say you arrive in class unmotivated to be there. Ask yourself, “What do I need to get out of today’s class to be prepared for the final exam?”

2. Set a goal. Go into each learning setting with something specific you want to learn, clarify, or accomplish.

3. Be aware of your self-talk. You may “hear” your brain saying, “I don’t feel like doing this right now.” Tell yourself that you can and will succeed by committing your attention and your effort.

4. Reward yourself! The brain is “wired” to respond to rewards, meaning it’s a powerful motivator. Make a favorite activity (spending time with friends, playing video games, going for a run) the reward for accomplishing an end-of-the-semester task.

If you haven’t had a chance to read last week’s article, be sure to check it out for additional tips on Finishing Strong! More tips and strategies also available at usm.maine.edu/agile and Thomas Frank over at collegeinfogeek.com.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.” ― Mark Twain


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