They’re Only Final Exams if You Pass, lol
You’re an expert exam writer right? You got into a prestigious university, right? You’ve survived, whether easily or not, through all your midterms, right? Therefore you must be pretty good at writing exams; there is no arguing that. No matter the ease of your previous exam-writing experience, final exams should not be taken lightly. There is usually an entire semester’s worth of information crammed into a three-hour exam that can feel like an eternity, or the blink of an eye, depending on how you’re doing. Can I interest you in some mediocre advice from an average student?
Study in groups
There is no losing when you study in a group. If you’re struggling more than everyone else, then you get to learn from them. If you’re thriving more than everyone else, then you get to teach them, and teaching something is the best way to cement it into your own brain. If everyone in the group understands that everyone is benefitting from the group discussion, then no one has to feel bad about being taught a concept or annoyed that they have to teach someone a concept! Again, win-win for everyone involved.
Practice, practice, practice
If you have practice problems available to you, do as many of them as you possibly can. Getting used to the question type that you will find on the exam is far more valuable than rewriting your notes or testing yourself with flash cards. Now, many courses don’t offer practice questions, in that case, you might consider grabbing a friend from your class and testing each other on questions you make up. Answering the questions but also coming up with the questions will help chisel the concepts more permanently into your brain.
Keep up with the content
It is perhaps too late to start this strategy, but you can try it out next semester, and make sure you don’t fall behind in any one class. In high school, you might have been able to study the weekend before a big test and learn all the content; in university, this is simply not possible. When it comes time to study for an exam, you should be reviewing the content, not learning it. You cannot cram a whole semester’s worth of information into your brain in a week, let alone a couple of days.
Students will sit down for a whopping eight hours straight and “study”. But since they’re checking their phone every two minutes, chatting with friends across the table, grabbing coffee more than a couple times, they end up only getting about two or three quality hours on studying in. You can spend your time so much more efficiently if you take breaks, and between the breaks when you’re studying, you are actually uber focused. Set a study goal for yourself, like say 55 minutes, and then take a 5-minute break. Get up, walk around, talk to a friend. It’s super important to give your brain a time to rest, and your body a chance to move.
Stay focused by having good posture
Ha, easier said than done! The ability to focus for extended periods of time might be the single most important skill to have to be successful in this world, including in university. The problem is, it’s so difficult to do with all the distractions that constantly surround us. It’s even harder to do if you’re no interested in what you’re trying to focus on. This next tip sounds weird, but PLEASE try it. It is the single most effective method I have found to helping myself stay focused. SIT WITH GOOD POSTURE. Every ten minutes or so, do a body scan. Sit up straight, pull your shoulder blades back, and put your feet flat on the ground. Your body and mind are so intricately connected than something as simple as sitting in a more “focused” position will help your mind focus on the task at hand.
Even if you follow all these tips, it’s quite possible you won’t do as well as you had hoped, and it’s very likely your grade will be lower than anything you ever received in high school. That is okay, and that is expected. Your first semester final exams are a chance to practice writing final exams. You’re new to this and you’re no worse of a person if you don’t score too hot. Five, ten years down the road, you’re not going to remember this mark. In the grand scheme of things, marks aren’t everything in life.
I know it’s hard to remember that when you’re in the heat of the moment, but try really hard to find that perspective. Oftentimes, family and friends are great at helping you find the perspective that your marks don’t define you or your future. Sometimes though, parents are too hard on us and have unrealistic expectations, and if that is that case, make sure that you are taking care of yourself first. Call a friend, talk to your Soph or Don, watch a movie, look at old photos, and do something that is good for your soul. University is an unrivaled opportunity for growth and a bad exam mark is a great place to start.