10 Essential Study Tips for Tests and Final Examns

Learn how to create an effective study plan so that you can walk into your tests stress-free and confident.
by Sierra Tishgart, Teen Vogue

There's no sugarcoating it: studying for final exams is extremely painful. These monstrous tests are standing in the way between you and your summer break, but that doesn't mean that you can slack off and sip iced tea by the pool. Now is the time to focus, as these test grades reflect the hard work that you've put in throughout the entire school year. We asked academic experts for their advice on when to begin studying, how to know when it's time to stop, and what to do the morning of an exam.

Understand your goals.
"Students follow a series of requirements, and it becomes very easy to feel like you're simply jumping through a series of hoops as opposed to understanding why that class and that test are relevant to you," says Colin Gruenwald of Kaplan Test Prep. "You have to ask why you're going to invest the time and energy to do well on a test. Why do you intend to be the student who gets an A?"

Prioritize the tests that matter the most.
"It's a mistake to consider all of your finals equal if you're materially better at one subject than another," says Gruenwald. "Some students think that they should commit equal time to studying for each test. They're taking away from their opportunity to really commit time where they need it."

Clarify the content and format of your exams.
"Find out what the test is going to cover," says Ted Dorsey, author of Tutor Ted's Guide to the SAT. "Ask what the format is-multiple choice, essay, or both. Once you begin studying, bring any questions you have to your teachers. Most teachers will be happy to help you."

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Aim to begin studying at least one month in advance.
"Everyone knows that studying a little bit over a long period of time is absolutely, undeniably the right way to study, and yet we are all terrible at actually putting this plan into effect," says Gruenwald. "The best time to start studying is at the beginning of the class. Set aside a little time each week to sit down and organize your notes and think about what's going well and what's going badly. Three to four weeks ahead of time is the latest that you want to create a study plan for yourself. Cramming is toxic."

Learn how you study best.
"Everyone learns differently," says Dorsey. "Just because your friend makes color-coded outlines, it doesn't mean that's the best way for you to study too. Change the lyrics of a song you know to help you memorize the countries of Africa. Write a funny story about the characters in The Scarlet Letter. Any studying is good studying, so do it the way that works best for you."

Take snack breaks.
"When you study, your brain consumes glucose," says Dorsey. "Take a five-minute break every hour to let your body produce more fuel for your studying. Take a walk, have a healthy snack (almonds, fruit, and yogurt are good choices), and stretch. Taking breaks will actually improve your studying."

Know when to stop studying.
"Within 12 to 24 hours of the test, it's time to stop studying," says Gruenwald. "You're not going to learn a lot of new content. The likelihood is much higher that you're going to stress yourself out and confuse yourself. For the last minute studier, flashcards can be a good resource. They can earn you a few more points on test day, and it's a much healthier thing to do than starting on page one of the textbook."

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Get a good night's sleep.
"Eight hours is ideal for the night before an exam," says Dorsey. "It may be tempting to stay up late studying, but remember: you're going to need energy and focus while you're taking your exam."

Naturally energize yourself the morning of the test.
"Do something stimulating the morning of the test," says Gruenwald. "Don't sit down and watch a back-to-back marathon of American Idol; that's just going to zap your energy level. Instead, read a book, do a crossword puzzle, take your dog for a walk, or get some exercise. Do something that's going to make you feel alive and positive, and will build up your energy level and confidence in the 24 hours before the test. Please, stay away from caffeine and energy drinks! Your hand will shake so that you can't write coherent words, and you may crash in the middle of the test."

Relax.
"You've survived final exams before, and you'll survive them this time too," says Dorsey. "If you're feeling nervous when you sit down to take the test, take three slow, steady breaths. Remind yourself that you've been getting ready for these tests all year long."

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