Published: April 4, 2023

It’s not too long before the end of the semester and the arrival of finals. This is a great time to start planning your study schedule so you can ace your exams. We talked to peer tutors from the Academic Success and Achievement Program (ASAP), and they shared some useful tips on when to start preparing, how to plan and study strategies to help you find your focus.

When to start preparing

“Three weeks ahead of time for finals and two weeks ahead of time for major exams–long term memory is proven better for retention, and that way you can cover all the material and practice tests.” Annamarie M.

“The absolute best strategy that I’ve found for midterms and finals is a unique two-week agenda. Two weeks before the exam, I tackle all the small assignments and life chores that I know I’ll have to get done around exam time. This includes all tedious (but necessary) homework assignments, small chores in my living space, meal planning so I know exactly what to eat to keep me focused and anything else I can get done. In a way, I grind through everything but the study material first. One week before the exam is my prime study week. However, I am always careful to avoid burnout from sitting for hours on end staring at study material. I’m far less stressed if I dedicate 30 minutes to one hour at a time. Regardless, every single day in week two I spend at least some time looking at the material. Eventually, by the end of the week, things have become familiar and habitual in terms of content.” Alyssa S.

How to prepare

“One, don’t cram at the last minute. Two, get a tutor if you find it hard before the first exam. I made that mistake with organic chemistry. Three, know or ask what the professor is putting on the exam. Will it be based on the reading or lecture notes? Then, study mostly that but don’t neglect the other topics.” Annamarie M.

“Study strategies are very personal and really depend on how you like to learn. However, I always recommend my students to practice recall of material as often as they can. This can be through flashcards, Quizlet, having a friend ask you questions or working on a problem without using notes. Also, if your professor provides learning goals, use those as a way to quiz yourself after reviewing lecture information to gauge how well you're retaining the material. Try to quiz yourself often and avoid cramming!” Sydney W.

“First, create a space optimal for you to get the most of the time you’ve dedicated to studying. Clean your room, light a candle, play soft music. Anything that helps get you in a focused mindset. Two, avoid burnout. The second you feel your eyes burning or pulling out your hair, step away. Take 5-20 minutes to yourself and breathe. Eat a snack. Third, don’t worry. Recognize that sometimes life happens and we don’t have time to study as much as we want. Luckily, there is almost always a chance to do better. Figure out what went wrong and try again.” Alyssa S.

Staying motivated

“Study a lot, as well as the night and day before. Review and do practice tests. Set aside some time for working out or meditating or listening to music, something to help you relax the night or the day before the exam so you don’t get too stressed out. Focus on the good things and not just on how stressed you are about school. Talk to people if you’re feeling stressed.” Annamarie M.

“I give myself things to look forward to. Before sitting down to study or tackle a practice exam, I take a moment and just breathe. I picture myself this time next week–when the exam is over, the stress is gone and I’m eating my favorite food. And then I realize that next week will come quicker than I think. I just have to get through this moment.” Alyssa S.

“Turn off all distractions and use the Pomodoro timed studying technique: 25 minutes of studying and a five minute break. I like to get up from my desk and walk around. Remember, boredom is easier to cure than burnout so if taking a break helps you in the long run, then do it!” Paloma M.

During exam time 

“Exams can be really overwhelming and stressful. I recommend taking a glance over the entire exam before beginning and taking mental notes of the structure and types of questions that are being asked. Are there any essay questions? Are there any questions you know the answer to right away? How much time can you afford to spend on each question? This can help you budget your time and make a plan of attack instead of going into the exam blindly.” Sydney W.

“Use your time wisely! To stay engaged during a test, really thoroughly read through all of the questions, as well as carefully think through all the answers.” Paloma M.

Things to keep in mind after exams

“I think it's important to understand that an exam grade does not reflect your intelligence or ability but rather your study approach and preparation. Exams are informative tools that can help you adjust and improve your study strategy. Adopting this mindset has helped my students feel more motivated to do their best and finish strong despite getting unexpected exam scores.” Sydney W.

“Attitude is always the make it or break it factor when it comes to grades, so when you don’t get the grade you had hoped for, you can use that as inspiration to change up how you go about things. Maybe that looks like studying differently, looping in teachers to figure out the disconnect or even getting the help of an ASAP tutor!” Paloma M.

Become an ASAP tutor

Once finals are behind you, think about the courses you excelled at and consider becoming an ASAP tutor in that subject. There are many benefits of becoming an ASAP tutor and it might be a great way to get involved.

“When you become a tutor, you start to see which study strategies are more successful than others. For example, I tell my students to take notes using their own words, rather than copying verbatim from a lecture slide. Also, studying short amounts more frequently can be a tremendous help for recall. Since taking this role, I've been able to refine my study approach so that I'm working ’smarter’ and not ’harder.’” Sydney W.

“Becoming a tutor has helped me become a better learner tremendously, it makes you not only question your own learning style but the learning styles of others. Reinforcing the content in so many different ways has shown me very interesting and unique perspectives on how to learn things.” Paloma M.

Remember to prioritize what is important, prepare yourself and take it one exam at a time. ASAP is available to all first-year students, including commuter students, and all students living on campus, including Bear Creek. Visit the ASAP website if you’re looking for support or you want to become a tutor yourself! You can also check out additional tutoring services for certain classes or departments.