9 Effective Prep Tips for Final Exams

A person with their head in a notebook and holding a help! sign

No time of year is more stressful than when you face your final exams. You need to make sure you’ve retained all the material you’ve learned over the past year and show that you’ve truly understood the concepts covered in class. This requires some serious exam prep. Students use a variety of tactics, but here are a few fundamental best practices everyone needs to use.

1. Pay Attention in Class

Prepping for exams begins while you’re still in class. You’ll do much better if you pay attention during your lectures and take comprehensive notes. In addition, make sure you understand what your professor is saying in the moment and ask for clarification when necessary — you’re unlikely to figure it out on your own if you simply write it down.

2. Visit Professors During Office Hours

If you’re unable to ask a question during a lecture (or you just feel uncomfortable doing so), the next best option is to pay your professor a visit. This is also useful for seeking support with a concept you’re struggling to understand or for receiving help with a particular skill, such as essay writing.

Make sure you also find out if your professor will be offering any review sessions before the exam that you can join.

3. Review Your Notes

At the end of each day, review the notes you took in class. This will not only help you retain the information, it will also reveal if any of your notes are unclear, enabling you to correct them while the details are still fresh in your mind. At a later date, unclear notes may not make any sense to you. Finally, use the opportunity to bookmark any points you found extra difficult and want to revisit.

4. Form a Study Group

Many students find it motivating to study with others, even when they’re not working on a group project. Discussing what you’ve learned can help you solidify your ideas, gain confidence, and push everyone in the group to achieve better results.

5. Make Flashcards

Create a set of flashcards to quiz yourself (or those in your study group) on key concepts and terms. You can use physical flashcards or an app — the advantage of an app is that it’s extra easy to glance at your flashcards throughout the day or before going to sleep.

6. Study with a Tutor

If you feel like you’re falling behind or you need extra support, find a tutor. Many students who do exceptionally well offer tutoring services to gain a little extra income. Since they know exactly what your class involves, they can be a great help — and they tend to be affordable.

7. Mix Up Your Schedule

Aim to spend just 30 minutes on a single topic before switching to another. Focusing too much time on the same thing is exhausting — particularly if you find the material challenging.

8. Condense Your Notes

During class, you likely took extensive notes. A great way to prepare for your finals is to take these notes and condense them down to the main facts. You can do this by rewriting them, highlighting the key points, or turning the information into a visual representation.

9. Take Breaks and Reward Yourself

Never feel like you need to study for many hours without a pause, even right before your exams. This only makes it more difficult to retain knowledge and understand what you’re reading. Schedule regular breaks and reward yourself when you’ve pushed through something particularly challenging.

It’s impossible to study effectively for exams in a noisy environment where you’re frequently distracted. This is a major reason why living on campus is problematic, but it can also be uncomfortable if you have an apartment when you lack the right furniture. A better option is to find a room for rent. Waterloo students can find fully-furnished rooms, complete with a desk, at Preston House and Bridgeport House. Both also have dedicated study areas — for when you need a change of scenery. Book a tour to see them for yourself.