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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, Online Learning Tips
Whether you take your classes online or in a classroom, final exams add additional stress when you’re preparing to graduate. You might wonder, “Will I pass all my classes and walk across the stage with my peers?” It’s a worry that can haunt you those last few weeks before final exams.
Robin Gray, a 2018 APU graduate with a B.A. in English, says preparing for final exams and graduation should really begin long before your last classes start. “The closer you get to that final class and the exams leading up to graduation, the more pressure there is to finish and finish well,” she says.
Here are a few tips Robin learned while completing her degree that eased the pressure of final exams and papers.
- Take advantage of your academic advisor. My advisor helped outline what courses I needed for graduation so there was no guesswork. She even suggested an order to complete them in based on when the courses were available. Your advisor can also walk you through requirements for graduation and help you with any deadlines needed for applying.
- Look at the big picture when scheduling classes. Because I had flexibility in my class start dates, I was able to look at my family calendar and plan around any major activities or holidays. I created a spreadsheet of the classes I had remaining and when they would be offered and then planned out my degree. When it came time for my final class, there were no surprises in my schedule to throw me off schedule.
- Plan time for studying for finals or writing papers the day your class starts. Your final classes before graduation are no time to start procrastinating. As soon as you have access to your assignments, start planning so you can stay on schedule for each assignment without rushing to complete them on time, especially if you are writing a thesis.
- Ask questions. Your professors are there to help with any questions you may have about finals. They usually have time set aside when they are available to students. They are one of the best resources if you don’t understand a lesson or assignment.
- Take time to relax. One of the benefits of planning your schedule for your last class is you will also have time between assignments to unwind. I found it easier to focus on assignments and studying when I was more relaxed, and my work was of a higher quality.
Based on a 2008 study by Pamela Thacher, Associate Professor of Psychology at St. Lawrence University, she warns against “pulling all-nighters.” They impair reasoning and memory for as long as four days. Review the toughest material right before going to bed on the night before the test. That makes it easier to recall the material later.
- Minimize distractions: Many students prefer to study while listening to music, texting friends or watching television. However, they are less likely to retain information that way. But if you must listen to music, stick to instrumentals.
- Maximize practice testing: You may think that highlighting, re-reading and summation are effective ways to study and retain information. Think again, Thacher says. A 2013 study, Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques, found that these techniques do not consistently boost student performance. Practice testing with flashcards or taking practice exams were shown to be highly effective studying techniques.
Additional Tips for Passing Your Finals
Amanda Prahl, an award-winning playwright and university instructor, offers some unusual advice, for those who can’t help procrastinating before finals: “There’s no need to feel completely frightened if you’ve procrastinated until the night before a test to study. Although you won’t be able to commit much to long-term memory in a one-night cram session,” she says, “you can learn enough to pass the test using these techniques.”
Prahl’s “all-nighter” tips include:
- Eat a nutritious meal and have some snacks on hand.
- Set up a comfortable spot for you and your study materials.
- Focus on the upcoming test for 30 to 45 minutes, then take a break for five minutes.
- Take notes and create mnemonic devices to improve recall.
- Aim for comprehension over memorization.
- In the morning, explain concepts and ideas you plan to include on the test to a third party.
- After the test, get a good night’s sleep. It’s over and you can’t change your answers after your finals.
As Prahl says, “Focus and calm are crucial to studying seriously; to get your body on the same page, try doing some deep breathing and yoga stretches to help you get your mind off any other concerns. Essentially, this prep is meant to get your body to help you, not distract you, so you have no excuses to break your study focus.”
As you prepare to take your finals, remember the calming words of some wise anonymous student years ago: “If I don’t know it now, I never will.”
Are you a new alumnus who will be joining us at Commencement 2019? Get the details on the big event before you cross the stage.