How to Ace Your Final Exams

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By Laura LaVacca
Campus News

Overwhelmed with finals? First time taking them? Or your last and you just don’t know what you’re doing wrong?! Finals can be an overwhelming time of the semester but it doesn’t have to be. Often, waiting until the last minute is what stresses students out and bogs them down with an exorbitant amount of material to study. Studying for finals can be manageable and is all about finding strategies that work for you.

“Do not leave it until the last minute,” Hofstra professor Laura Caputo explains. “While in class take tons of notes. Then go home and put them in a neat outline form. It’s hard to study from jumbled notes, and it will still be fresh in your mind.”

If you’re bored studying solo, “Study with a buddy! Make flashcards and quiz each other. It’ll help in the memorization process,” she continues.

Student Lee Mari also offers similar advice, “I find that I have to start a week before the test. I re-write my notes into an outline, and I go through the text book noticing anything that is important that is not in my notes. I’ll review my outline daily.” This method seems worth a try, as Mari is a Hofstra graduate student with a 4.0.

Other experts offer that studying in different areas, which actually goes against the usual quiet, uncluttered study room, is actually more beneficial. The New York Times article “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits” explains that studying in different settings can help reduce forgetfulness.

The brain may make subtle associations with material, “It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.”

In essence, students may recall more information simply because their brain associates it with something in its setting. Hence, color and pictures are often good tools of association. For example, write words and concepts with a positive connotation on green cards while negative connotations can go on red. Draw a small picture to help you remember its definition.

This is precisely what student, Sara Miller, explains, “When writing down key words, my teacher always has us draw a little picture next to it. It can be ridiculous or funny but it actually works because on the day of the test I remember the silly picture I drew next to the word or concept.”

Whatever form of studying you choose, make sure that your notes are legible and easily understood. Molloy College student Lea Cuervo points out: “I usually write in my own words, that way I know how to explain it just in case I have a long answer or essay type question. Everything I write down is information that I understand. I would never just write something down even if I don’t actually get it, because I will never remember it then when it comes to studying.”

Cuervo points out an inherent problem in studying — spitting information back without necessarily understanding any of it. Students should explore concepts, write notes in terms they can grasp and not simply regurgitate textbook definitions. Relating to material, thinking of helpful pneumonic devices can create lasting connections with the information without ever having to strain to recall it.

“The more you understand what you are studying, the less you are agonizing over remembering it,” educator Teresa Eliza explains, “Try to put things in your own words; not the difficult terminology of your textbook or professor. Think of sayings…they help. Everyone remembers what PEMDAS means in math.”

If all else fails, listen to Mozart and chew mint gum. Some research has shown that classical music helps with memory retention as does the repetitive motion of chewing gum with the aroma of mint.

So sharpen pencils, pack pens and bring a backpack full of gum, mints or both!

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