The Finals Stretch


Depending on the specifics of your child’s school schedule, December regularly brings with it the promise of impending holidays and a much needed break, along with the specter of final exams. This last hurdle before the break requires a final sprint of concentration right at the moment in the fall semester when students are increasingly ready to leave the classroom behind for a time. Of course, though, that is why it is so important to help your student clamber over this obstacle successfully and finish the term on a high note. With that in mind, we wanted to be sure to go over Smarten Up’s smart studying tips. 

The first step of any strong study plan is figuring out exactly what knowledge will be tested on the exam, and in what format. Cumulative final exams can feel overwhelming, since they might cover 3-4 months worth of material — but attempting to learn every fact and detail from every reading or lecture in that period will often be not just stressful, but counterproductive, depending on the specific requirements of a given teacher. Encourage your student to communicate with their teacher proactively to ask for any guidance on what areas to focus on, and in what way they will be tested: will the test feature multiple choice, short answer, or essay questions? Smart studying is targeted to the content and format that students will actually encounter on test day.

Smart studying is also active, rather than passive. Many students will put in time ‘studying’ by reading through their old notes, or skimming through textbook pages, and then find themselves at a loss on test day when the information they’ve been looking over has vanished from their memory. Instead, students should create opportunities for active engagement with past material every time they sit down to study. If they are looking through textbook pages, they should always use the comprehension questions that are often found at the end of a chapter to test their understanding, or write out a set of questions they can ask themselves about the reading the next day to make sure they’ve remembered the main idea and key details. If they’re expecting to write an essay — or even if they aren’t — writing an outline with bullet-pointed evidence will require students to actively process the information they’re committing to memory and slot it into an argument or narrative that will be easier to retain than a collection of unrelated facts. Rather than memorizing a list of words for a foreign language test, students should write out example sentences, create flashcards, and devise creative connections between similar words. 

One way to activate the study process is to find a partner. Studies have shown that teaching material is the best way to gain full mastery of it, and if two or more students can divide and conquer on a particularly lengthy study guide, they can make efficient use of studying time to quiz one another and probe for weak spots in their comprehension. A reliable study partner is a very valuable resource, but be sure that he or she does not become an excuse for waiting to start work individually! The best way to feel confident on test day is to study smart by engaging with the material over time and maintaining an active approach to learning.