Hamline News

Tips for a Foolproof Finals Week

Hamline devotes many campus resources to helping students get the most from their education, including the Center for Academic Success and Achievement (CASA), which supports students in their studies. In time for Finals Week 2020, Assistant Dean of Academic Success and Retention Lisa Nordeen offers advice for acing exams.

Decide what is important to you and plan accordingly
As you think about how to prioritize your work, consider the percentage of points the paper, project, or exam is worth. Devote an appropriate amount of time based on the impact on your final grade as well as how much work is required. When thinking about Finals Week know that your academics must be a priority over anything else. Find the balance to incorporate other areas where you need to be responsible, but your academics should be top of the list.

Strategize and spread out the work
First-year students should know that the first Finals Week can be stressful. The best thing you can do is to not overstress. Between Reading Week and the time you have available during Finals Week there is ample time to prepare. The key will be to be planful and strategic in studying. The best strategy that you can use is to spread out your studying. Think about how many hours of preparation you want to put in for each class. Generally speaking you should consider studying for approximately six or more hours for each exam. However, that time should be spread out over the week leading up to the exam. That essentially amounts to an hour a day which sounds much more manageable than six hours!

Make the tasks smaller
When preparing to study, break down the information you need to cover into smaller units such as chapters. Divide them into equal amounts over the course of days and schedule one more study session for a complete overview of the material. Don't try to memorize the information, rather work to develop an understanding of how the information can be used or applied.

Team projects require accountability
Team projects present different challenges than individual projects. Holding yourself, or teammates, accountable is an important piece of being able to complete a group project. If you find that your team has hit a wall, set small goals for the next step. Try creating a checklist of items that need to be completed before turning in the project. (Hint: checklists work well for both individual and group projects.) Sometimes having small items to complete can help make progress on completing the larger project step by step. If a teammate isn't communicating or doing their part, reach out to the faculty member and ask how to proceed. Sometimes they will have already recognized the challenge and be able to offer solutions.

Prepare by testing yourself
There are certainly different ways of studying to prepare for different types of exams, but these general tips will serve you well in any class.

  • Select the key points from your lecture notes, the readings or other texts (including videos), and the outcomes listed in the syllabus.
  • Organize yourself by comparing the information from each of these sources to determine where there are overlaps (this probably indicates really important information) or if there is complementary information (this allows an opportunity to build on the material). 
  • Predict what questions might show up on the exam. Base your predictions on previous exams, any review sessions, your interactions with tutors, or group studying with friends. 

As you think about possible questions, consider how you would answer them, evaluate your answer based on your understanding of how the faculty might grade the answer, then use your notes to fill in the information that makes it a stronger answer.

Study for all of your exams
If you have an open-book exam that doesn't mean you don't need to study; rather, it means that you want to familiarize yourself with the texts, your notes, and any other resources you can use. Mark pages with sticky tabs to help you locate your sources and make sure you can answer in your own words. During the exam, do not copy information out of the text; process the material and relay what you know.

Sleep well and eat nutritious food
There is a temptation to expect to pull 'all-nighters' and therefore consume a lot of caffeine and sugar while you’re studying, but a much better approach is going to be to drink water and eat some health(ier) snacks. If you're organized and have a well planned schedule of study times you don't need to stay up late. Keep a regular schedule and get enough sleep. There is research that shows that an extra hour of sleep before an exam is more beneficial than an extra hour of studying, especially if it means that you're getting less than eight hours of sleep leading up to your exam. Lack of sleep can lead to anxiety and impact upon your ability to recall information. Go into the exam having had a good night's sleep and feeling confident!

Take breaks with the pomodoro technique
Don't block off the whole day with a plan to 'study'. Rather create blocks of time with breaks for eating or relaxing between studying. The pomodoro technique can help structure study sessions. When you're studying, set a timer for 25 minutes. Work hard during that time and when the timer goes off take a 5 minute break. Take that time to check your email or social media and then re-set the timer for another 25 minutes. Maintain your focus for the short amount of time before you get a break. Go through three cycles then give yourself a 25 minute break before doing another round. Be specific with what you want to accomplish and challenge yourself to complete what you intend to do. Plan what you want to work on for each session and you will find yourself being really productive!

To cram or not to cram?
Cramming is not an effective technique for studying. When you cram you are essentially trying to memorize a mass amount of information in a very short period of time. Your brain is not set up to process that amount of information in a short time frame. Think of how you might exercise. You will see more progress if you run a mile a day as opposed to run seven miles once a week. The same is true of studying. If you spread out your studying it gives your brain time to process the information and create new pathways to access the knowledge.

Work hard and celebrate your success!
Once your last exam is over, celebrate, but in the meantime prioritize school over your other responsibilities.



See below for links to academic resources for Hamline students.

Distance Learning Resources
Dean of Students Office

Based on an email interview. Responses lightly edited by staff.