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Expert advice on preparing for final exams

By Matthew Skog

For many students, preparing for finals can feel overwhelming.

To help students better prepare for their final exams, Karie Beavert, a Chemeketa reading and study skills instructor, offers a myriad of tips and tricks to help students fight their anxiety and improve test scores.

Q: What can students do to prepare in the days before finals?

A: Getting ready for the test well in advance is the number one thing. I can’t emphasize that enough.

Ask instructors what will be covered on the exam. Go over your old notes and homework assignments. Review old exams – that’s a huge one. Quizzes and midterms can usually give you a good idea of what to expect.

Q: And what about the night before finals? Is there anything you’d recommend for students?

A: Don’t stay up late cramming. Get a good night’s sleep. Go to bed at a decent time: not too early, not too late.

Eat healthy the day before as well as the day of. Make sure you get up in time to give yourself a good breakfast. Don’t be so stuffed that it makes you sleepy, though. Eat protein, and stay away from the really sugary carbohydrate stuff. No donuts or quad-caramel macchiatos.  

A little caffeine is all right, but you don’t want to have too much.

Q: How about the day of the exam? What should students do before class starts?

A: Get there 10 to 15 minutes early.

A good idea – it doesn’t work for everybody, but it’s really worked for me in the past – is if I’m particularly nervous about an exam, I’ll take a walk. You don’t want to stand around for 10 minutes listening to other students talk about the test before the class starts. Inevitably you’ll hear someone say, ‘Oh, did you study such and such?’, and you didn’t, and now all of the sudden that anxiety just skyrockets.

Make sure you have water, pens, pencils – the materials you know you’re going to need ahead of time. Don’t go in with one scrappy little pencil. Go in with three pencils already sharpened.

Q: Once they’re in the classroom, is there anything that students should think about before the test begins?

A: Students usually have the same seat all term long. But you may want to think about moving for finals. If you normally sit next to a window, and you’re distracted by that, you need to deal with that. Move up or back a row if you need to. Whatever it takes.

If you’re right next to the door, and students are allowed to leave as soon as they’re done with the test, you need to be aware that everybody is going to be walking right by you throughout the test. That can be distracting. It might be a good choice to move away from the door in that case.

Q: And finally, is there any advice you can offer to students for once the test begins?

A: You should be aware that the first few students who leave are either completely brilliant, and they studied and knew everything, or they didn’t study. That’s usually the case. They usually leave way early because they’re toast. You need to not be rattled by seeing other students finish before you. Take your time.

You also want look at what types of questions the test has. You want to take note in your head of how many multiple choice questions there are, how many true or false, are there any essay questions, that sort of thing. Use that to kind of gauge your time.

Answer the questions you know first. It’ll build your confidence. If you get stuck on a question, make a mark out on the edge to remind yourself to come back to it later and move on. If you sit there and start freaking out that you don’t know that question, the anxiety is going start to build up. Come back to the ones you skipped after you finish the rest. But make sure you don’t forget to come back to them. Make your best guess on those; don’t just leave any questions blank.

Most of the time, students have a good intuition about the right answer. Trust your gut. Only change an answer if you know for sure that it’s wrong.