Organize your backpackThis tip often surprises students, even though teachers emphasize the importance of clean backpacks and lockers. Ensure you know precisely where all of your important papers are for each class. This does not mean that you must keep every piece of paper you ever receive. Instead, once per week, sort through your papers and decide what you should save and what you can safely throw away. This is important for two reasons: you have now refreshed your mind on the past week’s topics, and you have strategized about the key content to remember. Even more helpful, you are preparing the exact study materials you will need for your finals.
Rethink note-takingNote-taking can be a maddening process—you must record some material, but writing every single word that your teacher says is sometimes just as unhelpful as not writing anything at all. Whenever you are taking notes, try to translate the content into your own words. Synthesizing this material and “translating” it is one of the best ways to effectively commit information to memory. It prompts you to internalize the course content, which is also a learned trait. (In other words, this requires frequent and committed practice.) Once you improve your skill set in this area, your notes are also likely to become clearer—and when you sit down to study for your final exams, you will be extremely thankful for this! You may even be pleasantly surprised by just how much more you remember on your own.
Plan aheadScheduling is sometimes the most important part of preparing for your finals. This means more than just penciling in the occasional all-night review session. Instead, try to find time in your weekly schedule to organize your class handouts and your notes, as well as to make sure that you are not missing any crucial materials. Short check-ins with your notes and your accumulated papers will help to ease the burden of preparing to study when finals actually set in. Reviewing for shorter periods of time throughout the entire semester or year will also help you keep content fresher in your mind as you approach the end of your courses. Remember, the human brain is simply not designed to focus for too many hours on end! Whatever your particular strategy for preparing for finals well ahead of time, ensure that everyone on your academic “team” is on the same page—this means your parents, your study partners, and your teachers. This way, even when the semester or year begins to become a bit hectic, you will have the necessary support to keep to your goals and your schedule. The sheer act of sharing your plan with people is also helpful in affirming your commitment to truly start preparing early for finals!
Andrea Deck is a professional GRE tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She is a graduate student at Columbia University in the class of 2015.