What? Were you hoping I’d finish that sentence with Christmas? Well, Christmas Day is indeed right around the corner, but you must first successfully pass your final exams before enjoying eggnog, ugly Christmas sweaters and John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Christmas (broaden your musical horizons and check it out).
As you might have guessed: I’m a professor, but I was a student once myself.
I think many students forget that their professors once sat where they find themselves this month; that is, with fear, trembling and uncertainty as they near final exams week. We’ve been there. We understand. We should empathize and show grace. And if your professor suggests otherwise, they may find coal in their stocking on the 25th.
Recently, I was asked by my university’s paper to provide a few tips and a bit of advice on how to effectively prepare for my final exams.
Now: I’m a communications professor looking through the lens of social psychology. I teach relationships, the self and family communication. I am also an earnest follower of Jesus Christ with an unapologetic attitude toward human behavior which counters culture (Romans 12:2).
So, fair warning: you can bet my tips to a better final exam will include some bold recommendations for improvement and success, similar to Paul’s boldness in the first century as he spoke to some Corinthians with a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look, similar to the look you might have on your face as you enter exams.
Here are six proven ways to effectively prepare for your final exams:
Don’t fall into the trap thinking a Red-Bull all-nighter cram session will do it for you (this has been shown to actually have adverse effects, i.e., poor grades). Your brain codes information as you sleep, storing it for future reference. If you don’t sleep, your brain has massive trouble pulling what you’ve learned from memory.
Instead, snowball study. That is, break down your studying into increments (let’s say over the course of one week before exams), and then cover new material each day while also reviewing content studied the days prior. This will help with memory and recall.
Go to class.
No. Don’t use your last freebie absences to skip the last week of classes before finals. Attend the final exam review day. Some professors use study guides, others simply tell students what to expect, while others use games. Regardless of your professor’s methods, this day will give you clear insights, clues and hints on what to expect on exam day.
Stir crazy with FOMO? It’s okay, you’re not missing out. Limit (or refrain altogether) your smartphone and social media usage while studying. Leave your smartphone in your room, and log out (even consider the deactivation) of your social media so you can effectively digest course material.
Leave your phone at home.
It’s time for a revolution. Leave your phone in your room on exam day. Leaving it in your pocket, backpack or purse while you take the exam may be an actual mental hindrance to your ability to focus. If you can’t do this, you might need to detox from your dependence on technology.
We are in a massive mental health and relationship connection crisis thanks in part to smartphone and social media addiction. Use this time of intentional separation to focus on studying. Maybe you’ll then find your friendships, family and dating relationships will improve.
Pre-test jitters? When all else fails, before your exam, strike a power pose! Seriously. Either in private or in public (no shame). Standing in place for one to two minutes with your arms in the air or on your hips have been shown to increase testosterone (dominance hormone) and decrease cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
Find time for rest relationally with others, with yourself, and most importantly, find time to rest spiritually in Jesus Christ. He has you precisely where He wants you in time, even at your desk taking your professor’s final exam.
Remember: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:2-3).” He leads.
Once you’re finished with finals, pour yourself a cold glass of eggnog. Put on your sweater featuring a cat wearing a Santa hat. Then rest in the fact that finals are over … until spring semester at least.
is an assistant professor of communication at Taylor University. His teaching and research efforts are conducted through the lens of social psychology. He focuses primarily on marriage fidelity, relationship development/management, the self, nonverbal communication, persuasion, social influence and social media. He lives in Indiana with his beautiful wife, Stacey.