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Western culture is unfortunately riddled with counter-productive stereotypes regarding studying at the collegiate level. The notion of cramming in an all-night study session is caustic on every level, and students who are familiar with the fallibility of this approach often ignore their better instincts and succumb to the idea out of sheer laziness. If you want to learn how to study for finals, you must accept the fact that learning how to learn is more important than the material in any given class. It enables you to succeed in any pursuit.

In your education, you will address how to study for finals in the most effective possible fashion. This process requires you to take an active approach to engage with the information you must understand. You will have to compose your own materials on a timeline and schedule that fits with the latest psychological research. We have compiled a concise guide to the principles that will enable you to learn how to study for finals effectively. If you incorporate the advice below into your academic regime, you will succeed.

What Exactly Is Studying?

What constitutes “studying” is more complicated than you may think. The extreme visions on either side of the spectrum are not helpful. The image of a nearly monastic figure buried in a pile of books for hours upon lonely hour is not helpful. Studying is an inherently interpersonal pursuit that cannot be achieved without a social element. Conversely, the jointly inspired all-nighter a devil-may-care college student is likely to undergo in the company of a coffee-swilling friend does not lend itself to any actual learning.

If you want to get the most out of studying or learn specifically how to study for finals, you must understand the importance of the compositional and social elements of studying that are highly correlated with success on exams and with retention, generally. Learning how to learn is an arduous process, but one that stands to serve you more broadly than success in any particular course your education may require.

Does the Way You Study Matter?

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When you approach your studies, you must be aware of three primary principles that will drastically affect your ability to acquire and retain any corpus of information. First, you must accept that active learning is more effective than passive learning. You cannot simply listen to or read information; you must compose your interpretation of the relevant material. Secondly, you must give life to this information. You must share it and have it shared with you from differing perspectives. Finally, you must pay close attention to the pace. Learning quickly is ineffective, and learning slowly is ineffective. The pace is essential.

How to Study for Finals

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Specifically, regarding how to study for finals, you must take a realistic approach to time. A semester is the length of time it is for a reason. If you are going to address a complex topic in depth, you need a few months to do so. Your studies begin on the first day of class, and they end when you walk out of the final. Attempting to deviate from this timeline leads to less efficacious outcomes.

Additionally, as you learn how to study for finals, you will find that composition and interaction are essential. The information available in textbooks is useful, but if you do not engage with it to the extent that you are able to compose your own interpretation, your understanding will remain superficial. Once you have composed an interpretation of relevant information, share it with a TA, a professor, a classmate, or just about anyone. The interactive aspect of learning how to study for finals facilitates necessary correction and serves as another layer of deepened understanding in the actual expression thereof.

Never Trust Your Own Notes

Taking notes in class and while reading is essential for academic success; however, this practice alone is grossly insufficient. In our research, we have found reorganizing your notes in an aggressive fashion is a highly lauded tactic in the process of finding how to study for finals most effectively. We recommend you approach your notes with scissors and strive to categorize them succinctly, preferably with a color-coded system. By thinking of your own scribbles broadly, you deepen your understanding and take an active role in reference to the material.

Create Your Own Comprehensive Study Guide 

Whether your instructor provides a study guide for your course or not, it behooves you to create a study guide of your own. Creating original study materials has been highly correlated with retention in numerous studies. By creating your own materials, you give yourself the opportunity to internalize information to a greater extent, and you are forced to categorize information independently.

As you create your study guide, be sure to put all the information you include in your own words as opposed to copying excerpts of textbooks and online resources. The actual composition of relevant information is the most important factor in retention. If you are forced to explain all relevant material to yourself, you are much more likely to have that information at your fingertips come test day.

Deviate from Your Study Guide

Never think of any study materials, no matter who has furnished them, as infallible. It is always best to go beyond the purview of the materials you have been given and make broad inquiries that will, at the very least, provide more extensive context regarding the material you have been given. This principle applies to the questions you ask in class and in review sessions as well as it does to the independent research you conduct while you find out how to study for finals in a way that facilitates success.

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Teach Your Study Materials to Your Classmates

One of the most important practices in the process of learning how to study for finals is teaching the material you are learning. By expressing the information you have retained to your classmates, you are taking the retention correlated with creating your original study guide to the next level. You have taken material from a lecture or a text and deepened your understanding by rephrasing the material for your own benefit, then you have taken the added step of rephrasing your own original composition in such a way that another can understand it.

Encourage your classmates to do the same with you, thereby providing every party involved the opportunity to internalize the relevant information while giving everyone in your study group another round of review.

Inquire Incessantly

Provided you have the time, it is best to attend all review sessions and participate vigorously. The benefits of attending these sessions and asking questions are twofold. You benefit from the composition of relevant inquiries, and you benefit from the answers you receive from your professor or TA. You can further maximize the benefits of these practices by recording the responses you receive in your own words and incorporating the information into your personal study guide.

Create an Exam of Your Own

Once you have created your own study materials and shared them with your classmates, you stand to benefit from creating an exam or at least exam-like questions for yourself. Think about the material, identify the most important principles, and craft questions that require the respondent to demonstrate comprehension. When learning how to study for finals, the employment of this tactic will reflect an understanding that touches on expertise.

Try Out Your Understanding on a TA or a Professor

One of the most important secrets in learning how to study for finals and how to succeed in education is that professors and TAs are often bored during their office hours. This important resource is woefully under-appreciated by students. Once you have engaged in a compositional effort to deepen and expand your understanding of the relevant material, go share your findings with a highly educated person. They will be able to redirect you as necessary and confirm the validity of your efforts.

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Mobilize the Power of Formatting

Some students are visual learners, others auditory, still others kinetic. Regardless of your learning style, once you have composed a response to the relevant material, shared it with those around you and verify its legitimacy, retool it all. This can take the form of a network on a poster, a mock (or real) podcast, a skit, whatever works for you. Nearly all extant research indicates that reformatting what you already know enhances retention by a massive margin. This practice takes the compositional principle to the next level.

Sleep Regularly and Sufficiently

It may seem unrelated to how to study for finals, but your sleep schedule is closely intertwined with your performance in the classroom. Sleep every night for at least seven hours and do so at a fairly regular interval every day. Slight deviations are fine, but any large swings have a negative impact on cognition. Furthermore, over-sleeping is just as bad for your cognitive ability as under-sleeping. Get into your bed early and get out of it early.

Craft an Efficacious Battle Plan

As you have likely seen and will continue to see, segmentation of study is an elemental key to success. You should never study any subject for an unworkable interval. You are most likely to succeed in all of your classes if you have a predetermined, loose schedule detailing how much time you will devote to any given subject each day of each week of each semester. You need not be exact, but accomplishment comes more easily to the prepared.

Avoid Over-saturation

In the same vein as the previous tip, it is not beneficial to obsess over any particular topic. As you manage the demands of all your classes, give yourself variety every day. Spreading out your studies to address multiple topics each day without overdosing on any single topic. Furthermore, you are not just a student; you are a person: intermingle your interests and your studies. You can add to the benefits of segmentation by incorporating engagement with the things you love. If you need a break to read about baseball, celebrity gossip, or basket-weaving, take that break.

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Start Early

Your studies for any particular final should ideally begin the first day of the semester. Our research has repeatedly indicated that studying in large chunks of time near the date of the final itself is detrimental to a robust effort at learning how to study for finals. Study in small, manageable intervals is much more likely to lead to a comprehensive appreciation of the material conveyed in any course. This is closely related to our next suggestion for efficacious study.

Don’t Burn Yourself Out

If you try to learn as much as you can all at once, regardless of when in the semester you do so, you are likely to diminish your own prospects of retention while simultaneously lessening your own patience for the topic at hand down the road. This is, counterintuitively, most likely to happen with topics that initially inspire enthusiasm. No matter how motivated you are to engage with a particular topic, be sure to do so in an incremental fashion, slowly building on your body of knowledge as opposed to trying to learn everything there is to know in a week.

Give Yourself Frequent Breaks

The most recent research on attention span has indicated that attention spans are much more fragile than was previously thought, even in high-functioning adults. If you want to know how to study for finals most effectively, you must know the importance of breaks. This is true in both the short- and long-term. It is as counterproductive to study one topic too much in a day, a week, or a month as it is counterproductive to study for hours at a time. Find time to step away from studies, if only briefly, at least every hour. Anything more in one stretch and you are compromising your chances of retention.


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Perhaps the most concise guide to learning how to study for finals would read as follows: compose, share, and regulate. You must never take a passive approach to information; you must write back at the information from your own perspective. Once you have done this, you must let your perspective be challenged by those around you by sharing that information, understanding the shortcomings of your perspective, and internalizing the necessary alterations. Finally, you must segment the material in such a way that you are not overloaded nor under-stimulated. Follow these directions and enjoy your grades.