The Comprehensive Guide to Passing Your Final Exams

It’s that time of year again. Dreaded finals season. You’re probably knee deep in finals right now if you’re in Canada so this guide may be coming a little late to use. But if you are interested in study tips, this is for you! This is the method that I used throughout my degree and the majority of my grades were A’s or A+. This is a surefire way to learn more and pass your finals. It’s not a quick fix for people who have neglected their courses all year but it should help keep you on track with your studying and provide from insight into how you should be revising. Now, this isn’t the only way to study but it’s what I did and it worked very well for me!


Get out Your Syllabus

First things first, dig your syllabus out from wherever you threw it at the beginning of the term. Can’t find it? See if someone in your class has one or better yet, if you can go online and print out a new one, do that. I don’t care how hard it is to find, you are going to need it. The syllabus is your bible for your course. Pro tip for all of your future courses; when you get your syllabus, put it in one of those page protector things and put it in a safe place.

Alright, now that I’ve lectured you about your carelessness with your syllabi, flip through said syllabus and highlight the date of your exam. Is it the final? Midterm? Quiz? Whatever it is, highlight it.

Cumulative or Not?

Sometimes professors have mercy on their students and make finals non-cumulative. For those who have never experienced this, that means that the material that was on the previous exams will not be tested on the final. Usually, though, finals are cumulative. This will drastically alter how much you have to study so make sure you confirm this. If your syllabus doesn’t specify, shoot an email off to your prof.

How is the Syllabus broken down?

Syllabi can be broken down in a few different ways. Usually syllabi will break the year down into units or into weeks. For example  your syllabus might look something like this:

Module 1

Week 1 Chapter 1

Week 2 Chapter 2

Week 3 Chapter3

Determine how many modules you are going to have to study for the exam. The example syllabus that I am using has 4 modules. Within each module, there are between 3 and 5 chapters. Hi light the modules in one color and the chapters/ weeks in another color.

How Much are you Going to Study at a Time?

Let’s say you’re going to start studying for your exam today. Give yourself a week for each module and two ish days for each chapter. Today, you would start on chapter one and if you need more or less time you could adjust as necessary.  If you’ve left yourself a less than ideal amount of time before your exam, calculate how much material you are going to have to cover each day in order to finish studying in time.


Gather your Materials

Gather all of the materials pertaining to this course for the whole year/ semester. Notes you’ve taken, study guides, exams, tests, assignments, power points,  everything that you could possibly need. You should be studying it all. You should especially be studying old exams because professors typically recycle old questions. They might not be identical but the premise will be the same. Here is a list of the materials you’ll need to gather:

Course Materials

Course Powerpoints
Course Notes you have Taken
Study Guides you’ve made or been given
Assignments you have completed
Midterm exams
Old exams your professor has given
Any study materials you used for your previous exams

Study Materials

Flash Cards
Colored Pencils (optional)
Printer (If your notes are on the computer)
Fresh Notebook
Binder clips or paper clips
Flashcard Storage Case (optional but highly recommended)


Start Studying

Now you are ready to start studying. In this section I’m going to outline a process that should help you study for your exams in an efficient and effective way. You can choose what steps you want to follow and which ones you don’t but this is the method that I used to get almost straight A’s and A+ throughout my degree. These steps are what you should go through for each section you study. If you broke your studying down by chapter (which is what I suggest) you should do this for each chapter.

Read the Textbook

This is something you should have done already but it is especially important if you haven’t read the textbook. Say we are starting on Module one chapter one. Read that chapter, get out your fresh notebook, and make notes like it’s the first time you’re reading the text (even if it’s not).

Go over the power point slides

Go over the power point slides if your professor has posted them online. If not, skip this step. Take notes if the slides are complete enough to facilitate that. These notes will likely be shorter and less comprehensive than the notes from the textbook but that’s ok.

Re-do your Lecture Notes

Now it’s time to look over the notes you took in lecture and re-do them. Organize them, make them look nice, and make note of anything that the professor said was important.


Make Flashcards

Ok, here comes the fun part. Right now, you should have 3 sets of notes for chapter 1 in your fresh notebook. You should have your textbook notes, your power point notes, and your updated lecture notes. Go through each of these and make flashcards for every topic that is important. You can pick out definitions, important dates, event’s, people, or just make practice questions for yourself.

What Should I put on My Flashcards?

It can be hard to pick out what should go on your flashcards. There is so much material and it’s impossible to get it all on the flashcards. There are a few things that can help with this.

Definitions: All definitions should go on your cards. Put the word on the blank side and the definition on the lined side. Definitions can come from your textbook, your power point slides, or your lecture notes. Make sure you cross reference these notes so you aren’t repeating definitions.

Formulas: If you are taking a class that includes formulas you have to memorize, put these on the flashcards. On one side you could write what the formula is for (eg. to calculate the speed of an object) and then write the formula on the other side (speed= distance/time). You can also break it down further and define the variables on the other side.

Anything your instructor said is important: In lecture, instructors will sometimes make a point of telling you that something is going to be on the exam. Make sure you write it down, underline it, circle it 100 times, whatever you have to do to remember it. And make sure you include it in your flashcards.

Anything in the textbook chapter summary: The chapter summary can be very helpful. It will include everything that you should know and be able to answer once you’ve read through it. Usually it will have practice questions. Put these on the flashcards too.

How Should I Organize my Flashcards?

 If module one has 4 chapters, make a bundle of flashcards for each chapter and bind each chapter together with a binder clip. Once you’ve completed them all, put an elastic over all 4 of them to keep them together. Better yet, if you buy a flashcard holder, you won’t have to worry about losing any.


Study Old Assignments

Now it’s time to look over your assignments for that week. If you had an assignment due, try to find a blank version or create a blank version yourself and complete the assignment without any help from the textbooks or notes. If you can do this, chances are you know the material really well. Anything that you aren’t able to answer on the assignments should be put on a flashcard to review later .

Study Old Exams

Once you have gone through the material that leads up to the midterm, re do the midterm without looking at your notes and see how well you do on it. If you aren’t satisfied with your score. Go over the material that you don’t know and add this to your flash cards for this section.


Other Tips

Ask for Practice Exams

Talk to people that you know who have taken the class previously. If they were able to keep their exams, ask if you can use them for practice. Sometimes the tutoring centres at the university will have old exams for you to use. If you’re really lucky your professor might provide you with some. If they do, USE THEM. I can not stress this enough. There is nothing more valuable when you are studying. Practice exams are the holy grail. 

Use Diagrams and other Tools

Diagrams, charts, and other visual tools can be great for courses like anatomy. If you’re learning body part locations, muscle groups, etc, it can be very helpful to print out diagrams and use them to study.

Form a Study Group

Study groups can be motivating and helpful. If you have others to bounce ideas off of and ask questions, it can help you a lot. One of the best ways to remember things is to teach it to someone else, this is where study groups can come in very handy.


Use Online Resources

If you don’t feel that you have adequate resources to study with, find your own! The internet is full of information and I can guarantee that you will find information related to your course. Some sites will have practices questions, quizzes, and assignments for you to practice. All you have to do is search around.

Don’t be Afraid to Email Your Professor

That handy syllabus that you dug up? That has your professors email, office phones, and office hours on it. If you are struggling with a concept, connect with your professor and they will help you. I know that this isn’t something that most people want to do, but it can really help you in the long run.

Be More Prepared in the Future

If you are struggling with time management, try to be more prepared in the future. Start studying earlier, go to more lectures, ask more questions, and take more notes. It’s impossible to be too prepared.

If you follow these recommendations, you should be well on your way to an A. I would love to hear how you study for your exams and what has and hasn’t worked for you in the past. If you are curious about study methods for a particular course, I can do my best to create guidelines in a future post! Please like this post and subscribe if you enjoyed!


Published by Brooklyn

Just a recent university graduate sharing her love of reading! In my free time you'll either find me reading or working on my novel!

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