How to Remember What You Study for Finals

How to Remember What You Study for Finals

Avoid cramming for finals and actually remember what you’ve studied in college.


Get to class early and look over your notes from the previous class.

Mention the word "finals" to any college student and its bound to be met with a sound implying dissatisfaction (see also: ugh).

Yet finals don't have to result in a week of cramming and sleepless nights only to forget all of your hard work the moment you turn that test or essay in to your professor. Instead, a few simple studying techniques can help limit the stress that is tied to finals week and give you the ability to remember the information for use later down the road. Check out these suggestions from education experts and get ready to meet your finals head on.

1. Study with peers.

"Find a way to compare and share your understanding with others (who are) studying the same thing," said Becky Splitt, CEO of StudyBlue. "Having conversations with peers and friends about certain subject matters –– and why they matter –– often resonates better."

Split said this study method also applies to experimental learning. She recommends a student practice a particular theory or subject matter in order to see if he or she fully understands it. "By tutoring and teaching others, it requires the student to learn the content inside and out," Splitt said.

2. Stop missing class.

Some students, enamored by the newly found freedom of college life, find themselves increasingly apt to skip classes. However, this can be a toxic habit. "Unless you are bleeding from your ears, do not miss class," said Carmen Christopher Caviness, director of the Learning Center at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. "As any online student will tell you, the social environment of the classroom provides many benefits that reading alone can't give."

3. Be prepared for class.

That being said, simply showing up to class is not enough to ensure a student will remember specific material. That means a student needs to show up to class ready to pay attention to the lectures, presentations and discussions that are taking place. Cynthia Crimmins, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at York College of Pennsylvania, recommends getting as far as you can with the material before each class. "Read assignments and do problems before class," she said. "That way, the lecture will be your first review."

Crimmins said it is also important to "stay focused and engaged."

"Half the trick to studying is getting your brain to engage with the material and stay focused for as long as possible," she said. "Study at your most alert. Things take half as long when you are fresh."

4. Don't cram for finals.

"I never crammed for exams and always advise students against that method," said Isa Adney, author, columnist and higher education consultant. "The best way to study is to spend time in the material every single day."

During her time in school, Adney said it was always important that she get to class early and look over her notes from the previous class. She would also read every assignment and write notes in the margins, "just to really engage in the material."

"I also got study groups together just to talk about the information and help each other," she said, adding that this method helped her to be less stressed and score higher test grades. "But I have a learning style that is very reliant on reading and talking, so every student must figure out what works best and then utilize their favorite methods every single day. It actually becomes quite fun, and studying becomes easy."

5. Take good notes and review them often.

In order to maximize your study time outside of class, you'll need to take ample notes while you're in class, said Dan Connolly, associate dean of undergraduate programs at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. "Not taking notes leaves it up to students to remember everything that transpired," he said. "Given the number of things going on in students' lives, that's obviously very difficult."

One memory strategy that works for some students is to rewrite their notes, Connolly said: "During the process of rewriting your notes, your brain is learning through repetition."

6. Fight distractions.

At any given time students looking to get some studying done have a host of distractions with which to contend, a "problem" that is not uncommon to the average college campus.

"Essentially, on any campus you can find a party any night of the week," Connolly said. "By all means, you should have fun, but it's important not to neglect your studies, or you'll get behind."

7. Get enough sleep and stay hydrated.

"Sleep is connected to our ability to maintain attention, make good decisions, and form and recall memories," said Joe Hardy, Ph.D., vice president of research and development at Lumosity. "Your brain is approximately 80 percent water, and dehydration can impair short-term memory function and the recall of long-term memory."

8. Ask for help when you need it.

"First-year students especially want to look like they know everything," said James Black, director of the Center for Academic Achievement at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. "But if you really want to know everything, you have to first admit you still have things to learn."

Don't be afraid to consult your campus academic support or tutoring center where you may discover a number of opportunities that can help you grow as a student.

"Don't let the stigma of asking for help stop you from performing at the level you can," Black said. "Don't be a 'B-minus' student when you can be an 'A' student."

Quick Tips

  • Ask other students to join you for study sessions and practice specific subjects with them to better remember the material.
  • Stay hydrated and make sure to get adequate sleep.
  • Consult campus academic support for tutoring or recommendations for study methods.
  • Show up to class and make sure to come prepared to take ample notes.

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