Ready, Aim, Fire: How to defeat your final exams and make it out alive

Story by Aaron Campbell, Managing Editor 
Photo courtesy of

It’s that time of the semester for college students everywhere. The Final Exams are here and the battle is inevitable. Here are a few tips and tricks that can help prevent (ease) the pain and suffering.

  1. Never underestimate your enemy.

It doesn’t matter how “easy” you have heard the exam was or how simple the past exams have been, finals can often be much more challenging than before. If you approach a final with the assumption that it is easy you could be very unpleasantly surprised. Considering that your final exam is also the final component of your grade and often 20%, getting blindsided by your exam is one thing that can be easily avoided.

  1. Create a training schedule and STICK TO IT.  

Okay, so you’ve figured out when your finals are and what ones you really need to do well on; now it’s time to develop your training schedule. Develop a training (study) schedule that works for you. Being a college student you probably have a million things to do, but that is NOT an excuse. Plan out when you are going to study for what and how long you are going to spend studying each class. Make this schedule easy to follow, allowing for food breaks and social media/texting breaks.

Allowing yourself to focus on another topic periodically might help with writer’s block, comprehension, retention, and so much more. The key to training your brain is to make sure that you STICK with the schedule. Self-discipline when studying is so essential.

  1. Gather Intel on the enemy.

The next step in your prep for the big day(s) is to start some recon missions. Reach out to your professors! It does not matter if it is after class, in class,  during office hours, or via email; more often than not, your professors are more than willing to clarify the material that you should know for the exam. Friends, upperclassmen, and department tutors also serve as excellent resources for debunking the exam content.

Typically anyone who has taken the exam in the past will remember the general format and content of the exam. Even if you think that you already know what will be on the exam or what format it will be in, you would be shocked to see the amount that past students remember about their exam question horror stories. Again, the only way that you’ll ever know is if you ask.

  1. Know your training facilities and take advantage of them.

A good training facility can do wonders on the progress of the trainee. Sure, your brain might not be getting “swole,” but it certainly will appreciate a good study spot. The glory of study spots is that everyone’s is different. Find out what works with you and make it part of your routine. Some people need silence, classical music, dimly lit rooms, their bed, and the list goes on. The most important part is finding out what works for you and going with it. Not only will you be able to feel comfortable, but you’ll also be able to get quality studying done.

  1. Optimize your training time.

Speaking of quality studying, if you find yourself not getting anything done, quickly figure out why. The battle against your first exam is coming faster than you probably realize, so time is of the essence. There is no sense in trying to study if you know that it is not “sticking.” This is war; tactics play a key role in coming out on top, so having a backup plan is necessary. If flash cards aren’t working for you, try reading or rereading your notes.

If you still are having trouble with that method, try rewriting your notes or having someone quiz you on the material. By the way, yes, I did say rewriting. Unfortunately, when your brain doesn’t want to cooperate, you have to force it to. Get creative with your study methods and find out what is going to work in the moment.

  1. “Every man for himself.”

Don’t get this confused, ladies–this goes for you too. You may try to recruit or assemble a squadron to help you prep for the great fight, but, ultimately, when test day comes, you are by yourself. If your study group or friend becomes too distracting, it is time to deploy Operation Lone Wolf. As much as it sucks to jump ship, you are going to have to. This may apply even if your group’s way of studying is just not working for you: it is too slow, too fast, or too confusing. Everyone learns and retains information differently and if your friends turn from helpers to hindrances, it is time to think for yourself. No one knows what you need to know better than you.

  1. Choose your battles wisely.

Depending on when you begin your training, you may or may not be able to cover all of the things that you should be reviewing. As the day grows nearer, it is important not to try and spread yourself thin. Instead of choosing to cover every chapter or concept equally, use your notes or your memory as a guide. Chances are if you don’t remember your professor talking about it, then it is not worth a terrible amount of time to study for it. It is better to lose two points on a concept that is mentioned once, opposed to six on a larger concept with multiple appearances on your exam.

  1. Gear up for show time: Put on your helmet and fuel up.

You’ll want to be alert, focused, and, most importantly, awake for the battle. It is crucial to get a good night of shuteye the night before your exam(s). If you have to, call it an early night the night before and set 10 alarms for a few hours prior to your exam. Wake up in time to lightly review the material that you still feel shaky about, and make sure you eat a good breakfast–protein works wonders. You also want to make sure that you have plenty of energy in order to disarm all of the questions that will be soon to come your way. You’ll want to be wearing the best of the best for battle; ditch the sweats and look presentable. You’ll look good, feel good, and your performance will most likely follow suit.

  1. Enjoy the “calm before the storm.”

In the minutes leading up to your exam, relax. At about 30 minutes prior to your exam, there is nothing that you can do or see that will change the outcome of your performance. If anything, continuing to stress in the crucial moments before your exam will actually send you into a state of panic. Instead of freaking out and worrying about what you do or don’t know, think confidently. You have prepared as much as you possibly could have and at this point, you know what you know. It always has helped me to get to the battle site about 30 minutes early in order to settle in and get comfortable. After all, it is your battle to win; own it.    

Follow these simple rules and walk off of the battlefield unscathed or at least with minimal wounds.

Good luck, Soldier.

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