How to Pass Finals


Ah, the holiday season: a time when family and friends join in general relaxation and merriment–except for the odd college student sitting in the closet trying to cram. Fortunately, I am not going through this routine–yet. Here is my method for passing finals without becoming more of an antisocial klutz than I already am.

Start Early.

Now, I do not mean that you should begin studying for finals as soon as the semester begins, I mean that you should focus on learning the material at hand during the school year, so you are already familiar with the material on the test. This is not a substitute for actually studying for finals. You should begin studying for finals at least a week in advance.


So let us assume that you waited until two days before the final exam. I suppose this could happen to anyone. Outline the material. There is a slow, laborious, and quality way of doing this, which I employed during high school. The slow way is to read the entire chapter in the textbook, review any notes, and arrange the subject into two to five topics and under these place definitions and equations. Here is an excerpt from one of my high school physics outlines. (This material is © Dr. Jay Wile, Exploring Creation with Physics) Note that I appear to be creating an abridged version of the textbook.

  1. Energy – The ability to do work
    1. Potential energy – Energy that is stored, ready to do work
      1. (8.2)PE =mgh  Where “PE” is potential energy, “m” is the mass of the object, “g” is gravitational acceleration, and “h” is the height of the object above the ground. The equation follows the form (m·g) times Δx (h) equals W (PE).
      2. Potential energy is relative, depending on how height is determined.
    2. Kinetic energy – Energy in motion
      1. (8.3) KE=1/2mv^2  Where “KE” is kinetic energy, “m” is the mass of the object, and “v” is speed.
      2. The SI unit for both Potential and kinetic energy is the Joule

The quick, hurried, and less-than-perfect way is to skim the textbook, make the main headings of each chapter into the main points of the outline, and under the main headings write definitions, any equations that seem to be set apart from everything else, or lists. Here is an excerpt from one of my college theatre outlines. (This material is © Mira Felner and Claudia Orenstein, The World of Theatre) Note that it looks like I simply copied a few headings and bolded definitions from the glossary.

  1. Goals of Stage Lighting
    1. Creating Mood
    2. Providing Selective Visibility and Focus
    3. Defining Style
    4. Establishing Time and Place
    5. Telling the Story
      1. cross-fading—Slowly diminishing one lighting cue while adding another to gradually transition from one cue to the next.
      2. fade—A gradual dimming of the stage lights.
      3. blackout—A rapid and complete dimming of the lights on stage.
    6. Reinforcing the Central Image or Theme of the Play

Do Not Stress Out. Also, Sleep.

Assuming that it is now the night before your exam and all you have time left to do, whether you have prepared or not, is to skim the chapter or sleep, my advice is pick the one which you think will be most productive. If you cannot stay awake, sleep. If you cannot sleep, skim your books. There is not much you can do at this point anyway, and studies have shown that people are smarter when they are rested.


I realize that many people probably pray only when they are confronted with a situation like this. However, I still think this is a good time to take an advantage of a relationship with the Lord of the universe. In addition to being calming and reassuring, God might help out. I mean, He is the Lord of the universe. He can probably pull a few strings. (Just remember to thank Him later.)

Do Not Cheat.

Imagine you are now taking the test of your nightmares. Do not peek at your neighbor’s answers. Put quite simply, who are you to know whether your neighbor has studied, or whether the distributor of an answer key has not sabotaged the answers in order to get a higher grade than the rest of the class?

Take Your Time.

Three out of four of my professors have stated quite simply that the people who leave the exam room first are often the people who get the worst scores. (My roommate excluded, but she had the course in high school.) Things done quickly are often done carelessly so take the time to…

Check Your Answers.

One calculus test, I used my spare time to do each problem again. I had made errors on almost every single question. I did the last question three times. However, I got a 97/100 on the exam. Check. Your. Work.

Eat Chocolate.

Okay, let us assume that the nightmarish test is finally over. You cannot do anything to fix your grade, so relax. If you cannot relax, you should eat chocolate. In fact, I encourage you to eat chocolate all through the studying process. It will keep your spirits high.


3 thoughts on “How to Pass Finals

  1. You haven’t had any finals yet. I’m glad you’re preparing well, but I’m not sure you should be distributing advice.

    Those who leave early get the worst scores because they are aware that they are going to flunk and have decided not to prolong their misery.

  2. > Take Your Time
    I had at least one professor who stated that the students who got the highest scores frequently corresponded to the students who left first (they knew the material backwards) and the students who left last (they just knew the material). This was in a liberal arts class though; it probably doesn’t port to technical subjects.

    > If you cannot stay awake, sleep
    No, no. You can stay up late (on a fairly consistent basis) before you really can’t stay awake. Your recall will degrade significantly before then. Keep a normal schedule. There’s no good reason to loose sleep the night before a final.

    > Outline
    Outlines are good, but the reason you make them is so you can review them on a regular basis. Repetition to keep the old stuff fresh makes for good grades.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s