Some of the most common study-related questions concern final exams, and with good reason. For many high school students, their final exams determine their success or failure in a class. That test can be 50% of a student’s grade for an entire semester of work. Here are four steps to help you make sure you get the most out of your study sessions for high school final exams.

1. Make sure you have all your materials.

Few things are more annoying than continually having to reassemble school supplies. Make sure you have all the books and other materials you need for that class. Frankly though, his books should just be a reference at this point. You’ve been taking good notes and studying all the time, so your most important materials aren’t in your books. It’s in his own words on his own paper.

You’ll also want to make sure you have enough materials to stay in place for at least 50 minutes. A writing utensil, paper to make new review materials, and a focused mind should suffice. If you prefer to make a digital resource instead of a handwritten one, that will work. But before you commit to a computer, consider these three benefits of handwriting your review materials.

First, it has the added memory aid of kinesthetic learning. This is a primary way people get information, and believe it or not, the simple act of writing something down can be tremendously helpful for memorization. Second, there are visual aids that come from handwriting a new review sheet that get overlooked on a computer screen. For example, many people have had the experience of remembering where an answer was on a particular page. If you’ve ever thought, “I remember it was under the alligator image in the top right corner of the pageā€¦” you know what I’m talking about. That benefit is mostly lost on a scrolling computer screen. Third, successful students know the benefits of arrows, diagrams, doodles, doodles, and all the other weird handwritten stuff to study with. You miss that in Microsoft Word. There is no way around it with the current state of technology.

If you have all your materials, you are now ready for step 2, setting the stage for a successful final exam study session.

2. Establish a great environment for studying.

Many college students overlook this element entirely. Consider this: how many students have you seen at Starbucks with a laptop open, Facebook in the background, Gmail chat in the foreground, Twitter feeds buzzing on their phones, text messages arriving every three minutes, and a book chemistry on your lap? That kind of study, if you can call it “study,” isn’t particularly useful for studying for final exams. High school students need to understand this element of studying for final exams before they graduate. Your environment matters. You can make or break your study session.

The problem with a bad environment is that time moves at the same speed whether you’re learning or not. Many disappointed students have spent hours in the cafeteria preparing for exams, but failed a test due to a poor environment. Large environments improve study exponentially.

Great environments, while different for each individual, will have certain things in common. Social networks will be kept at bay. As difficult as it sounds, it must be done. Tell Facebook, “Goodbye,” for an hour. Twitter, text messages, Voxer and HeyTell have no place in a final study session. More traditional media such as television must also be closed for a while. Set up an environment where you can focus without the constant pull of the media around you. Music can help some students stay focused, but try to make sure it’s instrumental and plays quietly in the background, if at all. The calmer and more focused your environment, the more productive your study session will be.

3. Focus your studies on the most important ideas and details.

When you study for finals, you should not reread the chapters. Reading is an important part of the learning process, but it is too comprehensive to be useful on a final exam. You only want the biggest and most important details. Birthdays, maiden names, pet names, favorite colors, and state flowers are generally not included on final exams. Essays on the main movements of thought and the key thinkers involved are in the final exams.

Excelling on final exams depends on whether or not you can focus your learning on the most important ideas. If you can, you will surely get a higher score in less study time. If you can’t, you probably know a lot of information, have spent many hours in the library, and don’t understand why so much of what you studied wasn’t on the test. Learning what to learn is just as important as learning how to learn.

4.Study.

Get to work on what you know. Review the notes you’ve taken, make a study guide for yourself, and do the work. I recommend 50 minutes of study at a time. Break up those sections with a ten minute break to get the most out of your session.

5. Stop studying, sleep and master the final exam.

There comes a point in each study session where every student has to sleep. Sometimes students forget this. They stay up late, drink a lot of coffee, feel miserable, and work for a long time. Then when the test comes, they’re in a daze and end up writing weird stuff.

Don’t write weird essays. I just went to sleep. It is one of the most important things you can do during the study process.

A friend of mine from high school drew a sailboat on an essay test because he couldn’t collect his thoughts enough to write a great essay. In case you’re curious, sailboats don’t do well on writing tests. And yes, that is a true story. You can’t make that up.

If you’ve done your homework, you should be prepared for a great performance on your final exams. Relax, know you’ve done all you can, and master the test.

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