Instructor's Blog: Final Exam Tips from an Instructor's Perspective

Many students are stressed about final exams, and I’d like to offer some strategies to alleviate some of that stress. 
The first step for succeeding at a final exam is to find out what you can about your final exam. There is usually a brief description of the final exam located in the tracking calendar (which is your best friend!). Also, many final exams are not timed, which means you can open the activity and submit it at a later date. Here are a few more final exam tips to remember this semester and beyond:
Final exams are not mysteries
Final exams are not meant as a torture device, testing students on random, obscure knowledge. Your final exam will address course outcomes (which are also in the tracking calendar) and content presented throughout the course. Preparing for a final exam, even before you can view it, should involve reviewing lectures, textbook reading and especially past assignments. Look closely at the feedback from your instructor. Identify areas where you struggle and focus on those. Studies have shown that cramming for an exam is ineffective. The week before a final exam is not the time to learn an entire coursework of material. Studying for short periods of time each week ensures that you can actually absorb the information. Even during a final review, losing sleep to study is counterproductive.  Read more about study strategies here.
Taking the exam
When you are able to look at the exam, spend time looking at the requirements. If there is a rubric, pay close attention to each category of the rubric. Email your instructor if you are unsure of any part of the directions. Also, many final exams include reflection questions. This is because reflection is so essential to learning. I have seen many students forget this part of an exam. If the exam is untimed, take advantage of the opportunity to present your best work. Begin the exam on Friday, but don’t submit it until the next day at least. Looking at your work with fresh eyes and checking the requirements again is a critical step. There is little advantage to submitting a final exam early.  Your instructor may still be grading assignments from the previous week. A final exam waiting to be graded is a missed opportunity for revision and thoroughness.
After the exam
To learn the most, look over your exam after it is graded. How did you do? Do you understand the feedback or why you were marked down?  What could you do differently in the future? Reflecting on past experiences is a great way to learn in the classroom and in your career!