How to Pass Final Exams in College

Dear Little Sis,

It’s so wonderful to be popping on here again to chat with all of you. I sincerely apologize for taking the last two weeks off. However, I’m glad to be back and ready as ever to give you guys my best advice yet.

I just finished up my first year of college and wow was it something! I never thought I’d be ending it from my own home, or taking my semester final exams online! The thing is, life is truly unexpected, and we just have to learn to bounce back from it and adapt to the changes. I wanted to share with you all some of my best advice for getting the grade you want on your college finals!

Maybe some of you were lucky enough to escape these, but I wasn’t. I still had to take three final exams this semester, all of which were online. I wanted to share with you the methods I used to get two A’s and a B on my final exams.

1. Create a study plan

First things first, create a plan for yourself! This looks different for me depending on the number of exams I have. I prefer to create a separate study plan for each class, but if you just want to create an overall study plan that’s fine too. 

Typically, when I make a plan I will grab a blank piece of printer paper to do a quick brain dump. I’ll make a quick list of the content on the exam and I’ll star the concepts that I need to focus the most time on. Once I’ve looked over all the material I need to review, I’ll come up with a plan to best review it. I’ll use my genetics class and my chemistry class as examples. 

For genetics, my final wasn’t cumulative and covered 6 powerpoint of material. I began reviewing five days before the exam. Given the time I had to study, I decided to go through two powerpoints a day and make flashcards. Then, the day before the exam I reviewed my flashcards and made sure I had a good understanding of the overarching concepts. Since this exam could be taken online this semester with notes, I wasn’t as concerned with memorizing everything, but instead wanted to have a good understanding of where I could find information if I was stumped. 

My chemistry final was cumulative and my Professor provided me with 6 practice exams that had all the content I needed to review. I broke these up the same way. I worked through two packets a day and made cheat sheets of important information as I worked. 

Overall, a study plan is yours. Make it what you want. Only you know the best way for you to learn.

2. Set small goals

This is probably my best advice. Cramming for exams is the worst possible thing to do. It’s not going to get you the grades you want, and it’s just going to leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed. To avoid that, look at what needs to be reviewed and break it up into small pieces. 

Take that task list and break it into the smallest possible pieces. I would break every powerpoint I needed to review into it’s own goal, so once I finished I would feel accomplished. This also allows you to celebrate those small accomplishments. It lets me know I’m making progress even when I don’t feel like it. 

3. Maximize your cheat sheets

With many of our final exams looking different than normal, some professors are allowing the use of cheat sheets. These can be a great help and may be the reason for getting an A, but it’s important to really get the best use out of them.

So, how do you create a perfect cheat sheet? Work through old exams and lecture notes to create a list of the most important topics learned. Once you have a good list it’s important to try and simplify the information as best as you can. Try to use abbreviations and little tips instead of copying full sentences and charts. 

Know what you need. I don’t really need concepts on my cheat sheets as much as I do example problems. It turns out I’m really good at memorization, but when it comes to a math problem, I just get stumped without examples. I made sure to include examples of some of the hardest questions on my cheat sheets. This might not be something you need, but just be open to anything. 

4. Open notes = know the notes

I know many of us here the wonderful words, “this exam will be open notes,” and we think yay, no need to study now. That is the biggest lie we have ever told. It’s important to still study for open note exams. Of course, you don’t have to memorize every little detail. For open note exams, it’s more important to just have an understanding of the material. Know where different concepts are located. This way when you’re taking the test, if you get stumped on a question about natural selection, you know it’ll be in chapter 20 lecture notes. 

5. Color code

This is really helpful for open note/book exams, as well as for cheat sheets. I went through and highlighted each chapter of lecture notes a different color and then made a key for myself. When I got stuck on a question, I would look at my key to determine what chapter I needed. This made it so easy to quickly find the lecture I needed and really optimize my time. 

For my cheat sheets, I tried writing the notes for different chapters in different colors. I didn’t make a key for this, but it helped draw my attention to each section when I had questions. I could focus on one section at a time and know clearly when it ended. It also saved me from looking through the sheet four times for something I didn’t write down. 

6. Find a quiet space

I know this is kind of hard now that we’re stuck at home. It’s also difficult considering some exams have to be taken during a set time. Despite the challenges, it’s so important to still create the most optimal testing environment. Try to find the quietest place in your home to set up shop with all needed materials. If you don’t have a set space, I recommend making signs. When I took my exam in the dining room, I made “testing in progress” signs so my family would know not to bother me. They were super respectful of this. 

7. Remember these don't define you

More important than everything mentioned above, just remind yourself these exams don’t define you. Exams can bring with them a lot of anxiety. Don’t let them have that kind of authority over you. It took me a long time to begin learning this lesson. For a long time, I’ve built my identity on my successes, and that’s challenging. This year, I’ve had to learn my identity doesn’t come from my success, but it comes from my creator. I am created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28) and how well I do on my finals doesn’t change that. Allow me to pray for those of you who still have finals, or who may have gotten results you didn’t want.


I pray that you place your hand in the lives of anyone who still has exams. Give them peace and patience during this time. I ask that you provide them with the confidence they harbor inside. More importantly, Lord, I just thank you. I thank you for giving us an identity in you, so that we wouldn’t have to put so much weight into these exams. Thank you for giving us the freedom to try and fail, for allowing us to cast out all fear and anxiety that may come from these exams to You. Take the anxiety away and replace it with peace. For no matter the results, we are found in You. Thank you for loving us no matter what



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