How I Prepare for Finals: Making a Personalized Schedule

An open notebook on a desk surrounded by sticky notes and pencilsWritten by: Grace Turek, 4th Year Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences

Photo from: Canva

Finals season is unfortunately already approaching and can be very daunting especially in this new virtual school setting where we still are not sure what to expect! When I faced my 1st finals season at Western 3 years ago I was extremely lost and had no idea how to even start studying. Over the past years I have learned how to navigate the stress of exams and have found that making a proper studying schedule has helped me tremendously. Here is how I do it:

1. Look ahead and start early...

I'm sure this comes as no surprise but planning out your exam studying schedule as early as possible can be super helpful. I know first-hand how busy the end of November is in itself, so you can really only do your best here. As a science student, I will usually start to think about planning for exams 2-3 weeks before the date of my first one.

2. Figure out how much content there is to cover and in how much time...

Making a daily schedule and setting goals for yourself leading up to exams can be very valuable because it gives you an idea of how much you should get done each day so that you aren’t left scrambling a few days before the exam. To come up with my schedule I will usually look at how much content I need to review for a course and how many days I have leading up to the exam. I also highly suggest adding in flex days into your study schedule to act as a buffer incase there is a day where you don’t get as much done as you had hoped.

For example, let’s say I am taking a course that has 10 lectures on the exam and I have 12 days to study for it. I will try to make it a goal to get through 1 lecture a day with 1 flex day and 1 final day to review all the material over again. Or, let’s say my document of notes for Psychology is 77 pages and I have 12 days. Here, I would probably cover the content of 11 pages each day with one day left to spare. I really like this method of dividing it up by pages or by lectures because it is usually more equally divided per day then say, dividing up your study days by Psychology chapter, which may vary in size.

When making your schedule it is also important to consider what other priorities you have going on during those weeks. Do you have a shift you have to work? Do you have another exam that day that will take up time and energy? Do you have an appointment? Knowing what commitments you have coming and planning your schedule accordingly is key. Making realistic goals is also crucial to help you stay productive and to prevent burnout.

3. Making the actual schedule...

I am a visual person, so being able to see how my week looks leading up to exams eases my mind a little. In order to make my actual schedule, as mentioned above, I first determine how much content I need to cover per day, per course. Then I will create a blank table calendar on Microsoft Word where I will insert the tasks that I would like to accomplish each day and any other priorities I have that day. Check out the example I inserted below for one week:

An example of Grace's schedule of school work to do each day
Mon, Nov 30 Tues, Dec 1 Wed, Dec 2 Thurs, Dec 3 Fri, Dec 4
Chec lecture 1,2 Work @ 10-4 Chem lecture 3, 4 Chem lecture 5,6  Flex day (for anything I didn't finish)
Pysch pages 1-11 Pysch pages 24-35 Volunteering @ 5-9
Psych pages 12-23

4. Learn how, when, and where you study best...

After years of trying to push myself to be a nighttime or library studier, I realized it just is not something that works for me. Knowing where, how and when you are most productive and focused is important for studying efficiently and effectively.

WHEN: I learned that it is okay to have times of the day where you just feel like you can’t focus and won’t be able to get anything done. For me I find it really difficult to study after 9pm because I am usually too tired, but for others, they may find it hard to crack open the books right when they wake up. If you focus best at night, plan your schedule accordingly and book in your studying blocks then instead of pushing yourself to do work when your body and mind aren’t as equipped to during that time.

WHERE: Switching up my study setting is something that I really enjoy doing as it prevents me from getting too bored, uncomfortable and keeps things interesting. Unfortunately, with COVID it is isn’t possible to study at libraries or coffee shops right now. So, if you can, try to switch up your study locations in your house. One other big tip is to not study where you sleep. Studying while being curled up in blankets always sounds so fun until you are fast asleep and got nothing done.

HOW: Knowing how you study best for each type of course (critical thinking, writing, content/memory) is a key skill to have in order to study effectively. Up until recently, I studied by re-reading and highlighting my notes. Even though I covered all the material and it felt like I knew all of it. However, during the exam I would second guess myself, forget content and had trouble with critical thinking questions. This is when I started to learn how to study actively. This can include making mind-maps, explaining concepts out loud to myself and making flash cards on ANKI.

For anyone who is in a content-based memorization course, I highly recommend downloading the flashcard program ANKI. Unlike other flashcard websites like Quizlet, it uses active recall and spaced repetition to quiz you on certain terms, which has been proven to be extremely effective in studying.

I have really found making a schedule to be extremely helpful when preparing for exams as it keeps me from getting overwhelmed or questioning if I will cover all the material in time. I hope that these tips are helpful! Everyone is different so don’t be discouraged if a study method doesn’t work for you. Keep trying out new things and see what works best!

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