How to Study for Exams
Written by Drew Sarmiere – Peak Founder and President
For many districts, high school exams are just around the corner. Understanding how to prepare appropriately for final exams is not an easy task; it takes time and practice. Freshman students, in particular, tend to struggle the most as oftentimes they did not have many, if any, cumulative final exams in middle school. You can help your child by sitting down and developing a finals study plan.
Planning Time – students that will have cumulative finals in most/all classes need to start preparing about 2 weeks in advance. Since students are still in school Mon-Fri and are still receiving homework and other assignments, weekends are a great opportunity to focus time and energy on exam prep. Develop a study plan that starts work on Sat and Sun two weekends before finals. A little time, (15-60 minutes) each day, should be spent studying during the following school week – how much time depends on the rigor of the upcoming finals, current grades in classes, and how much continued schoolwork your student has. The weekend before exams is critical to a student’s success. Time studying should be spent on Fri, Sat and Sun. Fri can be limited, an hour or two, though more time spent on Fri can mean less intensive studying on Sat/Sun, which can be helpful. Sat and Sun will likely need 2-6+ hours each. Students should not study more than 2-3 hours at a time, preferably with small 5-15 minutes breaks within those two hour periods. A study schedule could look something like 10am-12pm, long break, 3-5, long break 7-9 for Sat and Sun. Students will need significant breaks between these 2-3 hour sessions. Importantly, he idea is to plan breaks around studying and not the other way around – a common issue. Exam days tend to be shorter, allowing students to devote extra time to studying. The night before exams, students should generally be 90+ percent ready and simply reviewing to tie up loose ends. Students SHOULD NOT be reviewing material for only the first or second time right before the exam; they should be on their 4th, 5th, 6th time (when possible). . . . Repetition is key to preparing for tests, especially finals.
Grades – philosophically, Peak believes students should conduct their studies such that they are appropriately competent with the material when tested, regardless of how many points they may have, or what their grade is in a given class. Students should put their best efforts into each assignment/lesson. When it comes to exams, however, practicality reigns. Unless a student already has A’s in every class, maybe a few high B’s, it’s not practical, or fair, to expect a student to prepare in such a way as to get A’s on every final exam. When it comes to finals, students must prioritize their time and energy. Find out how the exam grade can impact the semester grade, and then do the math using the equation below to determine the grade needed on the final to earn the desired semester grade.
Final semester grade = (current semester grade x % value) = (exam grade x % value)
For example, a student going into his final with a current grade of 88%, but wanting an A, in a class where the final exam has a % value of 15% of the total grade would look like this: 90 = (88 x 0.85) + (X x 0.15) where X is the exam grade needed to end up with a 90% on the class. In this case, the student will need a 101.3% on the final in order to get a 90. This begs the question, does the teacher round up (most do)? If so the equation would look like this: 89.5 = (88 x 0.85) + (X x 0.15). In this case, the student needs a 98 in order to earn an 89.5, which is an A if rounded up.
This is a perfect example of why it’s important to do this math. Students need to prioritize their study time. Should this student put in the time/energy needed to try to get a final semester grade of an A? Answer – probably not, even if the teacher rounds up. Why not? Because he needs a 98 on the final for an 89.5 in the class, anything less than a 98 will be a B+; what are the chances he can get a 98 on the final? Probably not very good. In this case, it probably makes the most sense to accept a B in this class and focus time/energy toward other classes, one in which he has a 90%, for example, and wants to maintain that A. At this point, you can calculate the grade he needs to keep the B (assuming no +/- in grades). 80 = (88 x 0.85) + (X x 0.15). This student only needs a 35% on the final to maintain a B. He can probably do that without studying for this final at all. If +/- are involved, he’ll go from a B+ to a B- with the 35% (not good to go from B+ to B-). You can do the math, of course, and figure out exactly what is needed to keep that B+ (it’s probably around an 85 on the final, estimated).
By carrying out this math, you and your child can prioritize finals prep. Once this is done, you need to develop a study plan. This is the challenging part, and not something that can be covered in a few paragraphs. Use your experiences as a student to help your child, but be careful not to force your practices down his throat; listen to his input as well. Repetition is the key, so make sure your child has opportunities to review material multiple times. Develop the plan so that, ideally, the night before the final is a last brush up before the exam. The best way to develop the study plan is to determine how many chapters or topics are on the final, estimate the time needed to review each chapter/lesson, and then add up this time to get a total study time. Then, look at how many days can be devoted to studying for this class along with how much time each day and plan accordingly.
By now, you’re understanding how complicated this process truly is. This is no easy task for a student, particularly a younger and more inexperienced student. You help as a parent, despite the fact that your child may likely resist this help, is very important.