Tips for acing your finals
At long last, it's that time of the semester: Only one more week of exams, projects, and essays stands between you and your bed back home, your family and three weeks of freedom. Here’s how to finish off finals week strong, regardless of which type of final has you stressed or how badly you’ve procrastinated.
If you have a group project and/or presentation ...
Assign tasks to each person. Ideally, you should try to take advantage of each group member's talents to knock out your project. The charismatic, talkative individual should probably take the lead presenting the project, while the design major could put together the slides and the English major could write and edit them. There are plenty of ways to split up the work, but your project will turn out the best if everyone is utilizing their strengths.
Once you’ve divided the tasks, make sure you are all in agreement about what you need to do. You don't want to show up to your final with unfinished work because expectations weren’t clear or there was a disagreement about who was supposed to finish the last slide.
You should also agree on a dress code for the day of the presentation. If you don’t discuss this beforehand, one person might show up in a suit and another might show up in jeans or pajama pants. Agree beforehand on what level of formality the presentation warrants, and dress accordingly.
When you’re giving your presentation, try not to read from a script. Bring notecards instead of a fully typed sheet of paper so your speech sounds more organic and you can maintain regular eye contact with your audience and be engaging.
To conclude your presentation, finish with a slide labeled “Questions?” and maybe add a fun graphic. Not only will this slide engage the audience and encourage active participation (always a plus), but it will also signal to your classmates that you’re wrapping up so you can avoid that awkward 30-second interval where you wait for people to figure out that you’ve finished before saying, “… that’s it!”
If you have a cumulative exam ...
Study smarter, not harder. This is especially important when you only have a few days to go over a semester’s worth of material. So, before you start trying to read through a 500-page textbook from beginning to end to “review” the material (or, you know, read it for the first time), go back and review your own lecture notes and your professor’s PowerPoint presentations. If your professor has also given you a study guide for the exam, you should use it as a reference for what to look for. Then, if there are concepts or terms on the study guide that you can’t find in your notes or the PowerPoints, search for them specifically in your textbook. This approach will save you a lot of precious studying time.
On the day of the exam, bring more pencils than you think you need. You don't want to be that person who breaks their pencil and has to ask the professsor if you can borrow theirs. Also make sure you wear comfortable clothing, even if you follow the "dress well, test well" advice. You don't want to wear an uncomfortable blazer that restricts all your arm movement during a test. Find a compromise between looking polished (which can help you feel confident) and feeling comfortable.
Finally, bring a water bottle and make sure you don't go to your final exam on an empty stomach. Few things are as distracting during a test than hunger pangs. Eat a filling meal or snack beforehand so you can focus on the task at hand.
If you have a final essay …
Visit the Writing Center, the Knowledge Market or a librarian on campus who specializes in the field you’re studying. The Knowledge Market consultants can help you conduct research and find sources for your paper, while the Writing Center staff can help you brainstorm, polish your draft at any stage and cite sources. Librarians are another valuable resource if you’re having trouble finding acceptable sources to include in your bibliography. They know all the places to look for scholarly, peer-reviewed articles, books, etc. You can search for the “liaison librarian” who connects the University Libraries system with your field of study and make an appointment to meet with them.
The best advice for cranking out an essay, though, is to get started early and not procrastinate. If you've been doing just that, though, there's still hope. If you haven't written an outline, write one and try to follow it as you whip off the actual paper. Outlines help you stay focused and keep from rabbit trailing, which can be easy to do when you're desperately trying to meet the required word limit or page count.
If at all possible, try to leave yourself a cushion of time to submit your paper electronically or print it to bring to class. If your computer's going to crash or all the printers in the Kirkhof Center and Mary Idema Pew Library are going to spontaneously combust, you want to find that out sooner rather than later so you can find an alternative solution.