20 Nov 2014

university: finals and general exam preparation

Final year at university is a scary time, even for the bravest of us. Exam results and coursework marks count for more than ever before and how we do in this year can make or break our future. Having done final year once before and with a lovely reader requesting this blog post (sorry it took me so long to write!), I thought I'd try and give some advice on how I dealt with final year the first time round back in 2011-12. Hopefully, by reflecting on it, I can tackle my future final year (2016-17 hopefully!) better.

1) Work backwards from exam dates

Find out when your finals are. Knowing when they are is key because building a revision timetable backwards is easier than doing one blind and without knowing how many topics there are and what you need to do for how long to ensure that you are adequately prepared for each exam. This also ensures that you start revision at the right time, minimising the risk of burn out.

2) Make Lists!

For me, this is easy - I'm one of those geeks who just finds the process of list making an extraordinarily amount of fun. The main lists you'll want to make are:

- lists of what you need to know
- break down those lists into smaller lists of more manageable tasks
- stationery that you may need (post-its, page flags and sticky tabs are always useful)
- the places you want to revise in.

By making these lists, you can realistically estimate how much time is required for each topic and the tasks within them. The stationery list is obvious - making sure that you have enough stationery before you start saves you time spent buying/ordering stationery during revision periods. Finally, a list of places to revise is useful when you draw up a revision timetable and within this section, you may want to do a list of pros and cons for each place.

3) Work out how you will revise

Are you the sort of person who has a short attention span? If so, factor in regular breaks. And what is your goal for each revision session? Is it to do practice questions? Or is it to understand a particular theory or signalling cascade? When it comes to timetabling (see point number 4), set a goal for each revision period.

4) Revision Timetable!

This is the last stage where you will now make your revision timetable. Try and alternate the topics you revise so that you're not doing the same topic for more than two days in a row. Alternatively, if you're in the mood for a particular topic one day but you're not scheduled to revise it until another day, swap that day for another. The most important thing is that everything is revised in time for the exams.

Give yourself at least one day a week off to do nothing study-related. And when I say nothing, I mean it! Your brain will be fried if you try and keep going seven days a week - we're humans, not Duracell bunnies.

In the earlier stages of revision (i.e. the furthest period away from exams), putting in time to create revision notes and mind maps is acceptable. However, doing these things when the exam is a week away is not acceptable - you're not giving yourself enough time for everything to sink in if you do that!

I hope that some of this post is useful :) These were a few of the things I do for all exams, not just for finals and I have found that these techniques work for me. However, some things may need to be tweaked and optimised to fit in with your own methods and schedule.


  1. Thanks for all of the tips! I've got exams in around 3 months and I'll need to prepare myself well for them. :)

  2. This I'm doing since last night :P
    I have my last university finals in February and March and time table it's what I need.