Effective ways to study for finals

Strategies for finishing out the semester and starting the next


Mara Hankins / Talon

Haven’t nailed down the perfect studying formula? First year experiencing end-of-year exams? In the upcoming weeks before finals, it’s time to plan for the end of the semester and the start of the next. Fight procrastination, take solid notes and know the tools at your disposal to learn and study effectively.

Look no further for productive study habits and organizational tricks. These methods can be utilized not only for finals but the entire school year.


The Study Cycle 

Frank Christ of Louisiana State University’s Center for Academic Success developed The Study Cycle, a roadmap of academic learning from class to home. According to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “each step may seem obvious, but all too often students take shortcuts and miss important opportunities to benefit from the interplay of each step of the cycle.”

Learning is a process that takes time — time you don’t have when you’re cram studying the night before a test. It’s perfectly fine for new material to be confusing and intimidating at first, but it won’t remain that way if it’s thoroughly reviewed. After performing steps 1-3 of the Study Cycle, you’re ready to review the information and begin what LSU calls Focused Study Sessions.

Notice from the model that you’re not studying for long periods of time but 30-50 minute periods. By shortening study time but heightening its intensity, you can resist distractions and better retain information. Going through a Focused Study Session at staggered intervals throughout the week is a process that can be mapped out from the very beginning of a semester, or with only a couple of weeks until a big test. 

Mara Hankins / Talon


As a key part of The Study Cycle, creating notes is a powerful tool from when you first learn the material to when you study it later for a test. Even if it’s nearing finals and there are fewer in-class lessons left to be learned, notes previously taken or material provided by the teacher can always be reorganized. A great study strategy is to revisit old notes and rework them with more understanding.


Five ways to take notes include the Outline Method, the Cornell Method, the Mind Map Method, the Flow Method, and the Write-on-the-Slides Method, all recommended in Thomas Frank’s informational video used by Ohio University.

You may have unknowingly used one of these methods or a hybrid of them before. While the ways differ, there are similarities in how key points are highlighted, bolded or underlined. Visually oriented notes use arrows, boxes and different font styles. Like many of the available tools in this article, note-taking is about finding what works best for you.


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Making information stick

Have you ever spent time studying only to completely forget all of the information after taking the test? According to Loma Linda University, many of the basic studying techniques are inadequate because they do not commit the material to your long-term memory. However, “by learning in more than one way, you’re further cementing the knowledge in your mind.”

Mara Hankins / Talon

In addition to that, understanding how you learn best and recognizing your study habits is a way to be successful. 

Beyond the three commonly used learning styles of auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners, psychologist Howard Gardner developed a “theory of multiple intelligences.” It suggests that “since human beings have their own unique configuration of intelligences, we should take that into account when teaching, mentoring or nurturing,” as well as, you guessed it, studying. Figuring out your strengths or “intelligences,” as Gardner calls it, can help hone in on study strategies specific to you.


Online Websites and Tools

There are many tools available to meet your needs, from what fits your learning style best to which one will suit the job that needs to be done.

Resources like KhanAcademy and WolframAlpha are great places to get help or get ahead. They feature full lessons complete with step-by-step videos and practice problems. Both KhanAcademy and WolframAlpha have resources in many different subjects from STEM to Humanities to even some of the electives you may be taking. Create a KhanAcademy account to save your progress or use WolframAlpha’s computational intelligence knowledge base for questions on the more advanced side.

Paper Online Tutoring is available to you through your Clever account and provides access to 24/7 homework help from the company’s tutors. According to Paper’s mission statement, “rather than giving away answers, Paper tutors ask students guiding questions to solidify fundamental concepts and promote long-term academic success.”

Features include being able to chat live with a tutor to ask questions or have an essay reviewed. Your Paper account, which has been provided by OPUSD, allows you to get help with a specific class you’re enrolled in or get general help. Paper even allows you to submit your teacher’s rubric or standards for a project so that a tutor can aid you in meeting the requirements.

Quizlet is a learning tool with access to pre-made sets of study flashcards as well as the ability to make your own. Once a study deck is made, there are multiple options for games and activities that will help you retain important information. It also has a database of textbook solutions and answer keys to worksheets, websites and more. 

GoConqr and Miro are great websites to begin making concept maps and mind maps on, as seen in the notetaking segment. In Miro you can toggle the branches of your mind map note taking and play around with the many features, making it a superior tool for kinesthetic learners.

Evernote is a notetaking web page that allows you to easily write up, organize and study your notes in many of the formats discussed in this article. Typora and Notion are two simplistic yet pleasing sites that allow you to take notes, make checklists, create workspaces and minimize distractions, which are conditions recommended for visual learners.

As easy as it is to become fixated on grades, try to study for yourself. Strive for personal growth and achievement – whatever that means to you. There isn’t a single winning formula that can simplify the study process in an instant. It might take trial and error to find what works for you. The important thing is to stay persistent through challenges in the pursuit of the best methods and strategies for your learning style.

Mara Hankins / Talon

Keep your end goals in mind and stay in sight of the positive things ahead.