Your First College Finals: 6 Tips for Success

In your first semester of college, you quickly learn there are a lot of differences between high school and college. Just when you feel like you’ve figured out what college life is like, another big difference comes along—college finals.

In high school, some of your classes may not have had finals. You may have had the option to skip a final in a class where you had a good grade. Or, you may have had the opportunity to complete a project or report instead of a final exam.

In college, it’s usually a different story. You need to score well on your final exams to demonstrate competency in the subject areas before you can move on to the next level. College finals can also last much longer than high school tests and therefore are more challenging to prepare for—cramming all your studying into one night isn’t going to cut it.

If you’re facing your first round of college finals, these tips can help you prepare efficiently so you can ace those exams.

1. Go to Class

In high school, your teachers probably took attendance, and you would get in trouble if you weren’t in class. In college, that might not be the case. So, you could be tempted to sleep in or spend your time doing something else, especially if your professor provides notes and other materials online. But nothing can prepare you better for your final exams than attending class and learning the material directly from the professor—and asking them questions in real time.

2. Start Studying Early

You likely won’t be able to study for all your exams in a weekend or even a week. So, you need to start earlier than you may be used to. Find out when your exams will be held and work backwards from those dates, blocking out time on your calendar to study for each subject along the way. Getting a head start also means you can study in relatively short sessions, perhaps 30-minute blocks, whereas waiting may require hours of study in one or two blocks—never a recipe for success.

3. Take Advantage of Study Groups and Office Hours

When you prepared for finals in high school, you might have partnered with a friend or two. In college, you’re more likely to have scheduled study groups or office hours you can use to prepare. If your professors schedule review sessions, be sure to attend. And don’t be shy about meeting with your professors one-on-one. After all, they know exactly what you should focus on for the finals.

4. Build in Time to Sleep

Your parent or guardian may have encouraged you to get enough sleep in high school. But when it feels like there’s not enough time in the day, you might be tempted to sleep less to fit in more studying. You might even feel like you need to pull an all-nighter. But that can be a mistake, and ample research demonstrates a direct link between sleep quality and academic performance. When you’re scheduling your study time, leave yourself a seven- to nine-hour block for restorative sleep.

5. Reach for Healthy Foods

In high school, your parent or guardian may have encouraged you to eat nutritious foods; they might have even prepared a healthy meal for you on exam day. In college, without that culinary support, you might reach for snack foods that curb your hunger or satisfy a craving but don’t give you many nutrients to foster effective studying. Make healthy meals part of your study routine. If you’re pressed for time, reach for nuts, berries, and other foods that can boost your brain power. Also, drink plenty of water, as dehydration can drain your short-term memory and attention.

6. Manage Stress and Anxiety

Studying for final exams as a college student can be more stressful than it was in high school, where you may have relied on your family for support. Consider trying yoga or meditation to help alleviate your stress in the first semester. Research has found these stress-relief methods can make a real difference for college students.

APU Resources

The Academic Success Center at Azusa Pacific University is committed to helping students succeed and offers a range of resources you can turn to for help during finals and throughout the semester. You can also find support at the Writing, Speaking, and Tutoring Center. And many APU departments offer their own student support services. Reach out and find success.