The College Guide: How to Ace ANY College Final

Brady Coulthard / Wisconsin Lutheran College »

Finals week can be one of the most stressful weeks in a semester—but it does not have to be! There are several things you can do to improve the likelihood that you get the grade you want on the final and, ultimately, in the class. 

The first thing you are going to want to do is admit that college exams are going to be different than those you had in high school. Depending on the subject, these exams are going to ask you to engage in more critical thinking, and perhaps even recall facts or ideas covered at the beginning of the semester. It is important to put your “high school ego” aside and realize that college is definitely harder than high school. These exams need to be taken more seriously, and they are going to require some extra work and attention. However, this does not mean that you should panic and lose all of your cool just because it is finals week.

Here are some tips to ensure that you can take on finals week like a champ.

1. Go to class (and do assigned readings!).

Going to class throughout the semester is going to be your best shot at getting the grade you want on your final. In class, you will obtain more information and a better understanding of the material in the way your professor wants you to know it. Your professor may even offer some insights on how to do well in the course. But you’ll only learn this if you show up to class! At Wisconsin Lutheran College, many of the professors will factor in class attendance as part of your course grade, encouraging attendance in a way that has beneficial outcomes. 

Another benefit of being present in class is that you can make sure to take note of the types of questions on the exams that you have taken throughout the semester. This will help you better understand your professors’ expectations.

2. Find a system of note-taking that works for you.

Going to class is a must, but it’s only effective if you can actually recall what you learned in lecture. Find a note-taking system that best helps you retain the information that you learned in class. I personally take notes on my laptop in organized online notebooks. Other students in my courses use highlighters to color-code their notebooks, and some draw tables to organize the information. Remember: it is important not just to understand the facts, but also understand the big picture and concept that you were taught from the professor’s viewpoint. Professors love to put essay questions about theory, concepts, and opinions on their finals!

3. Go to tutors for help in a specific area.

We all know that, in high school, there was a stigma for needing to see a tutor. In college, that is just not the case. We found at WLC that students who went to tutoring sessions tend to do better in courses than those who did not. Why? Most of the time, these tutors have taken the classes with the same professor you have right now, and they know what you should expect. Everyone, no matter their GPA, can benefit from the help of a tutor.

4. Ask for help.

Asking for help may be one of the scariest things that a college student may have to do—it makes us feel vulnerable. I get that; however, asking for help not only helps build relationships with your professors, but it can really help you better understand the material.

 I usually ask for help from my professors after the lecture, but some professors prefer that I go to their office hours. Your professor will tell you how to reach them. Either way, I always want to be prepared with questions ahead of time. I usually craft a list of the questions I intend to ask (i.e. I was confused about the different interpretations of Marxism. Could you explain this to me again?). Your professors want you to succeed, so do not feel bad for asking them for help.

If speaking to your professor in person freaks you out (Trust me, I’ve been there, too.), you can definitely send them an email asking the same questions. Most professors will get back to you, but don’t wait until the last minute. Be respectful of their time.

5. Study!

Everyone studies differently. During your first semester, try to establish a time, place, and environment in which you study best. For me, I need to be in my bedroom in the evening and away from people. Once you find a routine, stick with it.  

When it comes to studying for an exam, the method that works best for me is the teach-back method—like with another student (preferably someone not in the same class). I prefer this method because—if I am able to teach someone who doesn’t know anything about, say, the Electoral College—that means I know the content well. Talking through the content also helps you recognize the areas where you may need to improve your own understanding.

6. Lastly, take time for yourself.

My greatest recommendation is to be prepared, but not to stress out too much about finals week. I understand the need to cram as much information into your head before the exam, but let’s be honest: if you don’t know it the day before the exam, you never really will. Studying should be a semester-long activity… and not a cram session. 

Taking time for myself before a stressful week of exams keeps me sane. 

If you think you have a good handle on the concepts that will be addressed on the final, you probably do, so stop stressing about it. Some stress is healthy and keeps us motivated. When stress begins to take over our lives and sleep patterns, it becomes an issue. To put this into perspective, the Sunday night of finals week, I went to a Cher concert. Was I nervous about my exams? Certainly; however, being able to take time for myself was by far one of the best things that I could have done. So, take time for yourself—watch a movie, read a book for fun, hang out with friends, and don’t forget to sleep!

Believe in yourself, and you are already there! Remember that you have the power within yourself to get the grade you want on your final. My tips are only suggestions—do whatever works best for you! Good luck on your finals!


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Wisconsin Lutheran College, a Christian college in Milwaukee, provides quality teaching, scholarship, and opportunities for service that are rooted in Holy Scripture. The College promotes the spiritual growth of students in preparation for lives of Christian leadership.