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When you think of November, what comes to mind? Chilly air, longer nights, warm sweaters? As an academic coach, I’d like to add one more thing to think about in November: creating a finals study calendar. For most students in the Northern Hemisphere, mid-November should sound the alarm that December finals are quickly approaching. A month from now, you will be showing what you know in the cumulative exams of the entire semester, recalling information from all the way back in August. Wait … August?! Yep, you’ve got a lot to cover, but fear not! Follow this step-by-step approach to create your own personalized finals study calendar and watch your worries melt away. Armed with a plan, you’ll be able to maximize your study time with no last-minute cramming or lost sleep and walk into final exams a Wise Student, feeling organized, confident, and prepared.

  1. Start Early and Plan Ahead: It’s best to create your finals study calendar in mid-November, by November 20th at the latest. To get started, access your school’s December academic calendar and identify when the final exam for each subject will take place. Create a blank November and December calendar for yourself either online or on paper (you can download a helpful printable version here). Then, mark each exam on the day it will occur with its name and time. 
    • It is helpful to study for subjects together whose final exams fall on the same day, so your brain can practice thinking about those two topics in the order in which each exam will occur. 
    • Remember to add social events and holidays as you plan your month(s) ahead since your study schedule will be affected by those plans.
  2. Schedule ALL Your Study Hours: You’ve just marked when your exams will be, now go to the last final and jump back to the evening before to schedule study time. Keep working backward until the night before each final exam has been scheduled. You should not need to study much more than 2 hours for a final the day prior.

  3. Take Advantage of Every Weekend: Start counting back from the Saturday before your first final, which counts as one weekend, and count back three more weekends. Each weekend will have a dedicated time period of your semester that dictates what material you will study. 
    • Weekend 1 – August/September Soft Review: You’ve counted back to the first weekend of study, which is the soft review for August and September material. Mark one hour of study per subject over the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of this weekend. These hours are in addition to any homework you may have been assigned, so you may also want to work on Friday night to spread it out. Schedule these review times for core classes only, but feel free to add electives to the schedule if they require as much studying as a traditional class. 
    • Weekend 2 – October/November Soft Review: Schedule one hour per subject, just like in Weekend 1. You can even copy the previous times exactly to make it easier.   
    • Weekend 3 – All-Months Review: Still budget one hour per subject, but now you will scan from August - December. Right away, focus on the topics in which you feel less confident. For example, if you did not do well on a particular quiz or test, go back and brush up on that material by exploring the related notes, handouts, homework assignments, and textbook pages. Visiting a teacher during office hours, seeing a tutor, or scheduling a study group during this time could help tie up loose ends.
    • Weekend 4 – Deep Study: This is the weekend before finals. Schedule as much time as you need per subject (one to three hours is a good guide), keeping in mind that you should schedule in breaks for more than two hours of study. Friday afternoon and Friday night can be utilized to study, as well, because this will most likely be a busy weekend with upcoming holiday celebrations. Take those commitments into account and write them down on your calendar as you schedule your study times so that you can balance your personal interests with your academic life.
  4. Come to Review Week Prepared: The week before finals will be when most teachers hand you their final exam study guides. Class time is dedicated to reviewing the entire semester and completing the study guides they have prepared for you. You will be ready to answer the questions since the soft review weekends served as the prep work. You’ll know exactly where to find all of the answers to the study guide questions because you have already located where all of your assignments live, and you’ve familiarized yourself with what they look like and their contents, so that when you see the review questions, you’ll say, “I remember! This question is from chapter 2 back in September!” 
    • Nights during this week will be spent continuing to fill out study guides and committing the information to memory. 
  5. Reflect on Your Hard Work: Go back and count up the study hours you scheduled for each class and ensure that you’ve already accumulated at least six hours for each subject. Some classes will need more hours than others because of their difficulty level, and that’s perfectly fine - you never could have studied for that many hours per class had you waited until the last minute! 
    • By the time you add in your nightly homework and all of the time spent filling in your study guides during review week, you can expect to average anywhere from 7-10 hours of studying per subject in the end.

Congratulations! You’ve made a comprehensive study schedule, now all you have to do is follow it! Take pride in the fact that you’ve created your finals study calendar and allowed yourself time to understand the material in an organized and civilized fashion. We’re talking no stress, no sleep lost, no cramming, and no nonsense. By following the schedule, you’ll be able to maintain your quality of life, eat well, get enough sleep, and retain all of that good information for the long-term. You’ll walk into each final exam feeling prepared, confident, and ready for any question that comes your way!

Excited to get started? Download the helpful Finals Study Strategy Pack below, which includes the "Study Strategy Cheat Sheet," as well as example calendars, in order to begin preparing for your final exams. 

Download the Finals Study Strategy Pack

Penny Kostaras has been a trusted academic coach and educator for 13 years and is an expert at taking students from struggling to confident and successful. Penny is the founder of Wise Student, a program offering effective strategies to help students improve time management, organization, and study skills. Her unique methods motivate and empower students to achieve their academic and personal bests. She is a Certified Life Coach and holds a B.A. from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, graduating Summa Cum Laude in Psychology & Hispanic Studies, and earning membership to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. She loves languages and speaks Spanish, Italian, and Greek. In her spare time, she enjoys going for bike rides and baking. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two young children. Follow her on Twitter @PennyKostaras.