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Preparing for final exams

May 6th, 2013

De Shan Lett, Director of Cognitive Skills at one of the country’s finest prep schools, Emma Willard, recently sent a letter to parents about how their daughters can best prepare for finals. Her recommendations are so sensible and clear that I wanted to share them more broadly. With her permission, text from her letter follows here:

I’ve created a short list of suggestions that I’ve been sharing with students as they trickle into my office. Please feel free to co-opt my suggestions as your own and suggest and assist other strategies as you see fit.

A few simple steps to prepare for final exams:

Step One:

Encourage them to talk to their teachers. If the final hasn’t already been discussed in class, now would be a great time for them to make an appointment with their teacher to discuss the final and their recommendations for preparation.

Step Two:

Gather all materials. Tests, quizzes, and previously created study guides, cards, or charts. Remind them that some courses have cumulative exams. What that means for them is that the test they took the last week in September will certainly come in handy! If they’ve accidently recycled it, suggest they speak with their teacher directly. Most teachers will willingly provide a blank copy of the test.

Step Three:

Create a plan. Students should use their calendar to determine the days and times between now and exam week they will devote to finals review. There are four weekends between now and then. Encourage them to specify exactly what they will focus on and suggest they set a goal for the amount of time they will spend on each subject.

Step Four:

Suggest that they use a variety of study methods. More active rather than passive learning and review is the key. I always suggest that students attempt to introduce (or reintroduce) the information to their brains in a variety of ways. Say it! See it! Write it! Hear it! Flash cards, chart paper, dry erase boards, and programs such as Photo Booth are all useful tools for studying.


Thank you, De Shan, for your willingness to have this wisdom shared beyond the Emma community.