Finishing Strong: Tips for Taking Final Exams

Advice for doing well on your final exams from SMU’s learning specialists, who say students can maximize these closing weeks by refocusing on time management and their studies, while recharging with healthy breaks.

student studying

By Sarah Hanan
SMU News

The end of the semester brings final exams, projects and, for some students, extra stress. SMU’s learning specialists say students can maximize their chances for doing well by refocusing on time management and their studies, while recharging with healthy breaks.

“First, plan on paper and in detail what work needs to be done, what study time you have available and what you will work on during specific times,” says Debra Shapira, learning skills specialist at SMU’s Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center (A-LEC). “Evaluate your probable grades and decide where to invest your time to get the best results.”

Tutors or teaching assistants can help students focus on important concepts and clarify confusing points, says Patricia Feldman, associate director of A-LEC.

 “Students also should visit their professors,” Shapira says. “Go to office hours or make an appointment, and ask for advice on how to fully prepare for remaining tests and finals. A face-to-face visit shows that you care about learning and want to do your best.”

Shapira adds that students who are struggling should hold onto hope. “Remaining tests and papers, combined with heavily weighted final exams, may mean that up to half of your final grade is still to be determined,” she says. “Do well on everything that’s left, and you could raise the final grade substantially.”

Below are more tips for parents and for students, as well as a note from the librarians at Fondren Library Center.



  • student studyingCreate a “battle plan,” listing all remaining assignments and tests in each course.
  • Evaluate your probable and possible grades. Which courses have solid grades? Which are borderline? You have limited time, so decide where to invest it to get the best results.
  • If necessary, go to each professor to determine your status in your courses. Take your text and notes, and ask for specific suggestions on study and review techniques.
  • For each task on your battle plan, generously estimate the amount of time you’ll need. On a calendar or weekly schedule, indicate the number of hours each day that you will work on each task.


  • student studyingStudy every day, including weekends.
  • Provide yourself with a good study environment. The library is ideal. If you study in your room, clean up your room and desk. Unplug the TV. Don’t answer the door when you’re studying. Turn off your phone; return calls or messages later, when you take a break.
  • If you have many textbook chapters to read, divide the task into five or six parts, using your calendar. Do one part per day, crossing off completed tasks on your battle plan.
  • For each hour of reading, schedule a 10-15 minute break. Get up, stretch, move around. Read aloud or switch from one course to another if concentration lags.

Take care of yourself

  • student studyingStudy during the day or early evening, then reward yourself with time off. Choose a healthy break, such as a balanced dinner or a movie.
  • Try every day to fit in a half hour of exercise, as well as two balanced meals and eight hours of sleep.
  • If you feel you need extra help handling your stress, please contact SMU Counseling and Psychiatric Services (214-768-2277).


student studying in library
  • Send a finals care package, such as healthy snacks for energy and fun study supplies.
  • Send encouraging, supportive messages that reduce stress – perhaps a note about what you are looking forward to doing as a family over the semester break. Remind your student of his or her strengths and past successes.
  • Reduce calls and texts to your student to avoid interrupting productive study sessions. Send emails rather than calling or texting, and ask your student to call or text you on breaks to let you know how it’s going.
  • Remind your student that in the grand scheme of things, this is just one finals week. It’s not the end of the world, and the outcome of this week will not determine his or her entire future. In other words, help your student keep things in perspective.




# # #