Teachers Tell You How to Study for their Final

Teachers of Horizon Honors gave students their advice for studying for the upcoming finals on Thursday, Dec. 15, and Friday, Dec. 16.


Hannah Browning

Students can make study guides to study for finals.

Hannah Browning, Campus Life Editor

Finals can be one of the most stressful experiences in high school and middle school. In a tough class where you have difficulty with short quizzes, a test on everything you’ve done in a semester can seem overwhelming and impossible. That’s why I’ve asked some teachers at Horizon Honors for their advice on how you should study for finals.

The Horizon Sun: What is your advice for students studying for your final?

Chris Huber, high school history: In class, we talk a lot about efficiency and that means, in particular, using our time efficiently. A lot of people don’t necessarily realize that sitting down investing time in studying doesn’t mean that you’re doing it effectively. When it comes to studying for an exam or for any quiz/test, it’s a matter of using your time just as efficiently as you would in class, so making sure that you’re studying, not just that your study efforts are on target, but also actually helping you prepare. There’s no one single answer of how to study well for a test because all your classes are different. They talk about different material and they also ask you to think in different ways. But you should always be asking yourself: “What am I perhaps most in need of reviewing?” because after all the stuff that you’re already knowledgeable on, the stuff you already have a good handle on shouldn’t be your priority when it comes to studying. So identifying “Where should I be investing my time?” and then a matter of “How can I make that time most productive?”

One of the big things that students these days don’t necessarily realize is that how much distractions take away from their productivity and that comes to doing their work in the first place or trying to wrap their heads around information outside of class. So one of the best things you can do at home when you’re studying is simply turn off the TV, turn off the phone, put those distractions outside the room. One of the things I would often do when I was studying in college or when I was working on term papers would be to put music on that would be kind of background white noise to help blot out any sudden noise or to minimize distractions.

Amanda Bors, high school science: Do not wait until the last minute. Pick nights, you know; you do a certain amount of time every night you know it’ll make it a lot easier on yourself and far less stressful.

Pam Wagner, middle school science: Well I think the most important thing is to prepare, not to just study, but to prepare to study. Maybe make flashcards or a Quizlet, or some kind of a study tool can help them the most. Now, my eighth graders have only started having final exams for the last two years, and these are comprehensive, so they’ll go back the whole semester, and going back to the material that they learned early on in the semester. It might be difficult for them if they don’t really diligently dive into that material as if they’re relearning it. So, taking that time to prepare to study is really important, and then, making sure that they don’t just study the night before a test, obviously, that they take their time to really go back in and remember what they learned so that they’re prepared for the test.

Selene Leal, middle school math and high school science: Go to student support. Absolutely want them to go to student support, review all their notes, homework, any quizzes that they may have taken, go to google classroom, check anything that’s on google classroom, but most importantly go to student support.

Shannon Barden, secondary Spanish: My advice would be to start studying early, to  spend time reviewing grammar and vocabulary, not just vocabulary. So often kids just focus on the vocabulary and making flashcards. That is a very important piece of it, but you got to be able to put the vocabulary and the grammar together. So to make sure to study the grammar as well.

David Vitagliano, high school history and psychology: Well, I’m glad you asked that, because my advice is always: study early, study often. I teach psychology as one of my classes that I teach here and research in psychology shows that the best way you study for finals is taking your studying in specific chunks spread out over time. So, if you study  for 20 or 30 minutes a day on a particular subject over the period of eight or nine days, you’re gonna retain the information much better than if you try to cram right at the end of the week. It’s gonna be too much. It’s even on my board right there, you see finals are approaching study early study often. Google’s not gonna be there to help you. So, that’s what I always tell them. There’s a concept also in psychology called overlearning, where when you do take material and you study it often over a long period of time, you get to know it by heart, and that’s really what you want your goal to be. So if I had one phrase of advice for students, study often, study early.

Jessica Bradley, high school math: Students studying for the final should definitely complete the study guides that they’re given, they should make sure they’re going through their notes, making sure that they’re organized, looking over their notes, asking lots and lots and lots of questions. Coming to student support is always encouraged.

Ann Shaheen, high school English and secondary drama: For my finals, I really want to encourage students to try and explain what they’ve learned to somebody else. Also, because I teach mostly AP classes, there are wonderful prep books that they can get that have practice questions. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just get yourself in the mindset of the test.

Camille Hensel, high school government and AP human geography: The first thing they should do is make sure that they’ve actually done all of the work leading up to it. So, they need to make sure that they’ve read the material and that they’ve done the assignments. They should also be referring back to those. If they’ve done annotations they need to look at those. If they’ve done chapter packets they need to look back at those. Because sometimes test questions will be quite similar from the chapter homework as it is on the test. If it’s a concept thing, then the best way to study is to try to explain that to someone else, because if  I know a thing well enough to explain it, then I understand it well enough to answer it well on a test.

The Sun: What kinds of questions do students usually struggle with, and how can they prepare for them?

Huber: When it comes to history, we have a mix between wrapping our heads around a large amount of information. Most people think that history is nothing but names, dates, places, terms, etc., and to a certain degree it is, but it’s much like data in a math or science class, in that it’s important to at least be able to look at if not know some of the important pieces of data, but data does not give you conclusions. Data does not give you the analysis of your hypothesis. For that, you actually have to develop thinking skills to utilize the data to do stuff with it. In class, one of the things we’re often doing is developing those thinking skills, and those are a little tougher to practice than study on your own, but a good thing to emphasize in your study is, once again, making sure your fresh on that data, the names, dates, places, key events, and key things that will be appearing in lots of different ways on the material that you’re going to be tested on.

Bors: I would say short answer questions, and just using the skills that you already have. You know, annotate the question, answer all of the parts. You know those are the big things that I think you guys usually have difficulties with.

Wagner: I think that sometimes if they are not confident in a concept that they’ve learned, then they read the question that is tied to that concept; they might be afraid that they don’t know anything about that concept, where in actuality if they think carefully and look carefully at what the question is asking, they probably know more than they think they know. I think if there is a concept as they go through their notes and they’re studying through, if there is a concept that they feel uncomfortable with, that’s the one that they need to really jump into. The other thing that I tell my students is to read the question carefully, because sometimes you start to answer a question  that you think is the question, and it’s not really the question, so you have the wrong answer, or maybe the right answer to a different question. So that happens a lot, I notice when I read their answers.

Leal: Usually word problems, in math especially, and they just need to learn to break down the problem, identify what they’re asking, and then tackle it one step at a time.

Barden: I would say probably one of the hardest sections on the final exam is the reading portion of it, and I think that’s because there are new words that they encounter,and I would say for them to go back to those reading strategies that we’ve worked on all year. So, when they’re in the final exam, to think about, “okay what do I know, what strategies do I know, and how do I apply those strategies to this particular text?” I would also say using the student support sessions before final exams is a great way to come in and get practice on whichever section you’re most concerned about.

Vitagliano: Well, that has to do with the fact that, like, multiple choice questions are easier because you only have to recognize the material. It’s the fill in the blank and short answer questions that are a little more difficult, because you have to recall information that you learned. And, of course, the toughest questions usually are critical thinking where  you have to know a concept, you have to recall that concept, and then you have to apply the concept. But to me, those are the best kind of questions, and that’s why I always include a few on my tests because that really tests the true knowledge a student has.

Bradley: That’s tough. Depends on the class, I guess. A lot of times students struggled just on material from the earlier quarter, so like quarter one stuff on this final might be tough, just because it’s been awhile. And again, just studying, asking questions, coming to student support.

Shaheen: Often students struggle with multiple choice questions, because they convince themselves that a fairly okay answer is the best answer. So, one of the best things to do is to have to explain your reasoning as to why your answer is correct and why the others are all incorrect.

Hensel: It really depends on the student, because each student will struggle in different areas. Some students will struggle with knowing the terminology. In some of my classes, there are very specific terminology words that you have to know, and if you don’t know the word you can’t answer the question. So if you don’t do well at memorization, you’re going to have problems applying that definition. Other kids have problems with big picture questions, so looking at the connections across content areas. The advice for the terminology ones would be to stick the word in your head somehow, however it takes, if it takes Quizlet, if it takes flashcards, if it takes recording yourself saying the definitions and listening to it on your phone, then do that. For the big concept ones, that’s where that discussion with friends or that explaining to someone else comes through. And you can also actively try to make those connections. So, one of the  things that I’ve been doing with my AP Human Geo kids is making them look for those connections, and explicitly asking, “how does this connect to culture, how does this connect over here?” And making those connections is something you have to practice.

The Sun: What kinds of questions do you think most accurately show students’ learning and improvement?

Huber: Complex questions. Anyone can sit  down and memorize some information or even lots of information from the book, and some people are better at doing that than others, but it’s the questions that really ask you to synthesize all of the skills we’ve worked on, use all of those different abilities and ideas, as well as the information that best demonstrates that a person not only understands the material but also the larger skills that we’re working on.

Bors: I would say probably questions that are more critical thinking, you know, applying what you’ve learned. So, usually more short answers stuff, and where you have to imply what you’ve done.

Wagner: I don’t like questions that just deal with memorization, although sometimes that’s necessary. I like questions that get to the “meat” of the concept and help me know that they understand what that concept is saying. So, those are the bigger conceptual questions. I like questions that they can explain their thinking, and usually, students do pretty well on that. I think they may struggle a little bit more with multiple choice questions where the answers might be a little vague or ambiguous. And most importantly, I encourage students to take time to study , to not walk into a test unprepared, but be ready and be confident so that when you sit down you know that you know that you know.

Leal: Questions where they have to show their work. It could be multiple choice, but they have to show their work and show that they got the correct answer, So any type of work where you have to show it.

Barden: I would say for Spanish it is the ones where they have to apply their learning, where you have to put it in context. Not just straight rote memorization, but the ones where they have to put it in context, and they have to apply what they’ve learned. They have to read, understand, answer a question. They have to listen and figure out what it’s saying. So those application based questions, and on the Spanish exam, the biggest one would  be the speaking part of the test. That shows that they can really use what they’ve learned.

Vitagliano: Yeah, critical thinking questions by far. I’m thinking that’s where you always get, you know, the student to really  do that, and I like to do that through short answer questions. So I’ll ask them a question where they have to apply a concept and answer in writing, and I think students really show what they know in those cases, because it’s hard to BS. Your way through, you know, a longer question like that that’s critical thinking.

Bradley: I love word problems. Word problems are the best for me to see what they’ve learned, because they’re applying what they’ve learned. Like I’ve told you guys in class, no one’s ever gonna come up to you on the street and ask you to, you know,  take a square root of something. But being able to apply that knowledge, it shows us that they have an understanding of it. They’re not always the students’ favorite though.

Shaheen: I think students really have to show their learning when they have to explain why they know what they know, and that explanation gives you a chance to prove how did you figure it out and why do you know what it is. So it’s like when we show our work on a math problem, or when we do timed writing, or when we have to include a justification for why we know the correct answer.

Hensel: Well, that’s kind of a loaded question. For some of my classes that are AP, I have to ask multiple choice questions and I have to ask writing questions. For my grade level classes, I don’t have to ask questions in those formats. But for AP I have to ask multiple choice questions, and for some of those you can answer based on strategies. So if you are a good test taker, you might do well on a multiple choice test. If you’re a poor test taker, you might not do well. So, sometimes those don’t always match up with what you know, and there’s also the concept of test anxiety. Sometimes you guys get in front of a test and your brain just freezes, and there is some advice for that too. But in terms of what kind of test best shows knowledge and ability, ultimately some classes will do assessments in multiple forms, and by assessing over multiple forms, if we have a project component and a multiple-choice component and a writing component, that gives us a better overall picture, and it looks not just at “Do I know the memorized terms,” but “Do I know the concepts and can I relate them to my life.” But a lot of the stuff down the road you can look up. But how can you put it together, and that skill of putting it together is what’s going to best show that knowledge, how can I make those connections over my life and to other classes. In my AP Gov classes today we were talking about physics. You can’t compartmentalize that learning, and my classes  hear me say that over and over and over again.

This is all incredible advice, and is helpful, but what happens if you follow the advice and still struggle with the test? You may have memorized every proof in geometry you’ve learned this year, but completely blank out when the test is placed in front of you due to anxiety and stress. Hensel understands this, and says, “Sometimes we freeze up when we get to that test, because we sit at this thing and go, ‘oh my gosh this is a huge percentage of my grade’ or ‘oh my gosh, it’s a test, and therefore my brain just stops working,’. There are some practical ways to study that can help reduce that test anxiety. Many of you guys will study in your bedroom lying on the floor, kicked back in a chair, sprawled out on your bed, with earbuds in, and Youtube on your phone. That’s not the best way to to do it, because the best way to do it is to put your information into your head the same way you have to put it out. So make the situation match. The best way to study, to help reduce that test anxiety, to make it easier  to pull that information out of your head is to actually replicate that testing environment as well as you can, which means sitting at a desk or a table, in a chair, in silence, the same way that you actually have to take that test. And if you can recreate the conditions of that test, then all of a sudden you’re controlling some aspects of that test taking environment. And so when you are sitting in that silent room, in the chair, with the paper in front of you, you’re not as nervous. Because that situation is now familiar to you, and it cuts down on some of that test anxiety, and psychologically, it also makes it easier to pull the information out of your brain.”

Make sure to study effectively. Make flashcards or anything else you think will help. Don’t be distracted, don’t wait until the last minute, and go to student support sessions if you have questions. You should be able to explain every topic on the final to another person. Even if the test is multiple choice, you should still know how to explain the topics because it will make the test easier.

Now that your teachers have told you what you need to do, make sure to use their advice and you will do amazing on your finals.