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A group of students studies for their final exams


As an international student studying in the U.S., you know about high-pressure tests. The good news is final exams at American colleges and universities typically count for only a portion of your final grade, usually between 20 and 50 percent. The bad news is you may have four to six of these tests at the end of each academic term during finals week. So, how do you get ready for these important exams?

1. Start preparing for final exams right away

When it comes to preparing for final examinations at U.S. colleges and universities, international students should “start the first week of classes, ask for help as soon as you need it, and make learning a priority,” says Rick Lane, Director of International Student Services at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

In additional to the final exam, each class will have different requirements, including tests, quizzes, papers and classroom participation that will count toward your grade. Knowing what to expect throughout the academic term will help you manage your time effectively and plan your study routines.

2. Don’t just study hard, study smart

In the weeks leading up to the final exam, use the following resources to guide your studies:

  • The syllabus you received on the first day of class
  • Your notes from class lectures
  • The questions and answers from past tests and quizzes
  • Any papers you may have written

The class syllabus, according to Jen Nisevich, Associate Director of International Student and Faculty Services at Ohio University, will tell you “the format for the final exams. Some … may be open book exams, others will allow students to use notes during the test.” Professors may even provide online study guides for final exams.

3. Meet with your professors or tutors if you have questions

Faculty members are typically required to hold a set number of office hours each week when they are available for one-on-one meetings to answer your questions. Maya Tsai, Director of International Programs at Gwynedd Mercy University, recommends you “take advantage of professors’ office hours and tutoring services” on campus to prepare for your final exams.

Many colleges also provide tutoring services from other students who have already completed the course you are taking. Don’t be afraid to meet up and ask questions about class material, especially any lessons or topics you want to understand better. You’ll get help with your assignments, while also preparing for the final.

4. Find a good place to focus on your schoolwork

Maintaining focus during the days before a final can make the difference between just passing a course and getting a top grade. One of the best ways to maintain focus is finding somewhere to study that does not have any distractions.

Having a comfortable and controlled environment where you can focus on your studies should be an important part of your final exam preparation. This could be in the library, a common area in your residence hall, or even a café. What matters most is that it’s a place where you can concentrate as you study.

5. Don’t rely on all-night study sessions right before the test

New international students hear horror stories from older students about all-night study sessions, often called cramming, in the hours leading up to their final exams. All-night cramming, way too much caffeine, and bleary, tired eyes are not the best option for students who want to do well on a final exam. Avoid these last-minute study strategies if you can. Too often, procrastination, or putting off your studies until finals week, can lead to poor grades.

Time management in the last few days before finals week will be essential to your success. By planning out your study sessions, eliminating distractions, and gathering all your study guides, you will put yourself in the best position on exam day.

6. Don’t forget to take care of yourself while you study

Take care of your body and help your mind get ready for your final. Getting a good night’s sleep, eating a good meal the morning of your exam, and drinking enough water can make a positive difference in your exam grade.

If you’ve prepared well all term, the days immediately before you take final exams should be your opportunity to review what you’ve learned. Whether you study better alone, with a partner, or in a small group, make certain you take the time to study for your exams. Be sure to take breaks as you go and do not overload your brain in any one study session.

Study hard and good luck!

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