Preparing for Finals

How To Prepare for Exams

North Seattle College, Counseling Department
Lydia Minatoya, Ph.D.

Concentration and Memory

• As you read, say the words aloud. Talk to yourself saying things like, "What is the main idea? Let me write that down." The secret to this technique is that when you calmly are "talking yourself through" an assignment, you cannot be distracting yourself with panicky thoughts like, "I'll never get through all this!"

• Break big chunks of material into smaller parts. Study over multiple days. Sleep helps us move information from short-term to long-term memory.

• When memorizing, don't try to learn more than three or four new pieces of information at a time. Take breaks in your memorizing, otherwise, you'll remember the first two things, the last two things, and forget the material in the middle.

• Repeat difficult information several times, write it down in chunks of three to four pieces of information and post it on your mirror, on the refrigerator. Practice closing your eyes and visualizing the material.

Before an Exam

• Ask the instructor what the format of the test will be: How many multiple choice, how many essays, etc.

• Review course outline, notes, text. Summarize key information on several sheets of paper, arranging material in small groups or lists of 3-4 items. Make these summary sheets easy to read and recall by the use of spacing or colored highlights.

• Sleep at least 7hrs the night before the exam (and every night), eat a light healthy meal.

During an Exam

• Take a deep breath. Tell yourself, "What is most important now is that I stay calm and read each question carefully."

• Quickly jot down formulas, lists, things that you've memorized to use during the test but are afraid you might forget.

• Read directions and questions aloud under your breath (as described in the concentration and memory section).

• Don't select the first multiple-choice item that sounds right. Often, there are several choices that are partially correct and another (the correct answer) that provides a fuller answer.

• Watch out for items that seem to come from the text or lectures but have been changed to be negative. For example, "three factors found to be unimportant in the development of the American West were...." Underline key words like: never, not, always, usually.

• Don't leave any items blank. If you get stuck, eliminate the answers you know are wrong/narrow your choices and guess if you must. Make a mark next to the item (in case the correct answer occurs to you later) and move on.

• It's better to go through a test once, carefully reading each item aloud under your breath, than to rush through making errors in reading, just so you can "go over it again" making the same errors.

Essay Exams

• Be sure you do what is asked: define, list, compare and contrast. Answer as directly and concisely as possible.

• Outline, quickly, the important facts and ideas you want to include in your answer.

• Write: Explain what your main points are. Follow with sentences providing specific examples or details to support your main points. Conclusion shows how your body text supported your opening statements.

• If you run out of time, provide an outline rather than writing in full sentences. Keep your handwriting legible.


• Praise and encourage yourself
• Pay attention to deadlines
• Start studying days before the exam, study for short periods (30-45 minutes) and give yourself (3-5 minute) breaks
• Try not to study for more than 2 hours at a stretch
• Ask for help if you need it
• Eat healthy foods: protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains
• Get at least 7hrs. of sleep!

North Counseling faculty help students identify careers, pick programs of study, strengthen study skills, manage time, stress, sadness and worry, confront prejudice, and learn other student success skills.

To make an appointment, stop by Counseling, Student Success Services, 2nd floor, north wing, College Center or call (206) 934-3676. For online self-help visit


Classes | Map | People | Directory | Calendar


Need a NetID?

Students: Set one up now!

Employees: See your supervisor.