The “Finals” Stretch: Study Strategies

By Benjellica Jones Smyre

In this series of posts, I aim to answer a few frequently asked questions and help students approach their final exams with confidence. Last week I answered the question, “How can my student prepare in advance for exams?” This week I’m turning to the topic…

What Works Best When Studying?

Research shows that some learning strategies are more generalizable than others. In this case, generalizability means that the knowledge learned through that learning method will transfer to a range of testing designs.

The following strategies are less generalizable but can be effective during the beginning stages of learning. These are ideally used earlier in a unit, perhaps when first reading about a topic or watching an introductory video.

Stage I Learning Strategies:

Summarization–taking notes on the main idea of section of text or video

Highlighting–using color to differentiate types or purpose of information

Keyword mnemonics–e.g. SOHCAHTOA for remembering trigonometric functions

Imagery use for learning from a text–e.g. Reading a textbook about  cell parts and imagining each part completing certain tasks, especially in a funny manner, as connecting with our emotions supports memory.

Rereading–reviewing previously read portions of a text or rewatching videos

The learning strategies listed above may be useful when first learning a topic, however, students should be push their thinking and learning strategies to higher levels in order to ensure the ability to apply their knowledge successfully during tests. The next set of strategies yield higher gains for students, with medium to high generalizability. These are the strategies students should implement most during the weeks leading up to final exams.

Stage II Learning Strategies:

  • Distributed practice–practicing recalling and applying learned information in short sessions over time, including a “review and redo” approach. Stay tuned for more about review and redo in upcoming posts!
  • Targeted practicefocusing practice on similar questions or topics (e.g. only reviewing and answering questions pertaining to chapter 1)
  • Summative practice–mixing topics during a practice session (e.g. combining questions from chapter 2 with questions from chapter 3, etc.)
  • Self-explanation–explaining concepts to yourself using self-crafted questions or those from a study guide
  • Elaborative interrogation–explaining the information to another person who asks you specific questions


Support your student in preparing for exams by sharing the knowledge in this article. Students should organize a study schedule that allows time for repeated practice in short (20-50 minute) increments.Taking short breaks is important for maintaining stamina! If they have not yet used study techniques in the first group of strategies when introduced to the material throughout the grading period, they may need to schedule more time to learn the material before they can apply the more advanced study techniques.

LAS supports students in developing and implementing evidence-based plans that make the most of the time leading up to exams. Reach out to us at or 847.446.5822.

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