Getting Ready for Final Exams – How to Study “4.0”

Posted by Neal Schwartz on May 04, 2023


Have we been taught the wrong way to study all these years (1)

Have we been taught the wrong way to study for all these years?

For high school students It’s the season for AP tests, finals, and tests like the SAT and ACT. But college and graduate school students are also going through the same study motions.

Notecards, crib sheets, highlighting, isn’t that what we are supposed to do?

A NY Times Opinion article “There Are Better Ways to Study That Will Last You a Lifetime” challenges the way most of us learned to study. The premise, offered by author Daniel T. Willingham: “Students get studying wrong because they don’t assess whether a method works in the long run. Instead, they pay attention to whether the method is easy to do and feels like it’s working while they’re doing it.”

Willingham’s focus in his assessment is that the superficial nature of how most students study, rereading notes, or textbooks, doesn’t get to the most effective goal of understanding the meaning of the content.

Study notes slide

“And so, as students reread their textbooks, the increasing familiarity makes them think they are learning. But because they are not thinking about the meaning of what they read, they aren’t improving the knowledge that actually builds understanding.”


As I watched my own children try to engage me in their studying, anywhere from middle school through all the way to graduate school, the process was the same. Take notes, convert to note cards, and then continue to “learn” by memorizing what was on each card. Sometimes, this process can work well for a multiple choice test, but it can fall apart when the volume of what needs to be studied increases dramatically or the test consists of essays where more substantive understanding is needed.

For many students the fall from grace can occur at any point in the process:

  1. They may highlight the less important main points.
  2. They may not fully understand the point that they highlighted in the context of the overall content
  3. They go through their card deck robotically, not stopping when they don’t understand something
  4. They study too far from the test date, so by the time they are ready for the final review, they may have forgotten things.
  5. They study just the night before which in addition to placing a lot of pressure does not provide them with a safety valve to easily learn something last minute.

students studying

Also, a student who is tested throughout the duration of a course may not be able to retain learning from months ago for the more voluminous final exam.

The bottom line of studying is that a student should have a more holistic understanding of the topic, rather than the individual facts. How can they tie all individual elements into a broader meaning?

Parents may ask the question, “Aren’t their teachers there to help them know how to study best?” The challenge is the teacher only sees the student in class—they are not afforded the luxury to see how or when a student studies.

One of the advantages of utilizing our test prep and tutoring services is that our tutors can gauge how each student is studying concepts or utilizing their learning skills or techniques. Our ability to intervene with their study approach can be a huge help for high school and beyond.

We can help support you through the college process with our academic tutoring, test prep, college selection, total application support and college decision making expertise. Give us a call today.   914-273-2353

Best Regards,

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Neal Schwartz, Owner

College Planning of Westchester

914-273-2353 (office)

914-500-5899 (mobile/text) 

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Topics: college test prep, high school senior, high school junior, high school sophomore, college freshmen, high school freshman, study habits, final exams


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