Preparing for Final Papers and Essay Exams

Exams are rough. No way around it. That’s their point, to make sure you understand the material you spent the semester working on. But what happens to those who have essays for finals? Most standard methods of studying like flash cards and memorization isn’t something that you utilize for essay exams. So what do you do? Well, as a former English major, I’ve got you covered.

Preparing for An Essay Exam or Final Paper


Do Your Research 

Essay Exams, and even final papers are probably going to cost a lot of your grade, so screwing up because you’re fried from the end of the semester is definitely not what you need. So you need to have all the material in check.

If you’re an English major like I was, re-reading books, short stories, and any other forms of literature you may have covered could help. Making sure you have all the information you’ll need is huge. Even if this isn’t an in-class essay, having all of the texts on hand and easy access is great. Knowing the content by heart is even better.

Related: Mid-Term and Finals Exam Survival Guide

Plot Out Important Points

When going through all of your research for your essay exam, making an outline with the important plot points, themes, etc. can come in handy. It will help you get the main ideas in your head better. When you’re writing an essay exam, knowing that the curtains were blue in the living room of the main character is great and all, but not quite as much as knowing the important details (Unless the curtains being blue have some significance!).

Making an outline for you to remember what you need is an easy way to carry study material with you!

Related: 4 Ways to Handle the Work-Life Balance

Start Early

I know that every time I was given the chance to start an assignment early, I’d procrastinate until the last week. I’ve tried keeping ahead of my work, but sometimes current work is more important than future work.

But, if you can start early, do it. One semester I was so swamped with final papers and essay exams that I had to skip classes to do work for the classes I was skipping. It was terrible. I was physically and mentally burnt out to the point where friends I wasn’t even that close to gave me a hug when I finally emerged from my dorm room.

Related: 5 Habits Every 20-Something Should Have

Don’t Over Think

I’m really good at over thinking things. I’m also really good at superficially wracking my brain for any last minute information I can throw in an essay exam or final paper. You know, when you know you’ve written just about everything you can think of but you’re still short a page, or you know it’s not up to par, and you’re scrounging for that little something extra to be your savior?

Yeah, try not to do that. I think a lot of that stems from test anxiety and the feeling of impostor syndrome: where you feel “phony” or that you really aren’t as smart as you are and this essay exam or final paper is going to expose you as a fraud.

Take a deep breath (or ten) and trust what you know. Don’t start writing fluff just because it needs to be longer. In my opinion, it’s better to have a well written, yet shorter paper than a longer one that’s filled with fluff. Professors will know. They probably did it at one point too.

Related: 6 Ways to Relax, De-Stress, and Unwind

Have a Well-Deserved Celebration

After you’ve slaved away at your keyboard for what seems like days (and very well might be so), and you’ve submitted that last final paper or essay exam, just, let go.

That’s it. Time’s up. You can’t go back and change anything. Everything’s been submitted and there’s nothing you can do now. So all you can do is have a well-deserved mini celebration. Have some junk food, or go to the movies with friends, have a beer if you’re legally able to. Hell, take a nap if that’s what you need.

I’ve always felt an extreme relief after getting all of my final papers submitted. Like, an actual, physical feeling of stress off my shoulders.

Related: 11 Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep (Even in a Rowdy Dorm)



Have any other tips for final papers and essay exams?

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