Studying for Finals with Suzy Q

For those readers who haven’t heard, Suzy Q is VOTW’s newest advice column! Let’s start things off with our first question of the year.

Dear Suzy Q,


Finals (as you may or may not know) are NEXT WEEK and I haven’t started studying for my U.S. history class!!! What should I do???

— Actually Screaming

Dear Actually Screaming,

First of all, stop screaming. That will hurt your throat. Have a lozenge or something.

Second of all, take a minute to calm down. Lie on your bed and close your eyes. (But try not to fall asleep). After a minute, get up. (Don’t start crying).

woman sitting on windowsill.jpg

Now that you’ve relaxed, you can start panicking properly. (Photo courtesy of Alexandre Chambon.)

My next step would be to establish a game plan. It’d be a waste of time to haphazardly study random assignments in the hopes that a random fact from it would be on the exam. Find out what is being tested on the final, how the final is structured (i.e., multiple choice, free response, etc), and what percentage of your grade it affects.

By finding out what’s being tested, you can focus in on what you actually need to study — Sherman’s march to the sea? 20th-century progressivism? The Roaring ‘20s? Similarly, finding out how the test is structured will help you to establish how you’re going to study for this exam. If it’s a multiple choice exam, try Googling some practice tests. Finding out what percentage of your grade it will be will enable you to calculate how well you need to do on the exam to achieve a certain grade. RogerHub’s Final Grade Calculator is what I personally use to do this, and I most definitely recommend using this.

Studying for an hour a day can have drastic effects on your final grade.


“Ugh, I have a scheduled nap from 2:30 PM to 8 PM, so I have no time to study!” (Photo courtesy of Eric Rothermel.)

Then, I would take out a planner, calendar, or whatever you use to schedule your time and write in study times. Since finals are already so close, I would recommend studying a chuck of the material every day. Studying for an hour a day can have drastic effects on your final grade. Plan around events that you have, and don’t be afraid to split your study times up! For example, you can study for half an hour in the morning if that’s your only free time before your day starts, and then another half an hour on the bus ride home from school. Use every moment of free time to preparation! (But remember to take care of yourself, too!)

When that’s finished, it’s time to determine your weak areas. Take out your class’s syllabus or something and look at the list of concepts you need to know. Mark the ones you don’t by circling, highlighting, or starring them. Do whatever. You can rate how well you believe you remember events using a one to five point scale or by using some other method.

Also, protip: put your phone away. We both know you don’t need it. Download an app like Cold Turkey that’ll prevent you from using your phone for a set amount of time.

After doing all of this, it’s time to figure out how exactly you plan to study. If you just need to know straight facts, like what year the civil war started, flashcards are your best bet. They promote active recall, ensuring that you can actually recall facts and not just vaguely recognize terms. If you have some extra time, I’d recommend watching Thomas Frank’s video on how to use flashcards effectively, linked here. I also recommend doing as many practice exams as you can; it gives you the experience of taking a multiple choice exam (WITHOUT looking at notes) and it trains your brain to recall facts and practice test-taking strategies. After scoring them, you can see your improvement as well as areas you need to study up on.

[Flashcards] promote active recall, ensuring that you can actually recall facts and not just vaguely recognize terms.

If the test is a timed essay, I’d suggest doing as many timed essays for practice as you can. Even if you don’t know what the topic is, I’d suggest using this magical thing called Google. It’s one of the most powerful study tools at your disposal.


“When I Googled my question, I couldn’t find anything on the first page of search results, so I gave up.” (Photo courtesy of Edho Pratama.)

After finals, I suggest taking a day or two to fully decompress. I suggest reading Cal Newport’s How to Become a Straight-A Student to learn exactly that. (I’m not sponsored, guys, I swear. I honestly love this book — I have it in front of me right now). The book features practical methods that students use to be incredibly lazy but still get awesome grades.

Thanks for asking a question, Actually Screaming. Suzy Q out.
— Suzy Q

Feel free to submit your questions and issues to me through VOTW’s contact form, or just by emailing us at! All questions are strictly confidential.




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