When to Start Studying for Finals

When to Start Studying for Finals

High school finals are coming up sooner than you may think.

It should come as no surprise that we do not recommend cramming the night before! Another, more preferable, method is to be diligent all semester long, taking comprehensive notes and reviewing them regularly, so that you master your course material as you go. This way, you’ll be ready to do practice problems in the weeks before your finals and be in the right position to ace them. We’ve described this study method in detail in our post on preparing for midterms.

But, what if you’re somewhere in between the two extremes of needing to cram and being on top of your material from day one?

Maybe it’s too late to be diligent—too much of the semester has passed! Don’t worry; there’s still plenty you can do to prep for those final exams. So forget about what you could have done had you started sooner. Instead, focus on what’s possible right now.

Before we answer the question, “When should I start studying for high school finals?”, let’s look at how you’ll study. Whether your finals are one week away or one month away, your preparation process will look essentially the same.

Start here: 

How to Study for High School Finals

Here’s what you can do to manage new material and study for the earlier material that’s sure to be on your high school final exams:

6 Steps to a Perfect Study Plan

  1. Embrace healthy new habits. Set yourself up by committing to be an assiduous note-taker and reviewer from this day forward. These habits will benefit you throughout your academic career and into your professional one.


  1. You’ll need: a blank calendar and your course syllabi. Before finals begin (the earlier the better), sit down with a blank calendar and your course syllabi. Many students report optimal results when working with pen and paper, but you can use digital versions of these tools if that’s a better fit for you. You’ll use the calendar and syllabi to plot out your organized and systematic study plan for the time between now and your finals.


Remember: no matter how much or how little time remains before final exams, this process is important to helping you study successfully.


  1. Break your coursework into small bites. Take one syllabus and break it into manageable units of material. We recommend creating units that contain two to three weeks of material.


  1. Gather your study materials. Collect your notes, reading material, quizzes, and tests for each of these units. If you find something is missing or confusing, ask a reliable and responsible classmate for permission to photocopy their notes.


  1. Create time blocks. Once you’ve collected all the relevant content for each unit, create blocks of study time on each calendar day (or every other day) for reviewing each unit, one by one, until you’ve carefully studied all of the material for the class. We recommend time blocks of one to two hours, but you may need more or less depending on your course confidence. Your goal is to comprehend the material to the point at which you can reproduce it.


6. Repeat this process for each final exam. Since you’ll likely have more than one final to prepare for, you’ll need to repeat this process for each class you have and study for all of the finals in parallel. Make sure to leave blocks on your calendar for review of these other classes, as well. Your study blocks might vary in length based on your familiarity with the material in each class. Additionally, you can’t study all day, every day, so be realistic and prioritize. We don’t recommend more than eight hours of study time in any one day—and that’s the absolute maximum. Rest and recovery are important for your success, too!


Review this sample study plan:

I used Google Calendar to plot out time blocks for history, French, and precalculus finals. 

When to Start Studying for Finals

You’ll notice that I’m studying precalculus every day in the first week—that’s because I’m a little shaky on some of that material. I feel pretty confident about my French class, however, so I’ve blocked out study time for that class on every other day, an hour at a time. And because I think my history final is going to be challenging, I’ve marked off a lot of time for reviewing that material. 

Towards the end of my second week of focused studying, when finals are right around the corner, I’ve set aside time to review all the units for each class. This is when I’ll do practice problems as well.

Tackling your timeline

You’ll notice that I created a two-week study plan. You may have more—or less— time to study for finals. No matter how much time remains, you should create an organized study plan before you begin.

Now let’s talk about the ideal study timeline, and how to navigate your studying when you’ve procrastinated a bit too long.


When Should You Start Studying for Finals?

If you’re asking, the answer is probably: RIGHT NOW.

But don’t panic. (Panic has never helped anyone pass a test!) Instead, follow our guidelines and begin building healthier time management habits that you can take with you to college and your future career.

Example #1: Finals are 4-6 weeks away 

Take full advantage of the time available to you, and get your study plan in place right away! Because you have more than a month of study time available, you may wish to create shorter time blocks of no more than one hour each so that you don’t burn out.

Example #2: Finals are 2-4 weeks away

With less than a month to study, you’ll want to create a highly targeted study plan with daily time blocks of around two hours. You’ll be studying a lot, but you’ve got this! Remember to get a full night’s sleep each night so you can truly focus and retain the material you study.

Example #3: Finals are 1 week away

If you have only one week to study for your final exams, you’ll need to be extremely diligent and intentional when creating your study plan. And—yes—you still need to make a study plan! In fact, your study plan is even more important when time is limited.

Here are some tips for studying effectively when your finals are just around the corner:


Study Successfully with These Last-Minute Tips

Note that “last minute” does not mean “the night before final exams.” Successful studying takes time, and ideally, you’ve been practicing good study habits all year.

However, we recognize that life often throws curveballs, from health to home life and beyond, and you may be stuck with a shortened study schedule through no fault of your own. If that’s your scenario, these tips can help you recover and reset.

Start with the tests that matter most

Use your academic and career goals to determine which tests will have the most impact on your future success. Perhaps you really need to ace your French final, but you’re comfortable with your precalculus grade. Or maybe you desperately need to bring up your history GPA, but you already know your pre-cal coursework inside and out. Create your study plan accordingly, dedicated most study time to the finals that matter most.

Study with the test formats in mind

Most teachers are happy to share the testing format they’ll be using. Use that information to your advantage! You’ll study completely differently for a multiple choice test than you would for a presentation or an essay.

Ask for more resources—and use them!

Don’t hesitate to ask your teacher for additional study resources if you need them. And you can almost always find practice tests, sample essay prompts, and study guides online.

Cut the noise

Don’t study distracted! Turn off the television, silence your phone, and set yourself up in an environment that allows you to focus. Many students find it easier to focus when they listen to instrumental music or turn on a fan to create soothing background noise. You know what works for you!

Read out loud

You’ve almost certainly heard this advice before, and that’s because it really works! Whether you read your materials in a whisper or at full volume, there is power in the simple act of speaking out loud and hearing the information as you absorb it visually.

Go to every class review

Class reviews are designed specifically to prepare you for final exams, so don’t skip them! You’ll be more likely to learn the most important course material in a teacher-led course review. Take that information home and let it guide your study time.

Find fun ways to stay motivated

You probably already know what keeps you going when you need to focus, but here are a few ideas if you’re feeling overwhelmed:

  • Have brain-boosting snacks on-hand
  • Set a timer for 50 minutes of study followed by 10 minutes of stretching, petting your dog, or having a mini dance party in your room
  • After each study session, reward yourself with something that makes you smile
  • Study with a partner (but only if you won’t distract each other)


Reminder: Build in Time to Gather Materials

Setting up a study plan for high school finals like this takes an up-front investment of time. It will probably take you a day or two to collect all the materials you’ll need to study.

But even this planning stage has a big payoff! Going through your notes, filling in gaps, and pulling together past quizzes are all valuable ways to get your study muscles warmed up.


Starting Earlier is Always Better

Whenever possible, start early and stay on top of your material as you’re learning it. However, for those times when you fall behind, step back, break your course content into manageable chunks, collect the relevant material, and work through it methodically to get yourself on the right track. 

A caveat here: this is not necessarily an ideal way to study, but it’s much better than cramming.

Need more help prepping for high school finals? Check out our article on study skills to help you succeed or contact us for a free consultation!

Picture of Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

More Resources