Finals Are Approaching – How do you Prepare Your Students?

Our semester is drawing to a close (faster than most of us expect) and the great question on everyone’s mind (teacher, parent, and student alike) is how do we gear them up for final exams? It’s a tricky question and I don’t think that I’ve ever followed the same policy/procedure twice.

I can say that one thing I hate to do is a ‘formal review.’ As I tell my students, if I could put everything we went over the whole semester into two class days well then, we didn’t get much done! And even though review sheets make me uncomfortable (as they seem to give students blinders), I’ve come up with a few that make me more comfortable in their broadness (but probably don’t thrill students). Here are my general midterm formats for students (not including AP Art History):

Multiple Choice Section

I don’t like to give a lot of multiple choice as rote facts are not, in my opinion, truly ‘learning.’ It’s just regurgitating information. However, everything requires a little bit of rote (be it names, a timeline, events, etc). I keep it short.

Key Term Identifications

I put a list of 12 “Key Terms” (these can be names, events, battles, etc), students select 8 and define them. I usually let them do an extra one for some extra credit.

Slide Portion

As an archaeologist, I love objects. A lot. I show a lot of images when I lecture and emphasize the importance of material culture. As such, they do have a slide portion. Here is an example of a slide question:

Primary Source Materials

I am a big fan of exposing students to primary sources – ancient accounts of history, letters, journals, court rulings, newspaper accounts from the time, etc. As such, I always require that they do some primary source interpretation. It’s something that we have read and discussed in class. I put down two passages, they get to select one (again, I’m a big fan of choice). They must identify the author (if known), the title, approximate date it was written, and write a brief paragraph on its significance. The biggest struggle for my students with this is in not summarizing the piece, but analyzing. However, remember that they are just teenagers. I don’t think I “got” Thucydides until my later years of college.


I’m a huge proponent of writing, writing, writing. There is always an in-class essay on my tests – always. There are always two essays on my test and they must write one (approximately 3-4 hand-written pages).

So What About Review?

So, how do I prepare them for this now? If I don’t do a formal review what do I do for them? I do distribute a review sheet to them at least a week in advance. However, my review sheet is not too specific (again, trying to avoid those blinders). I list for them items that are “fair game,” which always includes: all assigned readings for homework, all in class readings, all lectures, any videos shown in class, and any in class discussions. In other words, “everything.”

Next, I divide the sheet up: A broad list of key terms (even if they don’t show up on the key term section, I warm them they could be in the Multiple Choice or relevant to their essays, slide questions, etc. I then put up the works from which I will draw their “Primary Source Analysis” (usually 4-5 pieces). I also then provide them with three “potential” essay questions, two of them will be on the test. I encourage that they not write the essays, but instead do a very detailed outline of each one.

What do I make Available to the kid?

I make a lot available to my students, but not everything. I’m a big fan of DropBox and have a shared filed for each of my classes. In this DropBox account I put electronic copies of any handouts I distribute (they know not to come to me for extra copies). I also put all of my PowerPoints on there – now my students learn early that my PowerPoints are not my lecture notes (those I don’t not make available). However, it’s where I draw my images for slide questions and is great for jogging their memory on earlier topics.

How do I treat review sessions? My students are instructed to bring their notes, handouts, textbooks, etc with them to class and we use our review days as a study hall. I am available for questions, I can help them with their outlines, I can provide guidance, and they can also work together and collaborate. They’re allowed to work in groups (at a reasonable volume – if their voices become ‘outside voices’ then they change to individual task workers).


So, I know that my system is not fool-proof. Often, I have students who want me to simply “tell them what will be on the test.” And of course, “have you looked up that question in your notes on the Roman Republic?” Often meet with… less enthusiastic responses. However, when I look at results, I find that my students midterm and final grades seem to reflect their overall performance in the class.

I’m curious about what other instructors do for their reviews. Is it formalized? Is it free-for-all? Is it a mix? I’m always open to constructive suggestions.

4 thoughts on “Finals Are Approaching – How do you Prepare Your Students?

    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      Yeah, in mathematics I would think that drills, drills, and more drills are the way to go.
      My big struggle is with the students wo don’t want to use their time effectively. I would say that 80% of my students manage their time well – it’s that 20%…

  1. Robert Connolly

    I take a very similar approach as you. I give them all the terms they need to know for objective and identify and state significance of type items, a set of essay questions from which I will draw one or two (noting that the actual selection will be made based on my calling one of my granddaughters and asking her favorite number between 1 and 4 for that day). My sense is that my students know exactly what is going to be on the test, and that scope contains all of what I perceive are the critical points they need to takeaway from the course. They can try and guess the terms I will include, but like the essay, it is really pretty much random. It’s a bit of a life experience ultimately. They can gamble the short-cut, and probably fall short, or do the required amount of studying and get an A for the course.


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