The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence

The Finals Lap: Tips and Ideas for Final Exam Review

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by Steven Hansen, Associate Director for Faculty Development at the Center for Teaching Excellence at Duquesne University

Though it may seem to students that finals are eons away, professors and teaching assistants know that these last weeks fly by all too quickly. And so, as you prepare (or prepare to prepare) for that final lap, you may want to consider how you want to prepare your students and avoid those desperate emails at 5am on the day of the final. You know the ones. If you didn’t know better you could swear that the droplets of nervous sweat somehow traveled through cyberspace and into your inbox along with them. Reviewing for final exams is a valuable way to help students learn and reduces student anxiety related to finals (Weimer, 1998).

Here are some tips and ideas from CTE’s Teaching & Learning Tips Archive for those final reviews both in and out of the classroom.

Offer a Final’s Feast

A final’s feast is like the last supper for your class.  Have door prizes, snacks and review materials.  Marvin Druger (2006) calls his review session a Biofeast.  “Near the end of the General Biology 121 course, I organize the Biofeast.  This is designed as a celebration of the completion of the course.  A dining hall manager sets up a special meal, complete with hors d’oeuvres, tablecloths, and a huge cake, and students get a ticket for this event.  A review session for the last exam and door prizes are part of the festivities.  TAs also attend, and the Biofeast serves as a memorable climax to the first semester of the course.”

(not a realistic representation of a Final’s Feast)

Review an Old Exam

“I hold a review session before each major exam.  Basically, I review an old exam, and many questions on the actual exam are modifications of questions asked on old exams.  The rationale is that I know what I think is important for students to know, so why not tell them?  Students should not have to guess what’s important in the instructor’s mind.  For example, I want students to be able to analyze inheritance of ABO blood groups.  So, I tell them that a question on the exam will be similar to the following question: ‘If the mother is type A and the father is not AB, which of the following could not be the blood type of the child?’ The actual question on the exam will simply change the blood types in the question.  Also, former exams are available on reserve in the libraries, so that students can review content and get an idea of the style of the exams.” (Druger, 2006)

Set a Phone-in or Email Time

On the night before an exam, a professor (or a TA on duty) sets up block of time dedicated to taking calls or emails from students to help answer last-minute questions (Druger, 2006).

Give a Practice Exam

“Practice tests help students gauge what is expected of them. But practice tests are most effective when students take the tests, rather than read them as though they were study guides” (Davis, 2009).  If you let students spend half of the review time taking the practice exam, use the remaining review time to answer their questions.  Having taken the practice exam, students will have plenty of questions during the remaining time.

Interactive Review with Students as Experts

“Plan your test review sessions to be as interactive as possible. Instead of doing the usual ‘Q and A,’ organize the material in a more meaningful way. For example, you could send out an outline of major topics in advance and have students e-mail their questions to you ahead of time. Compile a list of the best questions and ask students to prepare answers prior to the session. Direct these questions to the students in the review before answering them yourself. You should have some ‘experts’ in the audience when it’s time to review. If students omitted some important questions, guide them to design questions for remaining topics. The practice in writing their own questions and answering them will be invaluable” (Joanne Holladay, “Your Role in Preparing Students for Finals,” University of Texas).


Davis, Barbara Gross. (2009). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Wiley Publishers.

Druger, Marvin. (2006). “Experiential learning in a large introductory biology course.” In Joel Mintzes & William Leonard (Ed.), Handbook of college science teaching (pp. 37-44). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Kearney, Patricia , Plax, Timothy G. , Hays, Ellis R. andIvey, Marilyn J.(1991) “College teacher misbehaviors: What students don’t like about what teachers say and do.” Communication Quarterly 39: 4, 309-324.

Weimer, Maryellen. “Exam review sessions.” In Maryellen Weimer & Rose Neff (Ed.), Teaching college: Collected readings for new instructors (pp. 123-124). Madison: Atwood Publishing.

Author: duqcte

Founded in 1989 as a faculty initiative, the Center for Teaching Excellence helps faculty and graduate student teaching assistants excel as teacher-scholars deeply invested in their students’ learning. We believe that excellent teaching is an art that grows through scholarship, practice, reflection, and collaboration. Our approach at CTE is a personal one. We promote excellence in teaching by getting to know our faculty and TAs, learning from them, fostering their leadership, and bringing people together from across the University.

One thought on “The Finals Lap: Tips and Ideas for Final Exam Review

  1. Pingback: Helping Students Reflect on Study Habits | The Flourishing Academic

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