Create your own study guide to help you ace your finals

With final exams looming ahead, you need to figure out ways to study that will work best for you. Having a study guide to work from is a good start. But you’ll have to apply effective study habits and use the study guide for it to be of value.

Keep yourself organized with a homemade study guide chart. (Credit: wikiHow)

Keep yourself organized with a homemade study guide chart. (Credit: wikiHow)

Learning how to study for exams is a study in itself. So is the development of test taking skills. Let’s take a look at how you can create your own study guide now and put yourself on the track to success.

Create a visual study guide

The folks at Utah State University (USU) put together a helpful brochure on “Creating Study Guides,” complete with examples. They explained that test taking skills are about more than memorizing facts. It’s also about being able to organize and process the course materials so that you can demonstrate your knowledge at the critical thinking level that your professor expects.

The USU list of visual organizers included:

  • Concept map and branching diagram: allows you to organize information spatially rather than only in a linear (outline) format
  • Comparison chart: a visual organization to help you see relationships among categories or characteristics
  • Concept card: flash cards with key ideas, an organizing term or phrase, source of the information, examples, diagrams, time lines and more
  • Diagrams: visually show a process, procedure, stages and steps. “For example, in a geology class, you could create a diagram to describe how rock layers are formed. In a political science class, a diagram can help you understand and learn the process for how a bill is passed into law.”

Each visual organizer presented in the brochure comes with examples of how you can use the organizer.

Study guide tools

You can use free online tools to help you organize and share your notes, create flash cards, mind maps and quizzes. Here are just a few:

  • ExamTime: free study tools for students and teachers; tools include mind maps, flashcards, notes and quizzes
  • Quizlet: free tools and apps including audio technologies that allow you to record your voice; great for auditory learners and those studying a foreign language
  • StudyBlue: create, share and use flashcards and notes at home or on your phone; browse notes from tens of thousands of college and high schools around the world
  • LiveMocha: free online language learning; practice conversations with millions of people from over 190 countries
  • Evernote: gather and store web articles, photos, capture handwritten notes; search features make your data easy to find; sync your projects across all devices
  • Zotero: collect and store pdfs, images, audio and video files, snapshots of web pages and notes; built-in index helps you find specific items stored
  • Apple iTunes Open University: download free content to your iPad, iPod or iPhone via the iTunes Store. You can also download to Android devices.

Tools for effective study habits

Kathleen D. Thayer, Director of Academic Success Center at Purdue University, explained how to use several methods of organizing material for your study guide. She listed these methods and their advantages and disadvantages in her article, “Making And Using Study Guide-Aids To Preparing for An Exam,” at

Thayer’s list of organizers included:

  • Summary sheet: good for developing deeper level thinking but very time consuming
  • Concept map: good for vocabulary and showing relationships but you’ll need to have more than one to cover all your material
  • Index cards: easy to use but Thayer worries that their brevity may make them too literal

“The primary advantage of a study guide is that it reduces the amount of information to be learned. Also, memory is improved by putting the information in your own words and organizing it in ways that are meaningful to you,” Thayer said.

Sample study guide

An example of a study guide on “An Introduction to the Types of Motion” for a science class was created by Kathy Foust for a January 5, 2012, post to

You create your own study guide by gathering information from notes, the textbook, homework assignments and previous tests. When assembling your information into the study guide, don’t overdo it. Making lists and outlines works best in keeping the information manageable.

Have a friend quiz you, or work with a group of fellow students to review the information in your study guide.

What suggestions do you have for creating a study guide? Tell us about it in the comments.

2 replies
  1. Kim Wells says:

    My best way to ace finals is to study throughout the whole semester and passing the exams won’t be an issue even if I don’t study hard. Still, there are times when I actually had to study the night before the exam. That was exhausting and that was my fault as well. Thus, the key to acing finals is time management. But still, studying isn’t fun and it can easily make one bored and just give up on studying. That’s why I started thinking of how to make studying exciting. I checked out these fun ways to study and these ones on making studying fun and the results were pretty awesome. I wasn’t getting tired quickly and I didn’t get distracted by unnecessary things.


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  1. […] of rereading the course material and reviewing your notes (which can be tedious and boring), try making your own study guide. Limit yourself to one sheet of paper per class because then you’ll be forced to focus on your […]

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