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SFU Criminology Student

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It is important to tailor your study strategies to your specific class.

This blog post was originally published on the Student Learning Commons blog at the Simon Fraser University Library on Mar 29, 2021.

For some of you, your first final exams may be coming up quickly! With that being said,  you may wonder what a final exam is like in university. As 4th year criminology students, we are going to share our tips for final exams.

First, it is important to understand your professor’s individual expectations, so refer to the syllabus! In the syllabus your professor will likely describe what the exam covers, the format of the exam, what material is examinable, and whether the exam will be textbook-heavy or lecture-heavy. If you do not know what date your final exam is, check the Spring 2021 final exam schedule.

In some courses, final exams may only cover the second half of the course (non-cumulative), whereas others may include content from the entire course (cumulative). If anything is unclear, ask questions! Visit your TA/Instructor’s office hours or send them an email for clarification.

With that being said, here are our study tips!

Plan Ahead

The best piece of advice we can give is to plan ahead and start studying early! First, that means completing your readings and asynchronous lectures on time. That way, when it comes time to study, you can focus on actually studying rather than catching up. As for studying, we usually start a minimum of one week in advance. By doing so, you have time to study effectively and will feel more confident going into the exam. To use your time effectively, make a study plan! (See the example Study Plan)

Here are some other resources for effective studying: Effective Studying & Curve of Forgetting

Take Notes

Throughout the semester make sure to keep organized notes on both the readings and lectures. Your notes should guide you through your studying as you can refer to the notes you took rather than going back and re-reading entire chapters. For some people, using a colour-coding system and highlighting helps identify common themes. For example, in a law class, you may highlight all case names in one specific colour and highlight all Criminal Code sections in a different colour.

Tailor Study Strategies

It is important to tailor your study strategies to your specific class. For some people, creating diagrams and charts may help link concepts together. This may be an effective strategy for writing an essay-style exam where you need to create links between course concepts. An example of where this may be helpful is for law-based courses, where creating flow charts for the different legal tests may help with understanding the material.

Conversely, if your exam is memorization based (e.g. memorizing functions of specific parts of the brain), you may prefer using cue cards. Check out this link to a Blackboard Collaborate session from the Student Learning Commons where Ruth discusses tips for preparing for online exams.

Ask Questions

If you are confused about what will be on the exam or if you need clarification regarding a course concept, ask your TA or professor for clarification. They are the ones who create the exams, so they are the ones who are best suited to help you and answer questions. To get real-time advice or discuss a topic in-depth, visit during office hours! However, for many take-home exams, instructors are unable to provide assistance during the time the exam is open, so make sure to prepare questions in advance of the time the take-home exams begin.


This may seem silly, but getting sleep during exams is so important. Sometimes getting to sleep earlier is more beneficial than staying up all night cramming and showing up to the exam tired. Moreover, while you sleep, your memory consolidates, so sleep is important to help the information stick. If you are struggling with exam anxiety, here are some tips to overcome exam anxiety.

Focus on Learning Outcomes

In most courses, your professor may outline learning outcomes which are things your professor wants you to learn in the course, so similar concepts will likely appear on the exam! You can usually find the learning outcomes in the lectures, beginning of textbook chapters, or in modules for online classes. Both of us use the course learning outcomes to structure our own outline for the course that we use to study from.

Criminology Specific Tips: Case Law

If your class involves case law, make sure you know the key points from the case (usually the facts, issue, ratio, and holding). And don’t forget about legal tests! Having a document entirely composed of case briefs is super helpful to ensure you know the important components of each case. Additionally, if a case is brought up frequently, you may need to know more detail. For example, if a case is discussed in multiple parts of the course, such as in the lecture, textbook, and tutorial, it is probably super important and worth studying!

Open Book Exam Tips

Make an outline for the important concepts in the course. For most online classes you can organize the outline by week. For example, Week 1: Chapter 1 or Week 1: Introduction. Next, you will want to include the most important information learned throughout the entirety of the course, from the lectures, tutorials, readings, and any other material you have been given. You will want to repeat this for every week that will be on your exam.

Sometimes professors or TAs will tell you specifically what concepts might appear on the exam, so make sure to include that information in your outline (these would also be good points to highlight)! You can then go back and colour code the outline to make it even faster for you to find information during an exam. The key here is to make sure the document contains the most important and “bare-bones” information -- if the document is too long, you might as well just use your regular class notes, but if the document is too short, it won’t be helpful either. In general, we try to aim for around 10-20 pages.

We hope these tips were helpful. Good luck on your exams!


SFU Criminology Student
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Oct 6, 2021

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