Final exams offer you a chance to earn points to improve your class grade and impress your teacher with your knowledge. Starting the study process early, at least a week before test time, avoids last-minute panic. Robert Stickgold, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, recommends reviewing key ideas or difficult concepts before bedtime during the semester to reinforce your knowledge. Preparing your class materials for studying takes time, but it also allows you to see the big picture in place of a collection of tiny details.

Test Content

Some final exams include questions for everything taught during the semester, while others ask for information and materials covered in class from the last test. Ask your teacher if the test is cumulative, meaning all inclusive, or if the exam covers less material. Many teachers review final exam materials in class or distribute a study guide for the test. Review these in class and ask questions when you're unsure of the scope of the exam. Ask your teacher about the type of questions on the final. Studying for a multiple-choice test, for example, uses different study techniques compared with a final essay exam.

Review Notes and Handouts

The most difficult step is figuring out what to study -- even with a general study guide. Prepare your notes and handouts as part of your study review. This takes time, but it helps to determine possible exam questions. Group your handouts, notes and class papers into categories, and use different colored highlighters to match the headings. A final exam for 20th century history, for instance, includes a variety of topics. Group these according to general headings such as wars, economy, culture, society and politics. Mark all of the political materials, for example, with a red highlighter in the corner. Make a master study list for each highlighted group to determine what to study from your notes and handouts. Your study list for the political group might include key terms for federal presidential campaigns and the important Supreme Court decisions presented in class materials.

Review Text

Review your textbook for study topics by using the table of contents as a guide, and then review the chapters or sections used by your teacher in the class. Think about the main ideas and concepts while looking at each of the chapter headings. Most content tables also have subtopics. Recall the most important people, events and points under each of these. Once you've completed this review, do the same process for the chapter content. Many textbook chapters have outlines on the first page that allow you to mentally itemize what you remember about each subheading. When you can't recall the information, skim the section for a reminder of the major points and make flashcards for key ideas to review later.

Study Notes

Use your handouts and notes to review important details while thinking of possible exam questions. Brainstorm possible answers on paper for important topics for finals with essay questions. An essay for a novel might ask you to select an important theme or write about character interaction. Write down key ideas for questions and ways to organize the essay. Multiple-choice questions ask you to remember important information, such as details about people, places and events in the book. Use your highlighter to mark these details in your notes and handouts.

Group Review

A reliable and prepared group of study partners can increase your knowledge and also supply important study information that you may have missed in class notes or failed to understand in the text. Set study guidelines for the group before meeting such a requirement to bring sample essay topics with brainstorming ideas or multiple-choice questions with answers. The most effective study groups have three members, according to Muskingum College.