How to Make Your Study Guide for Finals

Concept Map
By Stefan Melnyk

We’re going into the last weekend before finals, and we all know how scary studying for them can be! Luckily, you have a secret weapon: the study guide.


You’ve probably used a study guide before, but the real value of a study guide isn’t in having one – the real value is in making one. The process of constructing your own study guide is an excellent way to study for a test.

Why is that?

Well, if you’re just reading your notes over and over again to study, you’re not really thinking about the information and concepts involved. Writing things down means thinking about them more than you would by just reading them. In fact, if you are having trouble with spelling specific words in the material, it can be helpful to “write” them in the air as you practice spelling them to get different parts of your brain involved with the process! Writing out the ideas for yourself and thinking about whether or not to put them on the study guide will do you so much good!

But what about the format?

It’s worth experimenting to find what works best for you. Different students learn best in different ways, and the way visual learners should build a study guide is very different from that of verbal learners. There are lots of different formats that people have come up with to help different types of learners.


Here are three favorites:

Two Column Notes

For verbal learners, the two-column note system is one that can help you not only with your study guide but with your reading notes in general!

Simply put, create two columns – a small left column and a wider right column.In the left column, write key terms that are important to understanding the topic. In the right-hand column, expand on those terms with the information you need to know about them.

Then mark off a section at the bottom of the notes page to contain a quick summary of the information above it (for example, think about the top five most important points on that page).

This method requires you to write the information down and think about which information is most important.

Cornell Note-Taking System

The Cornell note-taking system is almost identical to the two-column note. However, on the left column, you write questions as you go through your material. On the right sight, you write notes those answers.


Also called a bubble or web chart, this one works best to help visual learners.

Write the main idea or topic in the center of the page and draw a bubble around it.

Then draw lines leading to other bubbles that contain the ideas
related to that central topic, and then lines leading to bubbles branching off from those ideas, and so on and so forth. This method is all about remembering associations between concepts, an approach that will help you on the test as you try to remember the significance of different ideas.

There are plenty more formats and study guide ideas, so feel free to experiment until you find the one right!

Remember, the most important thing about making a study guide is to write out the information for yourself and, crucially, think hard about why that information is essential.

Good luck!

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