5 ways AI can help you study for finals - for free

Studying for finals is hard. AI can simplify it for you.
Written by Sabrina Ortiz, Editor
Magnifying glass with brain illustration
Getty Images/champpixs

Regardless of major, academic level, or institution, final periods are stressful for students, requiring intense studying and cramming. However, AI can help ease the load. 

Since generative AI first surged in popularity, the technology has typically received a bad rap in the education sector, with many believing it would violate academic standards and integrity. However, AI can also be a great assistant capable of helping students optimize their studying.

Also: 7 reasons I use Copilot instead of ChatGPT

The best generative AI tools, such as AI chatbots, are intuitive to use, requiring no knowledge of coding or AI, and many of the most helpful features are free. If you're ready to hand off some tedious studying tasks to AI, I rounded up the best ways you can use AI to study for finals. 

Quick Note: For any of the below tips that include AI chatbots, you can use whichever one you choose, and there are plenty of options to pick from, which we break down here. For the examples below, I used Microsoft Copilot because the free version is connected to the internet, allowing the chatbot to access the latest information on the web, which is crucial for getting accurate information when studying. 

1. Summarize PDFs 

Earning a degree often involves lots of readings, usually in the form of lengthy PDFs. Whether you are a humanities or STEM major, you will be required to read or familiarize yourself with research papers that are loaded with technical jargon and hard to parse through. That's where AI PDF summarizers can help. 

With AI PDF summarizers, you can input your PDF from your computer's files and conversationally ask the AI chatbot to answer any questions about the topic or even generate entire summaries for you. 

Also: How to use ChatPDF: The AI chatbot that can tell you everything about your PDF

There are various different tools you can use to accomplish this task, with the most intuitive being ChatPDF. The free version of ChatPDF allows users to upload two PDFs daily, each up to 120 pages. Using it is easy as all you have to do is visit the site, upload your document, and start chatting away. 

Some free AI chatbots, such as Anthropic's Claude, can accept document inputs and accomplish the same goal. The premium version of OpenAI's chatbot, ChatGPT Plus, can also accept document input but the subscription costs $20 per month. 

2. Break down material 

Sometimes, no matter how many times you read or study certain material, it simply doesn't click. In those instances, you can use an AI chatbot to break down complex terms for you into more digestible parts. 

Also: The best free AI courses (and whether AI certificates are worth it)

For example, you can input a sentence or broader concept you don't understand and ask the chatbot to explain it to a level that would make the material more understandable. My go-to is, "Explain XYZ as if I were a five-year-old," as you can see in the photo below. 

Copilot: Explain quantum physics to me as if I were a five year old? Screenshot
Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

This feature is so useful that I use it often in my everyday workflow. All it does is break the subject using everyday tangible examples and adding context that makes the material much more accessible, cutting through confusing and technical terminology. You can pick any age or grade level you'd like. 

3. Assist with essay prep

As if cramming a semester's worth of material for an exam wasn't difficult enough, many professors also assign end-of-semester papers that either replace or supplement your final exam. Because of how much they are weighted in terms of your grade, they often require high levels of synthesis and research. That's where AI can help. 

You use it for support when writing, including creating outlines for essays, finding sources for you, and brainstorming essay ideas.   

Also: How ChatGPT (and other AI chatbots) can help you write an essay

To have an AI chatbot help out with any of these tasks, all you would have to do is ask it to do so conversationally, such as, "Help me create an outline for an essay regarding the rise and fall of The Wiggles." 

You can also leverage AI chatbots' advanced natural language processing to co-edit essays for you. Unlike your standard spell-check, AI chatbots can understand context, flow, conciseness, and more, making it a superior editor. Just copy and paste your text and ask the chatbot to edit for whatever focus you'd like. 

4. Outline your notes 

In preparation for exams, you have the difficult task of looking through a semester's worth of notes and condensing them to the most important highlights for studying. Instead of doing that yourself, you can ask an AI chatbot to summarize or organize your notes for you.

For example, as a political science major, I had tons of separate Google Doc notes from all the different lectures. I would have been able to copy and paste that text into any AI chatbot and ask it to generate concise summaries with higher-level points of view. 

Also: 35% of college students are using AI tools to help them with their studies

For the sake of this article, I copied and pasted my latest ZDNET article into Copilot and asked it to write a summary, as seen below. Within seconds, it organized my article into six main points that were accurate, easy to read, and, most importantly, easy to parse through. 

Copilot: "Can you create a outline that sumamrizes this text"
Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

If your professor shares notes, outlines, or other course materials, you can ask an AI chatbot to summarize those too. 

5. Roleplay testing you 

In grade school, my favorite studying technique was having my mom randomly test me on the material I was learning. Now, instead of relying on family or friends being awake during your midnight study sessions, you can use an AI chatbot to do the same thing for you. 

For example, you can ask the chatbot, "Can you test me on my exam material?" Then, the chatbot will ask you what the material is and generate questions based on the topic you share within seconds, as seen in the photo below. 

Copilotm "Can you test me on material?"
Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Once you answer, it can correct you, provide insight into what you said wrong, and even give you resources online to visit to familiarize yourself with the material better. 

If you want to take this feature up an extra notch, you can use a chatbot with PDF reading capabilities, as discussed in the first tip of this article, or paste your notes in, and ask it to generate questions specific to your PDF or notes for you to answer. 

You can also ask the chatbot to generate flashcards based on the material. The chatbot will tell you exactly what to add to the front and the back of the cards, so you can spend less time figuring out what to put on the cards and more time actually using them. 

Good luck with your finals! 

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