By Kaiti Shelton
While in college I had a love/hate relationship with finals week. It was always such a happy time when my friends and I would spend time together before going our separate ways for the winter or summer break, but it was also quite stressful. Yet, by my junior year I learned a few tips that helped me manage my finals weeks fairly well. I hope they might work for you, too.
One of my professors told my class that studying should be an endurance race, not a sprint. If you get study guides or make them yourself in advance of finals week, don’t wait to use them until the test is looming over you. You might not be studying for hours each night, but the long-term studying for shorter periods of time will naturally help your brain to better absorb and hold onto all the information you need to remember. Cramming does not work, and if you don’t believe me speaking from my own experiences there are numerous psychological studies that explain why long-term studying is more effective.
Have you ever studied so hard that you couldn’t remember the last five pages you had just read, or you can’t mentally gather the energy to do the math problem you’ve been working on anymore? If so, you’ve probably experienced burn-out from studying, and needed to take a break. I found that it was helpful to set timers for myself, so that I could take the breaks I needed to refresh my mind and not tire out. After an hour of studying, I would take a fifteen-minute break and required myself to leave my desk to get a drink of water, eat a snack, or even step outside for some fresh air. It really helped me be more productive. It’s important to take slightly longer breaks every once in a while, too. Make sure that you don’t forego important things, like sleep and regular meals, so your health does not suffer. Besides, many college campuses offer fun and free perks during finals week you might want to take advantage of. My university would send out a complete list of finals week offerings the week before exams started. Typically, some of the freebies included chair massages, cuddles with certified therapy dogs, food from the cafeterias, and extended hours at some places like the campus coffee shop and the gym.
Some of the most productive study sessions I remember were ones I had with friends. I remember one night in my sophomore year when my roommates and I invited a friend to come over and study with us. We ordered pizza and he brought cookies, and we collaborated on finding answers to a study guide before reviewing them as a group. Another memorable collaboration took place in a google doc. Even though my classmates weren’t able to be physically together, we could still help to find answers and leave comments to help each other study. Facetime, Skype, and other video chat services could also be beneficial ways to study together from a distance.
I loved it when professors would assign a paper or presentation in lieu of an exam, because I could do my research well in advance of the finals week craziness. While I did not always have papers written and ready to turn in early, I more often than not had my research done and my outline written. All I had to do during finals week was follow the outline, paste my bibliography or citations at the end of the essay, and I was done. This definitely made time for me to focus on more pressing exams.
Even if you do not have class, don’t let your body lose track of its routine. Sleeping till noon might seem like a great idea, but it can wreak havoc with your sleep schedule and will take time away from your exam prep. Keeping yourself on a general schedule will help you remain in top shape for your exams, especially if they are early in the morning. However, small deviations will not hurt you. If you feel prepared for your next test and want to sleep in for another hour past your usual time to wake up, then, by all means, take it; you deserve it.
Maybe your roommate’s study group is really loud, or you’re just tired of staying locked up in your room. Many colleges expand study spaces and post the locations available for students to use. Going off-campus might also be beneficial. I used to frequent a restaurant every finals week because I could order a lunch, work on my computer using their free WIFI, and get free refills for the entire time I was there. Choose spaces according to what works best for you; if you need a quiet space, the library is probably a good choice. If you’re a person who works well with background noise, a restaurant or lounge with other students in it might work fine.
If you are stressed, take some time to provide yourself with some TLC. Staying up all night or burning out won’t help you with your finals, and they won’t make you feel any better. It’s important to manage stress both for the sake of your exams, and for the sake of you. If you’re feeling stressed out this semester, take notes of what you are stressed out about, and how you might be able to help yourself be less stressed in future semesters. Ask yourself if you should start studying sooner, if you should find a group to study with, or if you might seek tutoring. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take note of these things, so you can minimize the stress for yourself next time. At some schools, counseling staff might be available if you are really stressed and need to talk.
Finals week can feel brutal, but getting plenty of sleep, taking needed breaks, and making sure you take care of yourself can help. Of course, the best way to survive finals week stress is to minimize it as best you can by studying throughout the semester rather than the week before exams alone. Working with friends can make studying fun and more productive as long as you are able to keep the group on-task, and there are many test-taking strategies you can find online for managing test anxiety or for improving focus. The most important thing to remember is that it is important to take care of yourself. May the odds be ever in your favor this finals week!
About the Author: Kaiti Shelton is from Cincinnati, Ohio, and currently resides in Cleveland. She attended the University of Dayton where she studied music therapy with a minor in psychology. After completing her music Therapy internship, she hopes to become a Board-Certified Music Therapist and work in educational settings with children who have disabilities. Kaiti was involved with Learning Ally’s College Success Program as a mentee during the Spring 2015 semester and found the guidance she received from her mentor to be helpful. When not practicing one of the many instruments she plays in her music therapy sessions, Kaiti enjoys reading.
Learning Ally’s College Success Program offers support and mentors for students who are blind or visually impaired. Interested in learning more about this free opportunity? Go to LearningAlly.org/CollegeSuccess
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