Finals week is not fun. In fact, I can’t think of the last time that anyone announced to me that they were excited to take an exam, with the exception of being excited to get it over with. Alas, it’s one of the things that you just have to deal with as a student. The nice thing about college as opposed to high school, though, is that you generally take fewer classes per semester, so you have fewer exams. The nice thing about high school, though, is that it’s generally easier. Regardless of where you are in your schooling right now, you’re probably familiar with the beast that is finals week.
Maybe you’ll have one or two classes in which your teacher decides to have you write a paper instead of taking an actual exam. This can be really nice, especially if you do have exams in other classes that require heavy studying. Remember, though, that a paper doesn’t write itself. You have to budget the time that it takes to research, draft, and write the paper into your schedule. In your other classes, you may be stuck with exams, or if you’re as “lucky” as I was, you’ll get to take a final during a long lab period instead of during the defined finals week (meaning the test could be four hours long instead of two). Regardless of the type and number of finals you have, it’s important to know how to prepare for finals week.
Before the dreaded week arrives, it’s a good idea to have a plan of action for how much time will be spent studying and how much time will be spent relaxing (yes, you still get to relax during finals week). This doesn’t need to be planned out down to the minute, but if you know that you’re struggling in one subject, it’s important that you give yourself more time with that material. If you generally can’t retain information after dinner, it’s best to get your studying done earlier in the day. If you need help, ask a friend, a TA, or your teacher. There’s no need to psych yourself out before you’ve even gotten to the exam room!
Follow this advice to prepare for your upcoming finals:
Don’t plan on pulling any all-nighters to study or finish up assignments. The human body doesn’t react well to the stress of staying awake all night long. In fact, your concentration, memory, and reaction time can all be negatively affected by a lack of sleep. The last thing you want when you walk into an exam room is to forget everything you studied the night before, so get a good night’s sleep.
Know what scores you need to maintain or increase your grade, but don’t dwell on it. Calculate your grade in each class after you’ve received all your assignments back but before the exam. Knowing where you stand shows you exactly how well you have to do on a test to maintain or improve your grade. This is particularly important for students whose grade is between letters. The final could be your chance to push up into an A. If your grade isn’t borderline, and you find out that you only need a 37% to maintain a B in the class, you shouldn’t aim for a 37%. Aim higher and prove to your teacher that you know what you’re doing.
Mix up your study spots, but never study on your bed. You may have a favorite desk in the library, but sitting there for eight hours a day every day until the end of finals week isn’t going to do you much good. Mix it up by going to a café, studying in a common room, or making use of your classrooms. Whiteboards in empty classrooms offer you a perfect spot to draw out diagrams, practice calculations, and test yourself on the material. Just make sure you clean up before you leave. As for studying on your bed, it’s way too cozy there. Plus, you already associate your bed with sleeping, even if it’s not conscious, so you’re less likely to be productive there.
If you need background noise to study, pick classical music with no words. When listening to music with words, the brain automatically tries to understand and put together the words that it’s hearing. So, you’re distracted right off the bat from the work that you should be paying attention to. If you need the noise, try something classical, or something with nature sounds. Be mindful of the volume too; the louder the music, the more difficulty you’re going to have concentrating (and the more likely you’re going to annoy your neighbor).
Make a handwritten study guide and use it. Taking notes by hand increases the likelihood that you will remember the material later on. If you study from a study guide that your teacher or a friend made, you’re automatically at a disadvantage because you missed the physical act of writing down the words. Explain concepts to yourself in your own words; I promise it’ll be easier to remember when the time comes.
Eat well throughout the day. This is particularly important on test day, but you should try to keep your energy levels up when you’re studying too. A steady diet of coffee and muffins isn’t going to do much for your memory, and it certainly isn’t the definition of a healthy meal. Try to eat seeds and nuts; apples, blueberries, and citrus fruits; vegetables like broccoli, kale, and spinach; and salmon. Antioxidants in dark-colored fruits and veggies help with memory.
Quiz yourself. Instead of reading your notes over and over again, make yourself take a practice test and quiz yourself, ask a friend to quiz you, make flashcards, or try to teach the material to someone else. These are all tried-and-true study methods that will help you find your weaknesses so you know what to study going forward. If you know the material well enough to teach it to someone else (without checking your notes), you’re in a good place!
Factor in some time to exercise. Studying for finals week is stressful, but taking even half an hour to go to the gym and break a sweat will help you feel less stressed, and it’s good for your physical health to boot! The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. If you’re not willing to hit the gym, taking a walk counts as moderate exercise, so grab a friend and head outside.
Study in chunks. No one can study for eight hours straight without frying their brain. Instead of trying to shove information into your head all day long, break it up. Study for an hour in the morning, then go for a run. Pick up the studying for another hour or two, then make plans to have lunch with friends. Switch up your study location and head to a coffee shop for the afternoon. Then, walk home for a crisp pick-me-up. By studying for short periods of time and always having something to look forward to, you can sustain your concentration.
From all of us at Student Caffé, good luck during finals week!