7 Things You Should Do Over Thanksgiving Break to Make Exam Week Easier

After fall break, Thanksgiving break is usually the nearest light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not quite the end of the semester, but it’s just close enough to keep you sane when you’re pulling your tenth all-nighter. Typically, Thanksgiving break involves a lot of time remembering how much you love home-cooked meals and forgetting about how much you are dreading the return to the land of lectures and worse, final exams. Although finals week is a narrative we would very much like to be excluded from, it’s going to happen whether we like it or not.

If you take exam week one step at a time, it will be much more manageable than if you attempt to cram a semester’s worth of knowledge the night before. So while we would all rather be preparing Thanksgiving dinner than preparing for finals, try these tips to save yourself a whole lot of stress come exam week.

1. Use your travel time wisely

Whether you live ten minutes from campus or ten hours, there is probably at least a little bit of travel time required to get you back home for Thanksgiving. A drive where you are riding passenger seat or a long flight is the perfect opportunity to get started on some exam week material. You can make flash cards for your most difficult class, create a study guide or even just catch up on some reading that you “forgot” (skipped) on the syllabus. You don’t have to spend your entire three-hour flight memorizing flashcards, but if you’re so bored that you’re contemplating reading the in-flight magazine, it might not be such a bad alternative. 

“I live in Delaware and my flights are usually three to four hours long,” says Kerry Moore, a junior at the University of South Carolina. “Freshman year, I would just listen to my music and fall asleep for the entire ride but because I was taking harder classes sophomore year I decided to study on the plane. It was one of the best things I could have done to prepare for finals. I didn’t have to miss out on time with my family once I got home, but I still got a great head start.”

And chances are that you will be making the trip a second time to get back to campus (unless of course you’ve somehow managed to convince your parents that you don’t need to take finals). This offers another opportunity to get something done which just might save you an all-night study session or two.

2. Ask your relatives to help you out

It’s great catching up with relatives during the break, but you can only talk for so long before they start in on the relationship questions – cue your exam prep! Your relatives will be so impressed by your dedication to your schoolwork that they won’t even remember that they asked about your love life (or lack thereof). 

"Getting a little bit of study time in during Thanksgiving Break isn't hard—especially if you have a large family," says Kaia Thompson, a junior at Ball State University. "Usually, out of everyone at my house I can at least find one person who will quiz me. It's nice because sometimes the material will spark a conversation and then I get some good study time and family time in over the break." 

Whether it’s having an aunt quiz you with your flashcards or an older sibling help you out with a study guide, it’s never a bad idea to ask for help, especially when you have so many potential study partners right at your fingertips. 

3. Plan out your finals week schedule

If actually committing to getting work done over break seems too overwhelming, try visualizing what your ideal exam week would look like. We don’t mean dropping the 8 a.m. lecture that you hate, but rather mapping out a study schedule that works for you. If you don’t know what dates your finals exams are on or you just don’t have any idea how you are going to dedicate the necessary time to each class, this is your time to develop a game plan. Other important aspects to consider include how much of the course’s overall grade depends on the final, and the material that the exam will actually cover. Believe us, planning everything out is half of the battle.

“I am a huge planner,” says Annie Nguyen, a junior at Indiana University–Purdue University of Indianapolis. “I love to plan everything—except for when it comes to schoolwork. I was never able to make myself sit down and figure out a final exam schedule until last semester. I found an app that made it quick and easy to make a study schedule. It really helps me maintain my focus, especially during finals week.”

4. Brainstorm final project ideas

While final projects are often preferred over final exams, getting prepared for them can be just as difficult. First, you have to come up with a topic or idea (which sometimes takes half a semester by itself), then you have to figure out when you can work on it and it’s just all a bit much to handle when you have a million other things going on at the end of the semester. Now we aren’t saying that you can’t come up with a project if you procrastinate and do it at the last minute, we are just saying that it might not be very enjoyable for you. 

"Even if you don't end up using or sticking to it, having a plan to fall back on will kind of clear your head and help you avoid that initial time procrastinating," says Margeaux Biché, a junior at Barnard College. Brainstorming ideas over the break gives you plenty of time to figure out exactly what you want to do and how to execute it.

5. Set aside some time each day for prep time

While it’s definitely a good idea to get a start on exam week as soon as possible, Thanksgiving break is still that—a break. It’s not necessary to lock yourself away to study and only come out to make sure you get at least a slice of your favorite Thanksgiving dessert. Make sure that you take time for yourself and enjoy all the food and family that the holiday has to offer, but also set aside a little bit of time each day to set yourself up for success for finals. Even if it’s just half an hour a day, that time will add up. Remember—quality over quantity. 

“I wouldn’t want to spend my whole Thanksgiving break studying, but cutting study sessions into bits and pieces makes it more manageable,” says Thompson. “It definitely pays off because I don’t have to stress as much when I get to my exams which is nice.” Even if you’re just looking up topics for a final speech or editing a paper, you will thank yourself when you are the only one in your friend group not freaking out during exam week.

6. Complete any study guides 

If your professor gives you a study guide for the final exam, it isn't because they want to ruin your life. In fact, it's actually a blessing in disguise. It makes studying and reviewing the material so much easier because you don't have to guess about the material that is going to be on your exam. Thanksgiving break is an ideal time to complete, or at least get a start on, any and all study guides. It's early enough that you won't be frantic if you don't know big pieces of information, but it's close enough to exam time that you have a very good chance of remembering the information for your final. 

"One of the first things that I do when I have down time over Thanksgiving break is either make my own study guides or start on study guides that I've been given by professors," says Amanda Hurt, a junior at the University of South Carolina. "It's not the most fun way to spend time over a break, but I feel very accomplished when I finish and more confident about taking on finals week."  Working on study guides in bits and pieces will make them more manageable and you'll be done before you know it! 

7. Find and organize your notes 

Getting your notes together might seem like a no-brainer during finals week, but it's actually a fairly easy task that you can get started on even earlier. On the off-chance that you didn't keep your notes in perfect order over the course of the semester (okay, this is a very likely chance), this short break is the perfect time to reunite the notes in your notebook with the ones stuffed at the bottom of your bag. In addition to finding your notes, it might be a good idea to find any quizzes, handouts, homework sheets, etc. that would be helpful when studying for your final. Once you find everything, you'll need to figure out the best way to keep it all together—whether it be a folder, a binder or even just a paperclip so your hard work doesn't go to waste. If you're feeling extra ambitious, you can even go through and start highlighting and making note of things that you definitely want to study. 

"I like to go through my notes and highlight them or make outlines whenever I'm preparing," says Margeaux. "It might seem like Thanksgiving break is too early to really get into finals study mode, but at least if you do this you will have already started your review and the stuff you've learned since the beginning of the semester will be in the back of your mind when you revisit it in the immediate lead-up to your finals."

When finals week comes around, you're going to be thankful that you don't have to waste a much needed hour or two trying to find your notes. It might not be easy to swallow the idea of using up some of your well-deserved break for school, but in the long-run (i.e. finals week) you will be glad that you did. Hopefully, these tips will allow you to study and plan rather than cry and cram.