Most of the college-life adjustments for first-years happen in the first month or two of the semester—like dorm living, dining hall food, and a workload that makes your senior year of high school look like child’s play. In this series of life changes, the last hurdle is getting through finals season for the first time. The concept of exam-taking may seem just as daunting as it did at the beginning of the semester, but don’t let it intimidate you! You’re more than capable of surviving and prevailing through finals week.
- First, Don’t compare yourself
Even if you’ve been studying every day for the past two weeks for your finals, comparing yourself to others could be your Achilles heel. For instance, some of your friends may be planning to take their exams back to back so that they can leave at the beginning of finals week and score a slightly longer winter break. And if this works for them, that’s totally fine! But you want to be careful that you don’t start doubting yourself for taking “too much” time to complete your finals. If that feels like the case, then consider a break from talking about finals until your exam period is over.
Remember that it’s most important to figure out what tasks you need to get done, and how you plan to get there. Take finals week at whatever pace works for you. Even if it feels like everyone is leaving before you, giving yourself the exact amount of time and flexibility that you need is essential. Plus, it really doesn’t hurt to leave a day later than you originally planned. That extra time gives you more hours to review, and it’s helpful in case of a mini-emergency like oversleeping on the day you planned to take your test.
- Personalize Your Finals Schedule
Arguably one of the greatest benefits of a liberal arts college is the flexibility given to students when it comes to exams or final projects. Depending on what your class year or major is, your finals may consist entirely of scheduled exams, final papers, presentations/projects, or a mix of each category. The chances are high that you’ll have a choice over how you can organize your finals week and which exams/assignments you’ll finish first. Before you hit the books, it’s important to look at the type of finals you have and lay out the order of when you’ll take them.
Once you have that done, you can create a study schedule and plan out time blocks in the week for studying. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day, and it probably won’t be since college student schedules are inconsistent. Still, if you know when you’ll have an extra hour or two each day to squeeze in review, it can make a huge difference. It’s true that everyone has their own methods for learning and memorizing information, but nearly everyone can benefit from studying at a steady rate for a week or two instead of cramming in two days. You’ll also be more likely to get enough sleep before the day of your exam(s), and that can make a huge difference in how well you do.
In my opinion, it works best to get papers and presentations done first and save your final exams for last. That way you can utilize as much time as possible to memorize and understand your study material. (You’ll be especially glad you did this if you’re taking your first closed-book exam of the semester!)
- Prioritize Your Health (And Some Fun)
Spending all of your waking hours studying is counter-productive, plain and simple. If you don’t give yourself study breaks (eating with friends, taking a walk, or watching a show), you’re going to burn out. Allowing your mind time to rest in between study sessions is just as important as the sleep you get the night before an exam.
It’s not about prioritizing happiness over your academics, but instead balancing multiple important aspects of your life. If you focus too heavily on studying over your physical or mental health, your ability to retain information (like vocab for a language exam) and think creatively (like writing an essay) will also decline. It may sound hard to believe, but students who take small breaks in between writing a paper often finish sooner than others who have resolved to dedicate their entire day to the assignment. You should reward yourself with a little coffee break or a short off-campus outing when you finish an important assignment, rather than heading straight to the next one. Slow and steady wins the race!
- Create a Finals Week Night and Morning Routine
Night routine: Lay out your outfit the night before and prep your bag with anything you might need, like a water bottle, snacks, pencils and erasers, and any specific items you may need for your test. Drink some caffeine-free tea before you go to bed and have a cozy night in. Reading a book or listening to calming music are both great options.
Morning routine: Set an alarm at least 90 minutes before your exam, and don’t hit snooze. Wake up with enough time for a skincare or body care routine, and eat a filling breakfast before the exam. Make your bed before you leave the room and double-check that you have everything you need.
You’re ready to take your finals now! Good luck!