The Secrets to Tackling the Finals Grind

My last few articles have all focused on Christmas: Christmas trees, Christmas candy, Christmas music. Essentially, once Thanksgiving passes, a holiday switch flips in my brain and illuminates my surroundings in all things Christmas. Unfortunately, it has become necessary to press pause on the excitement of my favorite impending holiday and the much-needed break from classes that comes with it, in order to channel a final burst of energy to meet exam season head-on.

I consider myself lucky. I don’t have to take any final exams in order to earn my Christmas vacation. There will be no dreaded walk to the classroom where for two hours I will pour out every ounce of knowledge I’ve accumulated over the course of the semester onto a meticulously crafted sheet of questions. Instead of studying for tests, the remaining days of my semester will be spent writing, editing, and polishing essays that act as substitutes for exams.

When friends and colleagues learn about my lack of upcoming finals, I receive a mixed array of reactions. Some respond with expressions of minor disbelief and tempered jealousy. Others cringe at the thought of filling the following weeks with countless hours of writing (and often, it does feel countless) and take refuge in the knowledge that their hours will be spent analyzing theorems or equations instead.

Regardless of how finals plan to consume our lives within the next few weeks—be it through essays, organic chemistry exams, or creative projects—this is the period where, as college students, we burden ourselves with an inordinate amount of stress. Most of us cannot help it. We want to succeed, we have been succeeding, and we don’t want this round of finals to be the boulder that knocks us off the tracks to success.

I don’t wish to write an article that preaches the perfect remedy for surviving the stress of exam season. Nor do I wish to present the false appearance of having my assignments prim and proper for submission days before the deadline with no added stress, no late nights, and no minor breakdowns weighing down my mind and body.

For the vast majority of us, there is no perfect strategy for tackling finals. They’re designed to stress us out, to push us to the threshold of our emotional and mental strength, and to show that we can apply what we’ve labored for the last four months to learn. I would, however, like to offer a few suggestions as to how you might lessen the load of stress that lies at your feet when you fall asleep at night.

A lot of students, myself included, experience an amplification of their stress when they’re so busy studying that working out and healthy eating often falls off the list of priorities.

Mental and physical health can be a slippery slope during a period in which we convince ourselves that we need to consist entirely of studying and nothing else. It’s important to remember that our bodies need nourishment, even in a time as demanding as finals season. It’s also important, however, to remember that certain liberties need to be taken in order to feel as if we’re meeting the personal goals we set for ourselves each day.

So, what do these two rather contradictions mean when put together? If you’re accustomed to exercising three or four times a week, do not let finals eliminate your workouts altogether. Your body and mind benefit from this stimulation and if you deprive yourself of exercise completely, studying will become monumentally harder and more tiresome.

That being said, exams take priority, as they will ultimately affect your grade and your GPA. You will have to set aside time normally reserved for non-academic activities in order to feel as prepared as possible. So, in order to balance everything, allot yourself gym time (if this is how you de-stress) once or twice a week, and don’t beat yourself up when days three and four become study periods instead. There will be plenty of time to exercise over break.

Food can also become tricky during finals season as we substitute smoothies and fruit for excessive cups of coffee, Red Bull, and occasionally a mixture of the two. Once again, don’t torture your body with a sugar and caffeine only diet when your body isn’t prepared, but don’t obsess over your food intake either. I say, treat yourself. If you’ve been locked up in Mugar, the Boston Public Library, or Pavement all day studying and writing, reward yourself with a meal or even a dessert that you’ve been craving.

Personally, UBURGER is my go-to meal when all the healthy options are damned, in favor of a good ole fashioned burger and fries combo. When you feel as if you’ve logged a sufficient amount of hours in the studying clock for the day, think up your favorite dinner or restaurant, and then make yourself walk to get there (if it’s not too far, of course). Stretching your legs with the knowledge that a quality meal awaits you is refreshing for the mind and replenishing for the body.

Sleep is a much-needed friend that students all too often turn into the enemy in the midst of finals. We’re no strangers to late nights and all-nighters, which tend to become the norm instead of an oddity during long periods and back-to-back days of studying and writing. It would be unrealistic to suggest that students constantly monitor their sleep schedules and put themselves to bed at a reasonable hour during exams. We’re simply too driven by the need to do well to sacrifice precious hours of conscious preparation to the oblivion of sleep.

Nonetheless, sleep is crucial to pulling off a rewarding performance. We’re young, and our bodies can bounce back when we impose a late night or two upon ourselves. It’s when these late nights become clockwork, that our sanity begins to decompose. I experienced two back-to-back nights of falling asleep at 2:30 a.m. and believed myself to be capable of pulling off a third. By night three, however, I stumbled home from dinner and fell fast asleep, against all my plans and wishes, by 8 p.m. So, while late nights are inevitable during the finals period, make sure that at least 1 out of every 3 nights is a night utilized to recharge and catch up on sleep.

Lastly, take a few precious moments to remind yourself that a well-deserved vacation waits right around the corner. Personally, I spared a few hours to watch the tree lighting ceremony in the Boston Common. I also added a few splashes of Christmas decoration to my room, so while I’m hammering away on the keyboard, attempting to complete yet another essay, I’m surrounded by tiny reminders that soon I’ll be celebrating, instead of stressing.

We’re all in need of an incentive to emerge on the other side of finals pleased with the effort we’ve invested in all those hours of studying. Even something as small as a snack that reminds you of home can work wonders for personal moral.

As I previously mentioned, there is no perfect formula for conquering the grind of finals. We all get stressed, we all shed a few tears, pump our blood with a little extra coffee, and appear a tad more red-eyed than usual. There are ways, however, to relieve the level of stress and worry we carry around as metaphorical backpacks. Hopefully, this article offered a few ways to achieve this and/or inspired new methods of your own.

Remember, exams are meant to be hard, but not impossible. Gather up your brain power, and with coffee in hand and break in sight, crush those finals. Do not let them crush you.


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