How I Survived the Finals Week from Hell (and You Can Too!)

As a freshman, the idea of finals week can seem daunting. It seems like hours of tedious studying, stressful nights in the study room, and zero social time are a guarantee. My first finals week at Cal Poly ended up being just that and more. At the time, I thought that there was no conceivable way that I would make it through that week. To my immense surprise, however, I did in fact survive, which means that you can survive a finals week from hell too. 

Before I get into what I learned from that week and how survival can be made possible, a quick story.

My finals fall quarter of freshman year were spread out across the entire week. I was looking at one project due at the beginning of the week and three in-class finals coming one day after another. I was already intimidated by the amount of studying I felt like I needed to do, especially considering I didn’t know what to expect from my first college finals. 

On top of that, I was also dealing with issues with my roommate and other personal issues, making it difficult to stay focused on studying. My biggest problem was getting distracted by trying to spend more time with my friends right before we all went home for winter break. Dealing with everything going on made it that much harder to pull myself away from hanging out and go back to studying. 

In high school, I never really worried about balancing social and academic life, so I wasn’t really sure how to deal with it in college. Ultimately I knew that school had to come first, so I tried my best to put all my effort into preparing for my finals. Being anxious about my grades as well as my personal life made reviewing my material a constant struggle to focus, and the week proceeded in slow motion. As soon as one final was done, I had to force myself to immediately resume studying for test I had the following day. This went on until that Friday, at 7 PM, I walked out of my last final and realized I had survived.

Between the social and academic stress I faced that finals week, I thought the week would never end. Here are some things that I learned during that week that got me through it (and can get you through it too!).

  1. 1. Find Time to Relax

    During my hellish finals week, I would’ve let the stress get the best of me if I didn’t make time for myself. Even if you know you have to study as much as possible for your finals, it's still important to break up your studying with some social time. It's as simple as getting a meal with friends or going to take a walk before hitting the books again.

  2. 2. Switch Up Your Study Spots

    It can be hard to stay focused when you’re trying to study for multiple hours in a row. I personally had a lot of trouble focusing because of how stressed I was from everything that was going on, so I would reward myself by taking a walk and changing locations periodically while studying. I found that it helped me not get too overwhelmed at how much material I needed to study, so it might be worth trying for anyone else who also gets distracted or overwhelmed.

  3. 3. Don't Skip Out on Sleep

    Sleep is important. Period. We’ve all been told this, and now you’re reading it again. Being well-rested helps reduce stress and improves cognitive functioning. And no, coffee can’t replace the alertness you have after getting a solid eight hours of sleep.

  4. 4. Read Affirmations (Trust me, its worth trying)

    I had never tried reading affirmations until my finals week from hell, but they actually really helped. It was as easy as googling “positive affirmations for students.” In my experience, these can serve as little reminders that through finals week we’re doing the best we can and no matter the result, it's a learning experience that we will get through.

  5. 5. Start Making Plans for After Finals 

    Making plans for after the insanity of finals week helped to remind me that there were things to look forward to. No matter how stressed I’d been about my personal struggles and passing all my classes, I was able to look forward to seeing my family and friends at home when it was all over. Having something tangible to look forward to can help finals seem more manageable, instead of this stressful, life or death event we might make it out to be. 

Looking back on my first finals week here, I’m glad that it happened the way that it did because it proved that no matter how stressful something may seem in the moment, I’ll still make it out alive. 

These tips that I learned from my experience are what ended up working for me, however we all have little coping mechanisms that help us. Finals week doesn’t have to be scary; like everything in college, it's a learning experience. That means take advantage of it and figure out what methods work for you!