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A Finals Week Survival Guide for Students Desperately In Need of an Academic Hail Mary

 So, you thought you’d be doing a lot better in your classes at this point in the semester. Finals week is the last chance for those of us who are verging on a less-than-stellar grade. Here’s a survival guide for college final exams that just might save your GPA.

Stage 1: Plan your attack strategy

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It’s go time.

 1. Start your study sessions at least a week before your actual test date.

It’s best to take finals very seriously when you’re on the edge of failing, which means no cramming the night before. Grab a calendar or your planner and assign yourself topics to study for each day you have to prepare. Better yet, schedule a time block on your calendar, so you know exactly when it’s time to sit down and study.
You should make sure that you’re studying for more than one final exam to set aside time for each exam you are studying for. Here are two sample schedules:

Study Template: two subjects a day
Sun: 6 pm to 8 pm: study Spanish. 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm: study math.
Mon: 12 pm to 3 pm: study Spanish. 6 pm to 8 pm: study math.
Tues: 1 pm to 2:30 pm: study Spanish. 3 pm to 4:30 pm: study math.
Wed: 10 am to 11:45 am: study Spanish. 1 pm to 3:30 pm: study math.
Thurs: 11 am: Spanish EXAM. 4 pm: study math.
Friday: Math EXAM
Study Template: alternate study days
***only recommended if you plan on starting your studies early***
Sun: 6 pm to 8 pm: study Spanish.
Mon: 12 pm to 3 pm: study math.
Tues: 1 pm to 2:30 pm: study Spanish.
Wed: 11 am to 12:45 pm: study math.
Thurs: 11 am: Spanish EXAM. 4 pm: study math.
Friday: Math EXAM
Finals week study schedule

2. Create a checklist of study tasks.

The first step when it comes to acing any exam is studying. The first step when it comes to studying is planning out your strategy. I recommend grabbing a planner, paper, or digital (or just a notepad) and creating a checklist of study tasks that need to be completed. Ask yourself what exams you have coming up, and customize your study tasks by what you need to know. 

If you’re planning on studying for a math exam, consider making a checklist of each unit to prepare for; if you have a history final, break down your study goals by time period (decade, century, year-to-year)/place/significant event. Make sure to tailor your study tasks so that they align with the class you’re studying for and your study method. And remember: make sure you break down your study checklist into practical tasks (i.e., instead of planning to “study all vocab,” make it a point to review vocabulary by unit/topic/chapter). By doing this, you will fit tasks into your study schedule. 

Here’s an example using a table to plan out study tasks for a Spanish final:

Unit 1: Pronouns and participlesTasks:
– Review flashcards on Quizlet
– Practice forms (principle, infinitive, indefinite)
Unit 2: Culture of SpainTasks:
– Study holidays
– Review Spanish terms for clothing and places
Unit 3: Vocabulary – FoodTasks:
– Review flashcards of Spanish words for food
– Practice spelling and accents
Unit 4: Vocabulary – NatureTasks: Review flashcards on
– Weather
– Seasons
– Plants & Animals
Spanish 1001 Final Exam

Stage 2: Gather your materials

1.  Use the resources your professor has already made available to you!

There’s usually a chance that your professor has sent out a final exam study guide for their students to review. Make sure to take advantage of these study guides by looking over them and taking note of things you need to know; the content a professor includes in the study guide is the content you will need to know on the exam. Therefore, don’t ignore the study guides! 

Secondly, if your class has an online component/course website, review any content your professor has posted there. That can include PowerPoints, practice exams, and even feedback on assignments you’ve submitted online. Use these tools at your disposal if you want to make sure you’re studying what you need to know. 

2. Collect/create your own study materials.

No study guide from your professor? No problem. Break out your class’ syllabus and go over the material you’ve covered over the semester. Take note of your weak points and prioritize studying those topics first. If your class has a digital textbook, explore any and all review materials it may have available. Many online textbooks come with practice quizzes, online flashcards, video recaps, and other helpful study materials from the textbook’s creators. If your class has only a regular textbook, check the ends of each chapter for pages of review problems or recaps, and use those to study. 

  • Additionally, go back and collect the notes you’ve taken for the class and go over those. Bonus tip: you can use what you have in your notes to make flashcards.
  • You should also plan on creating your own study materials such as flashcard sets, your own DIY study guide, or even just a good old-fashioned vocab list. Do what works for you!

3. Use digital learning resources.

There are so many free educational resources on the Internet that can provide immense help when it’s time to study for finals. Here is a list of some of the best of those containing accurate information and are free to use. 

Quizlet (Duh!): The #1 online flashcard website. You can use Quizlet to create your own flashcards and/or check out sets created by others related to your subject.
CK-12 Foundation: CK-12 is an excellent website for finding practice problems for STEM topics. Although it is technically for k-12 students, the website has a section dedicated to college-level course content.
Khan Academy: Khan Academy is arguably the greatest free online learning website. Using a combination of video lessons, practice quizzes, and readings, Khan Academy helps students supplement their studying in all subjects.
OpenStax: OpenStax is a website full of open-source, completely FREE textbooks in many college subjects. The textbooks are peer-reviewed for accuracy and free to download. You have the option to download textbooks as PDFs, read them online (this option lets you highlight and take notes), download for Kindle or iBooks, or read them in the OpenStax app.
YouTube Learning/YouTube: YouTube Learning is a new feature created by YouTube that houses many playlists on a variety of topics- from genetics to poetic form to sports science- with videos made by verified educational channels across the site. And of course, YouTube itself hosts a massive collection of educational videos provided for free by teachers, universities, and academic nonprofits. However, make sure to use digital literacy when searching YouTube for content: not every video contains accurate or factual information.
Digital Learning Resources.

Stage 3: Get to Studying!

Now that you’ve planned out your studying and gathered your materials, it’s time to start reviewing! Make sure that while you study, you make time for breaks, rest, and even socialization outside of study groups or office hours. Remember that while grades are important, giving yourself burnout from studying overtime can cause more harm than good. Making sure you are well-rested, adequately hydrated, and not utterly brain-fried before an exam is equally as important as making sure you know the content. After all, what good is all that studying if you’re too exhausted to take the exam? 

Here are a few final tips for getting you through your study sessions:

1. Balance your caffeine with water.

It can be tempting to fuel study sessions with purely coffee or energy drinks, but hydration is also crucial. Water has health benefits that can aid your studies, such as boosting your mood and mental agility. So make sure to stay hydrated!


Often it feels like there’s a huge ticking countdown clock hanging over your head before the day of an exam. But going eight hours straight while studying is a guaranteed way to suffer from burnout. Set aside intervals for breaks from studying, and take that time to read a book, eat a snack, or do something else that relaxes you. And yes, even a 10-minute scroll on Instagram is a reasonable break, as long as you get back to studying afterward.

3. Don’t equate your self-worth with your grades.

Unfortunately, this is something that needs to be said. Whether you get an A+ or an F on your final, whether you pass this class or not, remember that you are not just a student, but a human being too. Obviously, grades are a significant part of a college student’s life, but making academic success the be-all-end-all of your self-worth, can damage your mental health in the long run. Remember that a failing grade is not the end of the world; you are so much more than the numbers on your transcript.

Final Stage: Exam day

So it’s finally the big day. Pat yourself on the back for all your hard work studying, and don’t psych yourself out.  Take a deep breath, and do your best. You’ve got this! 

Good luck and see you after the break!

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I am a cultural analysist who enjoys studying (and critiquing) our planet's current and bygone trends from a feminist, satirist, and occasionally thoughtful lens. I write both satire and slightly more non-fictional opinion pieces. I am also the Editor in Chief of Her Campus @ GSU and an undergraduate humanities research fellow. C/o 2023.
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