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How to Study For Finals EFFECTIVELY

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at JMU chapter.

We all know how difficult, tiring, and anxiety-inducing finals season is and, to be honest, does it ever get better as you get older? The simple answer is: it is what you make it. Unfortunately, we make (or don’t make) our lives easier when it comes to finals. As a senior at James Madison University, I’ve been through seven full finals seasons. Not only do your classes get harder as you go up in course numbers, but so does the amount of stress and how hard your finals are. Here’s how you can make your life easier during finals season.

Create a realistic Study Schedule

I’m sure you’ve heard this over and over and over. But what does making a realistic study schedule even mean? A realistic study schedule is making sure that you don’t overbook yourself. For example, don’t think that you can complete three final projects, study for your physics and stats final, get coffee with Grace in the morning, get breakfast with Chloe, get lunch with Rebecca and Emma, get dinner with Anna, AND be able to watch the last season of Game of Thrones all in one day. It’s not doable, babe.

From experience, I like to plan out the upcoming week in advance. If you have a bunch of smaller assignments due and like five big projects that are due sporadically in the next two weeks, do all of your little assignments first and start on one of the big projects that’s due first. For example, if you have 3 discussion posts due on Thursday, your final paper for WRTC 103 is due on Wednesday, and your semester-long project for SMAD is due on Friday, you should probably start by knocking the 3 small discussion posts out of the way and then start writing your WRTC 103 paper. After you set a realistic goal for yourself like, “After I finish two papers, I can take a break and get lunch with Sarah,” you should be all set to create a realistic study schedule.

Designate relaxing areas and study areas

I used to be one of those people who did all of their work in their beds. Don’t do this! This will create a horrible mindset for yourself. While you’re trying to design that website, you’re going to be daydreaming about taking a break and continuing the next episode of The Bachelor. While you’re lying in bed trying to relax, you’re going to be feeling guilty about not finishing that paper you’re supposed to be writing for your history class. Having designated areas for relaxing/taking a break and doing your work or studying is so important. In a designated study space, you’ll be able to focus and get your work done. In a designated relaxing space, you’ll be able to take a real break that will help you reset so you can go back to doing your best work.

Like I said, I used to do all of my work on my bed. I had a horrible study/work schedule, a horrible sleeping schedule, and when I was doing one thing I was constantly thinking about doing the other. Now, I do all of my real homework (not little discussion posts or anything that will take 20-30 min) in the library so that I will be able to focus and I can limit my distractions. I save my bed for relaxing, sleeping, and watching Suits so that I can focus on whether Harvey and Mike are going to go to jail (don’t give me spoilers!).

Make Time for yourself

This is another thing you’ve probably heard time and time again, but you and I both know how true it is. Making time for yourself is not only important for your mental health, but it’s also important so that your brain can take a break, reset, and come back refreshed and ready to kick ass on studying again. Overwhelming yourself during finals (or anytime) and not letting yourself have any downtime is super unhealthy. This goes hand-in-hand with having a realistic study schedule, but actually planning time for yourself (and only yourself!) in that schedule will do a lot better for you and your grades than you think.

Be Social

Here’s one that you probably thought wouldn’t be on the list. However, we are social beings and we need interaction! Locking yourself up in the study rooms at the library or chaining yourself to your desk during finals season is not good for your mental health either. Take that break and go get a snack with Claire! This is also another way for your brain to reset. Work some social time into that realistic study schedule and go get that serotonin in, girl!

Bring SNacks

Now, hear me out: you need sustenance, and sometimes, you just cannot get up from studying to go grab a bite from the nearest dining hall. We’ve all been here. You’re too in the zone to get up and go, and if you do, it’ll be a full hour before you can get back and sit down in your designated seat in the library, and by that time, you’ll have lost your mojo. I really get it. Pack snacks! Not only will they fuel your body, but you can also use them as incentives to keep going. If you have to read pages and pages and pages of information to study, put a CheezIt at the end of the page as your little “Oh yeah I did that!” and you’ll be motivated to keep going. Same thing with writing a paper or any other big assignment, when you get to the bottom of writing a page or finishing a paragraph, treat yourself to a Dorito. And finally, when you’re done with everything you scheduled yourself to do that day, go get a Big Mac girl, you deserve it!

Be Prepared

This is going to suck to hear, and it lowkey sucks even more to do, but you got to do the readings, go to the classes, and do ALL of the homework. I know, I know, it feels impossible to go to every single class and finish every single reading, but it’s not. Preparing yourself by consistently keeping up with everything in your classes will automatically put you miles ahead of everyone else when studying for finals. Almost all of your finals will be based on those readings, and if they’re not on the readings, they’re on the class lectures that you missed because you were sleeping in again. If you really, really cannot make it to class, at least have a friend who will go and tell you what’s going on. Otherwise, you’re screwed and you’ll be playing catch-up the week of finals just like everyone else. Yikes!

Also, TAKE NOTES. I don’t know what happened to people taking notes after high school, but please, for your own sanity and your future self, take notes. You really need them to study for finals in the future. Having something written in your own words will make it so much easier to comprehend and retain the information. Also, if you’re someone who likes to make their notes aesthetic, it’s easier to look at and you’ll like looking at it which will make it fun. Well, as fun as studying for finals can be.

Have a Good Mindset

Your mindset is your grindset, baby! That’s just a stupid way of me saying “Your thoughts and words come to life.” Having a positive mindset is sooo good for you. Telling yourself that you believe that you can do well on your final, get a good grade on that paper, or just that you can effectively manage your time can actually help you to achieve those goals! I know everyone makes fun of manifesting, but positive manifestation, or better yet, positive self-talk, makes all the difference in what you physically manifest for yourself.

If I’m studying for a final and I keep telling myself, I don’t know the information, I’m gonna fail. Then I’m probably going to walk in and bomb the exam. However, if I’m studying for a final and I’m practicing positive self-talk and manifestation, I’m going to walk into that exam with a better mindset and I’m definitely gonna do better than I would’ve with a negative mindset. Your mind can and will affect your surroundings, it’s up to you to decide if the outcome will be positive or negative.

Get Enough Sleep

Another one! (Thanks DJ Khaled!) I know this is another one we’ve all grown tired of hearing, but we all know how important sleep really is for us to function properly. Sleep is an integral part of fueling your body, and without the proper amount of rest, you will not be at your best, bestie. I know you want to stay up and see how much information you can cram before your exam in the morning, but that is not going to help you. It’s a known fact that sleep helps you process and retain information, and without sleeping, all of the information you just tried to memorize is going to go in through your eyeballs and evaporate into thin air. You’re not helping yourself, and you’re not helping your grades. So go wash your face, put on your jammies, climb into bed, and hit the books in the morning before your exam, because that’s the best thing you can do for yourself and your final grade at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday.

Ask Questions or Ask For Help

People always say there are no stupid questions… of course there are. However, any question relating to your final is not a stupid question. It’s either necessary to remember the content for the exam, to write the paper according to the guidelines, or it’s reassurance that you’re not fucking up your whole life if you don’t know y=mx+b. Take the time to relax, reset, and trek over to your professor’s office to ask that dumb question! Or, if you’re too embarrassed to ask the professor, ask someone in your class. They’re probably wondering the same thing, already wondered it and figured it out, or they already know the answer and can help you. As long as you’re not cheating, there’s no harm in asking a question that only positive outcomes can come out of.

Surround yourself with like-minded friends

Here’s one that you’ve definitely heard from your mom, LOL! “You are who you hang out with!” I hate to agree with your mom, bae, but I do. You can absolutely hang out with whoever you please, I’m not going to tell you what to do, BUT, during finals, you should probably be spending your time with other people who care about their finals. It’s simple science, if the person you’re hanging out with wants to study for finals at the library, you’re probably going to go with them to the library to study for finals. If you’re hanging out with someone who doesn’t care if they get an A or a D on their finals, you’re probably not going to be finishing that final paper that’s due tomorrow. You can do whatever you want to do, but please just keep this in mind, I think I can speak for the majority that we all learned the hard way.

Another good thing about hanging out with people who also care about their finals is that you can have an accountability buddy! If you’re not sure what this means, an accountability buddy is a friend who will ensure that you’re doing what you need to be doing or making sure you’re actively trying to achieve your goals. For example, I have a gym accountability buddy; this means that when I don’t want to go to the gym, this friend will make sure that I go and if I still don’t, I have to take accountability for the fact that my friend now has to go alone. I also have a homework/studying accountability buddy; we go to the library together, make sure we’re not goofing around, and actually get things done. Having someone like this in any aspect of your life is important, especially for finals season.

Please, please, PLEASE don’t stress yourself out too much during finals season. It’s not good for you, and it’s definitely not good for your grades, so there’s no payout. Make that realistic study schedule, find a study space that works for you, implement some me time and social time, eat, sleep, and ask someone to be your accountability buddy. Finally, remember that there are no stupid questions during finals season!!

Good luck, and think positive thoughts!

Emily is a senior at James Madison University majoring in Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication (WRTC) with a minor in Human Resource Development (HRD). When she's not writing for Her Campus, you might find her hanging out with friends, trying to make a dent in her “To Be Read” list, or driving around aimlessly in her car blasting Taylor Swift.