Schoolwork Without the Stress

10 ways to make finals a more manageable experience

Exams are once again upon us. Stress is at an all time high. But no need to worry so much! There is still hope. From surviving exam season year after year, I have accumulated a few life lessons that really come in handy. For those of you struggling this season, here are ten tips to help you prepare.

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1. Start early.

If you know that you have an exam or large project coming up in a few weeks, do not delay. Get started on studying/laying the groundwork as soon as you have a night off from your more immediate assignments. If you start sooner, there is less chance of having to pull an all nighter or potentially not being prepared on time. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did it.

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2. Actively participate.

For some of you, this advice might be coming a little too late. But going to class is truly one of the most important things you can do in college. Most people decide to skip out on classes because “who’s going to notice one person gone in a massive lecture hall?” Plus, who wouldn’t want a few extra hours of rest? You may think you are smart for figuring out a way to do the least amount of work but in reality, this life hack could be your downfall. Some classes don’t require you to actually go to lecture to do well with the coursework -- but come test time, missing those lectures starts to catch up to you. Also, make sure to do all of your coursework when it’s assigned. Getting behind is your worst enemy because it's easy to become lost.

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3. Use your resources.

This is not always necessary, but having a good relationship with your TA’s and professors can help you in the long run. Office hours provide extra time to make sure you thoroughly understand all of the coursework. Office hours also provide a good opportunity for your TA’s and professors to get to know you. It’s important to have great repore with them because showing you are willing to put in the work can lead to having more leniency with your grades and allowing you to correct assignments.

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4. Split the work into manageable parts.

Don’t look at your work all at once, it can get overwhelming. My mother always says, “eat your elephant one bite at a time.” This means that you should split up a big task, such as an essay or studying for an exam, into more manageable sections. Decide how much you should do, whether it be writing up ten flashcards or finishing a paragraph. Doing a more reasonable task multiple times allows you to finish with less stress.

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5. Reward yourself. 

In addition to splitting up the work, you should reward yourself once you have completed a portion. For example, if you finish a paragraph of your essay, watch a short YouTube video or check your Snapchat. Try to limit rewards to five minute chunks if you can. If you have a ten minute break every hour, before you know it, you’ve wasted more time than you intended. The reward system helps you with your work by providing an incentive to get it done quicker and allowing your mind a moment of rest.

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6. Turn off the phone.

I know this is probably one of the most difficult things to ask of you, but trust me, it works. I have extreme difficulty focusing when it seems like I get an Instagram or Snapchat notification every five seconds. Flipping over your phone doesn’t always work either because you can still hear the all-too-familiar buzz of the notification. Do yourself the biggest favor you can, and power off.

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7. Get sleep.

Sleep is one of the most important things that people seem to constantly be neglecting. Make sure you get at least eight hours of sleep the night before an exam. You don’t want to be struggling to stay awake in the middle of the test. Being sleepy clouds your mind and makes it harder to focus, which leads to poorer performance on exams. Coffee will not solve the issue for you, either. If you are worried about needing to study more, get a good night’s sleep and wake up earlier so that you can get in some extra review time. 

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8.  Eat.

Going into an exam and having your stomach growl is not only super embarrassing, but it takes your mind off of the task at hand. As college students, sometimes we just forget or don’t have enough time between classes to eat. Make sure that you eat before each exam. Choose foods wisely because an upset tummy is sometimes worse than an empty one, especially when you are unable to casually dash to the restroom. A full stomach makes a mind full of knowledge easier to access. 

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9. Take care of your mental health.

Taking care of your mental health needs is extremely important in general, but especially during stressful times of the year such as finals week. Make sure to take note of any fluctuations in your own mental health. It is super easy to become burned out from all the work. I know that it’s hard to keep everything in check when you may not even be aware of your own deteriorating mental health. Some ways to help deal with this are by snuggling with a pet, calling your best friend, or talking to your parents. If you feel like they can help, express to them that you need a pick-me-up, and they will most likely oblige. For example, my parents always send me pictures of my dog with inspirational captions whenever they know I have a big essay or final coming up. If your mental health worsens, perhaps consider seeing a professional. Having them assist you can alleviate some of the burden.

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10. Don’t overload.

Talk to your professors to see if there are any accommodations that can be made for you if you have a lot of exams or assignments within a short period of time. A professor will most likely work with you to make sure that you are able to perform your best, especially when it comes to exam scheduling. If you have more than two final exams on a day, most professors will allow you to reschedule the conflicting exams. 

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I personally follow all of these steps come finals time, and it allows for a much less stressful experience. Feel free to also apply these to projects that you have coming up or share with your friends who may find them applicable as well. ​

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