10 Tips for Surviving Finals Season

With classes coming to an end, I have a mountain of essays, revisions, projects and exams to get through before I can even think about winter break. As deadlines loom, it’s hard not to panic, so here are some of the strategies I use to get through this time of year.

  1. 1. First and foremost, take care of yourself.

    I’m not talking bubble baths or face masks (unless you find those helpful). I’m talking about covering your basics: nutrition, exercise, sleep and downtime. As someone who tends to let those things slip to the wayside during finals, I know how easy it is to ignore basic needs. Believe it or not, completing assignments is actually easier when you’re nourished and have gone outside in the past 24 hours. Set aside a little bit of time each day for self-care and go to bed at a decent time; you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.

  2. 2. Make a master list.

    As we enter the final week of classes at UVic, I find it helpful to make a list of everything I have left to do organized by deadline. This gives me an overview of what the next few weeks will look like and draws my attention to bigger projects that will need more time.

  3. 3. Prioritize.

    For some reason, professors are still assigning forum posts and readings. As your workload gets heavier, pick and choose your battles; it’s much better to half-ass a discussion paper worth 5% than a final exam worth 50%.

  4. 4. Block out your time.

    I love a good schedule. Nothing gives me more joy than having a colour-coded Google Calendar. While you have to be careful not to get carried away with this one—flexibility is important!—blocking out time to do specific assignments removes the stress of trying to figure out what to do next. making a schedule also allows me to plan for regular short breaks and a lunch break while also giving myself a few hours for basic self-care. 

    An important note: to avoid frustration, always give yourself longer than you think you’ll need to complete a task. It’s much better to finish your day early or to get a little bit ahead than to finish it feeling overwhelmed and behind. Don’t overbook yourself, either. Giving yourself an hour at the end to do any catch-up work is a good idea to allow for those tasks that take longer than anticipated.

  5. 5. Make a daily to-do list.

    If you’re daunted by the intensity of hourly scheduling, pick three assignments that you want to work on each day. This gives you some structure without the seeming inflexibility of mapping out your day minute by minute. As with the scheduling, just make sure not to set yourself more than you can handle.

  6. 6. Set a timer.

    I’ve talked about this in other articles, but setting a timer is a good way to make yourself focus, especially if you struggle with procrastination. I find that 10 minutes is a good place to start. Minimize or exit everything that isn’t related to the task at hand, put your phone down and focus. 10 minutes is way more manageable than the recommended 25 minutes of the Pomodoro technique. Usually, once the time is up, I’m into enough of a flow state that I just reset it and go again. If not, I’ll switch to a different task and give myself a short break before going back. You’ll be surprised by how much you get done!

  7. 7. Take notes on readings or make flash cards.

    Find a way of copying down information that works for you. Note taking definitely isn’t for everyone, but I find that it forces me to pay attention to what I’m reading and sift through what’s important. Don’t just copy out the information you’re trying to memorize; you won’t retain it.  Flashcards are another great way to internalize information. I recommend Quizlet because you can then do the flashcard sets on your own rather than asking a friend to quiz you. Flashcards also make for a good group study session, though!

  8. 8. Work with your body, not against it.

    Everyone works best during different times of the day. I’m a morning person, so during finals season, I tend to push back my wake up time to 5AM and do work in the early hours. Evenings also work for me (until 10PM hits), but I find working in the afternoon exhausting and draining. I typically try to give myself the afternoon off to watch TV or scroll social media. Whether you’re a night person, a morning person, or anything in between, work with what you’ve got. Just be careful of your sleep schedule; staying up until 4AM on a regular basis is going to leave you perpetually exhausted. And don’t pull all-nighters unless you’re truly desperate; no one does their best work after that.

  9. 9. Create a work environment that works for you.

    I’m lucky in that I work fine from my bedroom, although I do miss the UVic library mezzanine with COVID-19 restrictions in place. However, a lot of people aren’t so lucky. Try to rotate study spaces: study at your kitchen table, at a coffee shop if it’s safe or from your couch. Listen to a white noise Youtube playlist. If you need people around, schedule a Zoom hang and do homework as a group. Try your best to replicate the spaces you work best from if those spaces are no longer available to you.

  10. 10. Be patient and forgiving with yourself.

    Keep in mind that global circumstances are vastly different than they were last December. Almost everyone I know is struggling to feel motivated, including the professors. Ask for extensions if you need them. Reach out to your friends if you’re feeling isolated. You’re not alone, and I’m proud of you for making it this far into the semester.

I hope even one of these tips makes your finals season a little bit easier. Take care of yourself. We’ll make it through this!