Important Lessons I Learned After Finals Week

Finals week: it’s dreaded, it’s hated, it’s absolutely brutal. Consisting of several overnight study dates with your textbooks in the library, 100+ term Quizlet sets, coffee and Yerba Mate, protein-bar-filled dinners and lots and lots of power naps, these 7 days are nothing short of terrible. It’s mentally and physically draining, and there’s no easy way around it. However, after going through it, I have learned so much—about myself, how to study effectively and tips to better survive finals week for future quarters at UCLA.

I have only gone through two quarters at UCLA so far, but in such a short amount of time, I have learned so much in terms of how I study and navigate my way during high-stress times. For this past quarter, I had three finals and a final paper, all in pretty difficult classes. This meant that I had to juggle studying for three exams simultaneously, rather than completely studying for one subject before moving on to the next. This was something I was not used to, especially with the heavy workload that UCLA classes entail. Therefore, this leads me to Mistake #1: I didn’t study a week in advance. I definitely underestimated the amount of time it would take me to study for all my classes, so I saved everything for the weekend before the dreaded finals week. This left me having to study in the library for 12-16 hours straight for six consecutive days.

My mistake here taught me that when there is a lot of work, early planning is key. I learned that is probably best to start mapping out your study schedule one to two weeks in advance. However, you should make sure that each day isn’t too packed with things to do because if you don’t finish what you had planned, you’ll be behind schedule, which might discourage and overwhelm you. I would write down achievable goals for each day leading up to finals week, as a gradual, consistent schedule is better than one that is quick and overfilled.

The huge amount of time I dedicated studying led to Mistake #2: Not getting enough sleep. Because I had so much content to review in such little time, I compromised the thing that was under my control: sleep. However, the lack of it led me to inefficient studying. I would constantly lose focus when hotting the books, which made me lose even more time—time I could’ve spent sleeping or simply taking a nice quality mental break. My mistake taught me how important mental breaks and rest are. It’s important to prioritize sleep to regenerate for the next day. Minimal sleep leads to several unproductive hours the next day, as an unfocused mind distracts you from doing your work effectively.

This leads me to Mistake #3: I heavily relied on caffeine to stay focused. Before finals week, I rarely ever had caffeine. I hated the idea of feeling the need to rely on something unnatural to do something my body should naturally be able to do. However, desperate times called for desperate measures, and I reached for Yerba Mate every day. Because I never had strong doses of caffeine before, the Yerba Mate was extremely effective—almost too effective.

Although I was focused and awake when studying, I was also awake when trying to fall asleep. There were nights where I would get into bed at around three or four am—a time when I would normally knock out immediately—and lay staring at my ceiling, my mind racing with thoughts. I was so stimulated that I was uncontrollably flipping through terms in my mind, even though I was trying to fall asleep. These restless nights led to more difficulty focusing, which led to more reliance on caffeine and in turn, more restless nights. I was constantly going through this vicious, unhealthy cycle. The worst part? I felt like I had no control over it. My experience just goes to show the importance of catching your z’s. With an adequate amount of sleep, your mind will retain information more efficiently, and your sleep cycle will continue to be on track.

The pressure that I put myself under during finals week led to a loss of appetite. Not only did I not want to waste time taking 20 minutes to walk back to campus and wait in the lines at takeout places or dining halls, but I also just wasn’t hungry (which is very very abnormal for me). As a die-hard foodie who often plans her meals the day before she eats due to her uncontained excitement of food, I knew this was not normal. My high levels of stress distracted me from even thinking about food, which led to Mistake #4: I skipped several meals. I wish that I could go back and tell myself that prioritizing my health is the magic answer to all of these problems. I realize now that if I had just taken one hour out of my days to walk, clear my mind and eat a nutritious meal, I would’ve been a lot more focused when doing work.

There’s no sugar-coated way to say it; finals week sucks. My experiences definitely speak to the hardships it causes, but they also speak to the incredible lessons that can be learned from it. My experience emphasizes how crucial a healthy mind, body and soul are during high-stress times. Although grades and GPAs are often people’s first priority, you should understand that your health is more important. I promise, during next finals week, if you prioritize your health first, good grades will inevitably follow. Good luck!