It is almost that time of year again where students are sent into sheer panic because of finals. My brain is working overtime, but at the same time, I also feel an odd calm. Maybe it’s because this year was so crazy that as we near the end of a COVID semester, there’s a sense of relief. Or maybe this is just a sign of burnout. Either way, many students are likely going through a similar feeling. This is like the calm before a storm. Even if the week before finals may seem chill, I have a feeling once finals season actually starts, the grind will resume and send everyone into a frenzy. Thus, it’s important to practice good skills to mitigate the stressful effects of finals season and be successful!
Here are 10 ways to make finals season easier on yourself!
- Study [ahead of time]
This may seem like an obvious one (why wouldn’t you study for a big exam?!), but the keyword here is ahead of time. The more often you study, the more the repetition helps information stick in your head. Knowing you are prepared for an exam will make you so much more confident and are more likely to do well. It also makes exam season so much less stressful and is better for your general wellbeing. No more 3am cram sessions.
- Look up outside resources
Supplemental learning materials are so helpful if you are weak on a topic or if you just don’t like the way your professor taught that section (no worries, this happens quite a bit). It also doesn’t hurt to learn a topic from a different perspective; the more knowledge you have the better! Sal from Khan Academy has definitely saved my grade countless times in organic chemistry, and there are so many sources on YouTube and others for great content! This tip pertains better for STEM classes that have universal topics like balancing chemical equations or integrals; for liberal arts classes, pay attention to what your professor says since they will likely have things they want you to know that are specific to their curriculum. It never hurts to learn more than what’s taught in class though!
- Study with people
My favorite part about finals week is hanging out with my friends in study lounges and library rooms to cram together. Unfortunately, this isn’t very good for productivity until exam panic sets in and we think “oh no we should start studying now.” Regardless, this is an experience everyone should have. Zoom/ Discord can be a good way to connect people, too! However, if you actually want to study but not be alone, check out some sites (like https://www.mooclab.club/groups/!) where you can actually virtually join a group to study with. Oftentimes, there are groups who just want to mimic the environment of the stacks filled with busy students and quiet coffee shops!
This is a big one. If you don’t listen to your body and sleep, your body will do it for you. Put health before your grades! Additionally, for some reason colleges like to have exam sections at night (like 7-10pm) which drives me insane. Countless times I have been exhausted from staying up late studying the night before an exam and then waking up early to study more the day of that by the time my exam slot rolled around, I couldn’t keep my eyes open! Exam stress as fuel for your body only lasts so long, and I remember accidentally falling asleep during my exam and woke up to the TA staring directly at me. Needless to say, I didn’t do very well on those exams. Studying is important, but it doesn’t matter how much you know if you aren’t even awake enough to fully process it!
- Create a schedule
Definitely write down when your exams are and then work backwards to figure out how to break down your studying so it isn’t overwhelming the day before (and content will definitely stick better in your head this way). Look at the course syllabus and divide what topics you want to drill into your head each day, then end with a big overview. By the last day, you should know the content well enough to treat studying as a time to reinforce ideas and not the first time you’re looking at everything (which, to be honest, I am guilty of sometimes).
- Stay off your phone
My biggest distraction is my phone. Sometimes I use screen time as a reward, but then I have an issue with stopping. I tell myself I can check my text messages, but then I end up on TikTok for the next 30 minutes. I definitely need to curb my phone addiction (at least during finals). An easy way is to just put my phone across the room, or even give it to my mom to monitor. However, a more fun way is to use the app Forest (https://www.forestapp.cc/)! If you have an urge to check notifications, this app will work great for you. If you don’t use your phone for 30 minutes, a little tree will grow. If you check your phone, then your tree will die. For me, the biggest issue with staying motivated is not being able to check progress. For instance, if given a worksheet, I will be able to stay on track and finish the assignment since I have a strict goal of “answer all the questions.” However, for studying, it seems like the end is never in sight and what I accomplish doesn’t seem concrete. By using forest, I can see how long I’ve been studying by looking at my happy little trees that have been grown. Even better, Forest partners with a real tree-planting organization, so by using the app, you can cause trees to be planted!
- Take a break
Don’t forget to allow yourself to rest! Take a walk, make sure to eat, allow yourself some freedom. I finally understand what brain breaks during the SOLs were intending to do now. By unfocusing for a little while, you can refocus even stronger. Studying for 6 hours straight without moving from the same spot should be considered cruel and unusual punishment honestly. Relax a little so you can reset and keep going!
- Get a change of scenery
Instead of sitting in one spot for the whole day, try to move around. Even if you’re in your own house, try different places! I like to move from my desk in my room to the dining table to the back patio. Even if you’re in a dorm or apartment, it’s good to shuffle around. Spice things up a little. I once even wrote an essay sitting on my tiled bathroom floor. I know it sounds weird, but stepping out of your typical schedule allows you to refocus, and also it is funny and gives you something to tweet about if you want.
- Treat yourself
Don’t be afraid to reward yourself for all the hard work you put in! Work hard, play hard. I rewatch all the Marvel movies every finals season as a treat. I like to use them as background noise, but it’s also good as a treat if I want to closely pay attention. However, these movies are kind of long, so maybe a better reward would be to watch an episode of your favorite show!
- Praise yourself
The most important thing is to not be so hard on yourself. If you put in the work, you should be proud of yourself regardless of the outcome. You don’t go around berating people for not doing well on tests, so you shouldn’t do it to yourself either. Allow yourself some grace (especially in an expedited COVID semester). I know there are a lot of overachievers out there like me who only want the best and can’t really come to terms with doing poorly, but we all have to start somewhere. At least pat yourself on the back for grinding so hard and making it through this super tough year. If no one has told you this yet, then I will: I am so proud of you for accomplishing so much and I wish you all the best! Now go ace your finals, and we can all have hot girl summer!