Finals time of year can be intense. Let’s be honest, for many students, it is the most stressful time of the year. Here are some tips that can help finals-takers with managing time, managing stress, and having a successful finals week.
Tip 1: PLAN AHEAD! It is easy to feel overwhelmed by lots of end of the year school work and projects in addition to studying for finals. All this extra work can make us want to avoid even thinking about, let alone doing it. Taking the time to make a plan can be extremely useful! Think through what you need to do each day. Write what you need to work on for that day only in your planner or on a calendar. Use different colored pens or pencils for each subject to clearly see what you have to do each day for each class. Break studying down so that you don’t just leave it until the night before. By giving yourself time days in advance of a final to study, you will be able to check in with teachers, tutors, or classmates about things you don’t understand, and leave your brain enough time to process the information and remember it. Just being able to see all you have to do written down often gives students a sense of relief. While it might be a lot, at least you have a step-by-step game-plan for getting it done.
Tip 2: Once you have your week(s) mapped out, TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME! Don’t spend a bunch of time stressing about next week. Think about this week. Focus only on what you have to do each day. If you completed your day’s tasks, then you are on track with your plan. If you don’t complete some things, be sure to add them to tomorrow’s schedule. Warn family members in advance of busy study days or projects that you are working on, so they don’t count you in to day-long activities or plans that you do not have time for. Be clear about how much work you have to do and let others know about it in advance so that they can respect your boundaries around end of school/finals.
Tip 3: RELAX DURING BREAKS! Our brains can only work so hard for so long before they need a break. Be sure to do something very different from school work or studying during breaks. Research shows that we learn better and remember more when we do (intense) physical exercise. Go for a run, throw around a softball in the backyard, jump on your neighbor’s trampoline, play fetch with your dog or take him for a walk, run up and down stairs, dance to your favorite upbeat songs in your room, go to the gym, hop in the pool and swim some laps. Getting our bodies moving is a great complement to studying for finals. It also releases stress and helps you focus better after the workout. If it’s nighttime or you can’t exercise (or already did), do something relaxing like take a bath or shower, color, juggle, play a game of solitaire, sing a favorite song, do your nails, practice an instrument, bake cookies. Doing things that use different parts of your brain from studying allows the study parts of your brain a good break. Did you know that taking breaks actually let’s your brain move the info it’s learned to long-term memory, which is where it needs to be on finals day.
Tip 4: DON’T MISS YOUR ZZZZs! Research shows that sleep is one of our most essential processes. Sleep is a time when our body rests, our brain rests, and we consolidate all of the information we learned throughout the day to be able to use it well. Without adequate sleep, we cannot learn or remember as well. This makes it harder to recall information on tests. If you are having a hard time falling asleep, be sure to give yourself some time to wind down between studying and bedtime. Reading for pleasure, taking a bath, meditating, coloring, snuggling a pet or stuffed animal, practicing diaphragmatic breathing, and listening to soft music can all help our bodies relax and shift to sleep. If you notice you keep thinking about things you want to remember the next day, keep a pad and pencil next to your bed and write them down, so that your brain does not have to keep thinking about those ideas to remember them.
Tip 5: Remember, when it comes to studying MORE ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER! There is such a thing as over-studying. Spending too much time reviewing information can cause your brain to get all mixed up and actually perform worse on finals. If you are quizzing yourself (or a parent or friend is quizzing you), and you know the material, move on to the next subject or call it quits for the day. Overdoing it can result in worse, not better grades on finals.
Tip 6: BE PREPARED! There are few things more stressful than getting to a final and realizing that you forgot your cheatsheet or don’t have the final printed version of your paper to turn in. Or going home for a long weekend of studying only to discover you don’t have the book you need. By packing your bag in advance and completing a mental or actual checklist, you can assure yourself you are prepared and minimize the last-minute stress that not having what you need can cause. If you have a hard time with organization, ask a parent or friend to help you check to make sure you have what you need. You can always develop a buddy-system with a close friend or sibling to check-in about what you each need before leaving school or before heading to a final. This helps you both feel prepared.
Tip 7: Finally, don’t forget this is a limited amount of time. YOU’RE ALMOST AT THE END! Don’t give up! Don’t despair! After finals you will (hopefully) have a break from academics and get to relax for a bit. If you use the above tips, you will likely be able to make it through and, even if it is hard, succeed on finals. Give yourself a big pat on the back when you’re done and get ready for summer!