Finals week is the one week in the semester that is both joyously relieving and thrillingly terrifying. Depending on the classes you have, the last week of the semester could have outdoor activities with a little studying here and there, or it could have eight hours of straight studying before taking a four-hour test. The second option doesn’t sound pleasant, and I hope that this is never something you have to go through. I’ve been there, and I don’t want you to have to say “done that.” Here are some tips to help you not have to be that person who spends all week in the library studying for finals.
1. Study well throughout the semester, not just the day before your final
This is the most important way to help finals week be a breeze, but it takes some work and planning. Of course, if you’re approaching finals week already, it’s a little too late to apply this tip. But there’s always next semester, so you’re still in luck!
Now, I’m a little hypocritical in giving this advice because I’ve always been a procrastinator. I’m sure you can relate in some way. I’ve experienced something very similar to the blog post, What It’s Really Like to Pull an All-Nighter in College. It’s certainly not a party, however much you’d like it to be.
This past semester, though, I finally experienced the relief that comes from not worrying about finals. When finals came this time around, I knew the material well enough that I needed only a couple hours to review. What I didn’t know or remember, I figured I wouldn’t learn in one day anyway. So I didn’t bother trying to cram information into my head last minute. Not to mention, my grades at that point were solid enough that I knew the final couldn’t change them much.
So how was I able to pull that off? First of all, I did all of my assigned homework—including readings—from the start of the semester. I payed attention in class, took good notes, and participated as much as I could. Once the first midterm came around, I noted what made up the test, which structure it followed, and how my professor graded. This helped me focus my efforts once my steam started diminishing, as it always does come mid-semester. When I no longer had energy or time to do every assignment, I would study what was necessary and make sure I knew it well. By doing this throughout, I internalized the material and kept my grades up enough that the final wasn’t a worry.
When you make sure to actually learn in your classes, it makes a big difference. Comprehensive tests are terrifying if you only studied for short-term memory, but they don’t have to scare you. Finals really shouldn’t mean more cramming. Instead, you should already know the material well after a good four months of studying it.
2. Find a study spot that works with how you study
For those looking at a finals week with long bouts of studying in store, one must-have is a study spot that keeps your brain focused. This may seem like a given, but it’s harder than it appears. Everyone’s prime study zone is different. There are a variety of atmospheres that you could thrive in, some better for studying than others.
Personally, my mind works best when I am sitting in a quiet place without people around to disturb me. A couple years ago, I found the perfect spot, with an enclosed desk that kept me in my own thoughts. It was only here that I could study for hour upon hour without distraction. Anywhere else and I became sidetracked by people watching, snack breaks, or any other kind of diversion. I also discovered that if I’m not at a desk, I can’t expect to get things done quickly.
I do know other people, however, that concentrate best in a completely opposite scenario. They prefer loud places with lots of conversations, music blaring in their ears, and their laptops sitting directly on their lap. What keeps them focused is the noise, not the quiet. In fact, I had a friend tell me that if it’s too quiet, she goes crazy and has to get out fast.
Come finals week, knowing the type of situations that keep you engaged in your studying will help you immensely. Find that place that keeps your mind fresh, and go there! It’s better than merely studying in the most convenient place and spending hours struggling to keep your mind focused.
3. Make goals for how much you’ll get done before your next activity
One of the greatest parts of finals week is the hours upon hours of open time. There are always multiple activities going on, friends who want to hang out, and weather that taunts you with its blue skies. It’s never fun to be stuck inside the library knowing that all of your friends are off partying without you. But you can make sure that you get the best of both worlds. You want to get those good grades, but you’ll also want to have a finals week that closes your semester off with a bang. So do both!
The only way to do that is to, number one, prioritize. Obviously the most important thing to plan is your finals. Block out times for all of your finals, so you know exactly how many hours you have to study for each one. Then, figure out what activities are the most important and put those in your calendar.
Once your calendar is set, make goals for how much studying you’ll get done before the next planned activity, such as a hike you scheduled with your best friends, or going to your favorite ice-cream shop. Having a set plan works really well, because when you are studying, you have something to look forward to and something to work towards, which will help your mind stay strong when distractions threaten to take its attention away.
But remember, the most important thing is to never give in to lesser priorities. If someone asks you to come over to play a game when you are in the middle of studying, don’t do it! Those last minute requests are so tempting, but by giving in to a lesser priority, the bigger ones will take the loss, and you’ll end up with a stressful finals week. Setting priorities that include fun activities will allow you to enjoy your finals week without getting too stressed about lost study time.
4. Set up a study schedule with small rewards throughout
Finally, the last tip I’ll offer is to give yourself breaks throughout your set study time. Whatever those be, they should be something that keeps you going. There are a lot of different kinds of rewards you could give yourself, and it’s really fun to switch it up. I know a couple examples that hopefully will give ideas for what will work best for you.
My go-to is, every hour or two, giving myself a ten-minute break. This could be to do whatever—check Facebook, take a walk outside, call my mom, watch a Youtube video, or anything else that my mind is craving. Sometimes, I found that I needed breaks every twenty minutes, but it wasn’t too much of a problem as long as I kept my breaks shorter.
Another reward I love is food. I can never keep myself away from food for too long, so it’s always a happy moment when I allow myself to take a snack break. Longer food breaks work too, if you’ve been studying for a few hours and need a meal. I also know a few people who like to get a small treat like skittles or fruit snacks and eat one at a time while they study. So, if you have a reading or writing assignment, you could put one or two treats at the end of each page. It’s a small little victory when you finish the page and pop them in your mouth.
There you go!
Hopefully these tips help as you come close to the stress of finals week. Remember, if you’re starting a new semester, the best thing to do is study for finals the whole semester. But I realize that life happens, and there will still be those moments when procrastination gets the better of us. In those cases, don’t worry! Just sit down in your favorite spot, make study goals, establish something to look forward to, and then get started! You will conquer your finals in no time.