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Happy finals week! Or, well, not so happy. If it's the last few weeks of your semester, then you know what I'm talking about – this is the season where college students collectively lose their minds. But not you. You're going to rock this finals week and live to tell the tale with these finals tips. I'll show you how.
Lay the groundwork before you get started – it'll save you a lot of time and preparation in the end! These six finals tips will help you get the ball rolling and prepare for success.
Know the exam format
Knowing what's ahead of you will help you study better and keep you from wasting time. Ask your professor, or ask a student who's taken the class before you, what kind of exam you can expect. Will it be multiple choice? Short answer? A collection of essay questions? Even this basic information will make a huge difference in how you study and how prepared you'll feel come exam day.
I know you think you're too cool for this, but unless you think you're too cool for a passing grade, do it. A study plan will help you break down the information you learned this semester, keep you accountable, and prevent you from getting overwhelmed. Unsure how to do it? Here's an in-depth tutorial!
Keep yourself accountable
The best-laid plans can go awry. Find an accountability buddy to hold you to your word and your finals schedule during the lead-up to and during finals week. This person can be your roommate, your best friend, or your sister – just find someone who wants to see you succeed. Offer to do the same for them, if they have exams too. Then, at the beginning and end of every day, check in with them on what you plan to do, and whether or not you accomplished your goals. Knowing you have a check-in in a few hours will keep you from wasting three hours on Netflix or Buzzfeed this afternoon.
Motivate yourself daily
Finals may or may not be the most demoralizing time of year for college students. To combat that and keep from getting burnt out, motivate yourself every day. Consider the positive results that will come from doing well on the exam (a higher GPA, more opportunities, pride in yourself, the pride of your family), and the negative consequences that would come from not trying your best (knowing you could have done better, for example). Maybe just find one thing that really gets you going – like the name of your dream grad school, or the title you want in your career. Write it down on a post-it, if you need to, and stick it in your study space.
Divide big items into smaller tasks
Take a look at the daily to do list you made when you put together a study plan for your finals. Now find the big-ticket items on the list, like “Study Chapter 17,” and break it up into more manageable steps. For example:
- Read introduction and conclusion to Chapter 17
- Skim body of Chapter 17
- Make a concept map for Chapter 17
- Make flash cards for Chapter 17 vocabulary
- Review flashcards until I get about 90% right
Look at that – in five steps, you've mastered a huge chapter that you need to ace your exam. Seeing those five smaller tasks will make the studying feel more manageable.
Take regular breaks
Not, like, a Netflix binge. Take a reasonable break that really lets you bounce back, like a half-hour nap, a walk outside, or grabbing lunch with your friends. Take a break like that every few hours, when you really need it. In between, make sure to stand up, stretch, and walk around the library every half hour or so to keep your blood flowing and not fall into study-hypnosis.
New to studying? Here are five finals tips for understanding and reviewing your exam material.
Reread the material
Whether your exam is focusing on material in the textbook, or on information you went over in class (on which you may have taken notes, or have the class slides), read and review that material. Look out for the concepts you really struggle with.
Go through all the problem sets
You don't necessarily need to re-do every single problem, especially if you're short on time. However, make sure you do a problem that represents every kind of problem you'll experience on the exam, and make sure that you really understand how and why the solutions work the way they do. Don't be afraid to go in for extra help.
Find supplemental materials
Additional papers, extra articles through your school's library, class sessions or videos in places like Khan Academy, YouTube, or iTunesU – these materials may help you understand the material in a new way. Find materials for the areas that you most struggle with.
Teach the material
Talk to your mom, your friend, or your stuffed panda bear. Explaining the material out loud, to another person (or inanimate object) may make you feel a little weird, but it will help you see what your weaknesses are and which areas you really struggle to understand.
Review the material
Once you're sure you really understand the material, it's time to review. This step works differently for different people, but I really love apps and websites like Cram and Quizlet to review flashcards. Cram has a great app that scores your performance and reviews the flash cards you got wrong – and best of all, it's free! I also make Cornell Notes study sheets to review the material, which really helps me. Learn more about that here.
Three finals tips for studying and studying well. (Whatever you do, don't study from your bed.)
Choose your study companions wisely
Studying with friends can be great, but if your friends are just too much fun to focus around, you're better off studying alone. If you do want to study with a friend, choose someone who's in the same classes or major as you (so you can help each other if need be), or someone who's as motivated as you are to succeed.
Choose your study spot wisely
Don't study from your bed. Just don't. You won't focus, you'll want to nap, and worst of all, it'll be harder to sleep when you're finally done, because your brain will associate that space with work, not rest. The library is a cliche for a reason – and if you do well with noise in the background, just bring a headset and listen to some music as you work.
Sleep is so important for learning (and for feeling human while you learn). Here's how I put it in my college eBook: “Sleep consolidates memory, so sleep enough before your exam and allow the information to settle into your brain. Sleeping before your exam will also make you feel more alert and focused on exam day. If you have to pull an allnighter, do it two days before your exam and sleep the night before.”
I wrote a whole post about this specifically for finals season, which you can read here: 10 Tips to Stay Calm and Reduce Stress During Finals. However, I think there are some important general pieces of advice to pay attention to. My top three finals tips for dealing with stress and anxiety are:
As important as this exam may be to your final grade, it's important to remember that it's not all that important to your overall life. Yes, you need good grades to get the job you want and do well, but ultimately, your life is not about your grades or career, it's about the whole package. That package includes friendship, love, creativity, and a whole host of other things that matter to you. Try your best, but remember that this isn't it. Life will keep going.
Keep living your life
I know that the general atmosphere around finals season is one of apocalyptic panic. Don't sleep, don't shower, and live off of Ramen in the library, right? Wrong. Think of the example you're setting for yourself if you completely stop living whenever something stressful happens. Project at work? Time to panic. Baby on the way? Better stop showering! That's not a life you want to live, so start setting up better habits now. Keep eating well, exercising, and enjoying your life in addition to your study sessions.
You do you
This is a little controversial, but I think it's really important. You may be getting a lot of pressure from your family, your peers, and even your professors to do well this finals season. The idea of letting them down may be stressing you out. My advice is: ignore them. Do this for you. Find the motivation and inspiration inside yourself to do well, and let it come from a positive place (“I want to feel good about how I did!”) and not a negative one (“I don't want to be a failure”). If someone starts stressing you out with pressure, find a way to leave or end the conversation. In the end, it's your exam, it's your GPA, and it's your life. So do it for you, and no one else.