WELCOME TO THE BEST WEEK OF COLLEGE…. FINALS!
Did you catch my sarcasm there?
Real talk: it’s the week we all dread. Campus is dead but the library is poppin’, we all look like hobos, and everyone is carrying a cup of coffee with bloodshot eyes. The joys of education.
I’m pretty good at taking finals, if I do say so myself. I feel like if anyone is qualified to give advice on how to nail your finals, it’s me. I won’t lie – I’m a stress case about anything related to school. Nothing is going to change that at this point. Buuuut I’m almost done with my college career (THANK GOD), and there are a few key strategies I always utilize to make sure I ace my finals every time. Being the generous woman that I am, I’m happy to share my top tips.
Finals week is like a marathon – you’ve been training all quarter, and the day has finally come to show what you can do. The stakes are high. No need to fret, though. The key to finals (and most things in life) is ORGANIZATION. If you put in the effort to be organized early on, your entire week will be a million times easier and much much much less stressful. Preparation is the key to success. So let’s get started.
- Know what study habits work best for YOU, and use them. The two main things you need to know are 1) if you’re better at cramming or spreading out your studying and 2) if you’re better at studying alone or in a group. I don’t care how much scientific evidence shows that spacing out your studying leads to better long-term memory. A lot of times, college finals are just about remembering what you need to for the test, and then you can dump it out of your brain immediately after. Personally, I do best when cramming, so there’s no use in me spreading out my studying and wasting my time when I know that I’m only going to remember what I study the night before. If you’re the type of person that can’t read something once and then remember it the next day, then SPACE IT OUT. Just figure out what works for you, and roll with it.
Similarly, if other people distract you, DON’T GIVE IN TO STUDY GROUPS. I hate study groups. I always feel like I’m just giving people answers and not getting anything out of it for myself, so I avoid them. I’m much more productive on my own. If you’re like me, then don’t let people peer pressure you into wasting your time “studying” with them. However, I have many friends who literally cannot process things unless they’re talking about it out loud with other people or hearing it over and over again. If so, then make a study group! Find other people who are going to actually STUDY (not just talk) and make use of their brains as a helpful resource.
- Make a study schedule. Figure out exactly which days and times you’re going to study certain subjects and certain topics. Either use a planner or get out a piece of paper, divide it into days, and write out exactly what you’re doing each day. Include other commitments in your schedule as well so that it’s all clearly laid out. If you have work, an appointment, or something else you need to factor in, write it down and schedule it in. Everything should be in ONE PLACE so that each morning you can get up, look at your schedule, and do exactly what it says. No thinking required. Your brain doesn’t need the extra burden of deciding what to do that day in addition to fitting a bunch of school-related information into your head.
- Schedule in procrastination time. If you know you’re going to procrastinate, just let yourself do it. Put it in the schedule! Otherwise you’ll probably still procrastinate and then you won’t have enough time in the day to complete everything else. If it’s already in the schedule, then no harm done.
- Make a checklist of all of your resources. I usually like to make a list with each of my classes and the study resources I have for each. As I finish studying from each of these resources, I check it off the list. This way I don’t forget anything, and I feel like I’m accomplishing things when I check them off. For example, I’ll write, “Psych 150: Lecture Notes, Reading Notes, Readings, Notecards, Review Notes, Podcasts, Textbook, Website” so that I can visually see everything I have to work with. I also like to write them down in order from most to least important. Prioritize!
- Take breaks to move your body. Do not plan on sitting in one place for an entire week without moving. You will go crazy and your brain will stop working. Take breaks to go on a walk, do some jumping jacks, fit in some squats – WHATEVER! Just get your blood flowing so you can sit back down and crank out more studying without feeling antsy.
- Put your phone away. Let’s be real – most of us have horrible self-control. I can easily spend half of the day on Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest. During finals week, ain’t got time for that. If you have to literally turn off your phone or give it to your roommate to hide it from you, DO IT.
- Give yourself small rewards for studying. But only if you actually study. And SMALL rewards. I’m not talking about giving yourself a day at Disneyland for studying for 5 minutes. For example, I’ll reward myself with an episode of my favorite TV show for every 5 sections of notes I can get through. This will motivate you to stay focused so you can get your reward. Make sure that your goals are feasible, though. Otherwise your mind tricks won’t even work.
- Put your social life on the back burner. It’s still going to be there after your finals are over. I can’t handle people who complain that they don’t have enough time to study when I know that they went out for ice cream the night before with their friends. School should take priority when you’re talking about a test that may or may not be worth half your grade. EXCEPTION: Do at least one fun thing the weekend before finals. Go out to breakfast, go shopping, go to the beach, watch a movie, whatever. This will fuel you for the week ahead.
- Eat food and stay hydrated. My biggest pet peeve is when people don’t eat during finals week because they “forget” or “don’t have time.” You always have time for food. And you definitely didn’t forget. I can hear your stomach growling! Don’t be lazy. If you don’t want to cook, that’s what the Whole Foods hot food bar & Postmates are for. Your brain will literally not function or be productive if you’re not eating. Whenever I’m studying and I start to feel sleepy or like I just can’t go any longer without dying, I always grab a snack, and it ALWAYS gives me the energy I need to keep on going. FOOD IS FUEL. YOUR BRAIN NEEDS FUEL FOR FINALS. This brings me to…
- MEAL PREP . If you’re not already a meal-prepper, 1) you should be, and 2) do it for finals week. Go to the grocery store the weekend before finals, cook all of your food in bulk, and you’ll be set for the week. Throughout the week, all you have to do is pop your food in the microwave whenever you’re hungry and you’re good to go. Also, always err on the side of cooking more rather than less, just to be safe.
- Wake up early and go to bed at a decent time when possible. Get your butt out of bed and start your day early so that you have as much time as possible to study and to get your brain going. Also, most college kids are lazy and will be sleeping in, so if you can get up early then they won’t distract you. Go to bed early when you can, and save the all-nighters for the night before the test/when it is completely necessary. On a related note…
- Prioritize sleep early on. The weekend before finals, SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP! That way you’ll be able to afford some late nights when it really matters most.
- Take care of all of your personal hygiene needs the weekend before. Wash your hair. Shave your legs. Paint your nails. Pluck your eyebrows. Do your laundry. You don’t need to be doing extra chores during finals week itself. That’s precious time that you could be using to study. Also, starting off the week feeling fresh and clean will just set you up for success. You’ll feel better, and you’ll know that you already have all of those things taken care of. (This is NOT an excuse to brush your teeth once all week. That’s disgusting.)
- Don’t do something that your body isn’t used to just for the sake of studying. For example, I never drink coffee. Caffeine is a biiiig no-no for me. Even if I desperately need to stay awake, I’m not going to down a cup of coffee. Yes, I will be able to stay up longer to study if I do, but I will also be super jittery and unable to focus because my body will be high off of caffeine. And for all of the annoying people who like to test out drugs during finals week to “enhance your studying” (I’m being real here – you know people do it!), just forget it. Bad idea on so many different levels.
- If you’re nervous, write about it. So many studies have shown that this improves exam performance. Worries take up space in your working memory that you could be using to perform better on the test. When you write about it, you can reduce your cognitive load, and that will make it easier for you to think straight while taking the exam.
These strategies are basically organization-based tips that apply to literally everyone and will make any student’s life easier. If you’re interested in a detailed post on the specific techniques I use to do the actual studying, leave a comment and let me know! What are your top tips for studying for finals?GOOD LUCK! XO