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Making Finals Less Stressful

Students studying at coffee shop

Whether its the first week of classes, or the last week before finals - it is never too early to prepare.

Finals can be a time of inspiration that brings out your best, culminating in a grade you may have thought was beyond your reach. But it also can be a time of high stress. And stress can have a powerful negative impact, affecting your mood, body, behavior and ability to retain the information you need to know for your finals.

The good news is there are things you can do—before, during and even after your finals—to help minimize the negative effects of that stress.

1. Maintain a routine: Finals week is not a time to change your basic routine. If you exercise regularly, make time in your day to continue that. Take time to do things you find enjoyable: read something fun, take a short walk or spend time with friends. Your studying will be more effective if you spread it out and take breaks. Keep in mind, however, that a “break” isn’t three hours of video games after 15 minutes of studying. 

2. Just say no: There’s always a lot of events going on during finals week, and it’s natural you’ll want to take part in some of them. But too many and you won’t have time for yourself and time to study. Spending some time with friends is good, but you can’t build your study schedule around what your friends are doing and when they have their finals. Prioritize your commitments, and don’t be afraid to say “No,” if a particular invitation conflicts with your priorities.

3. De-clutter your life: Your immediate environment plays a huge role in your stress level. Organize your study space so it’s comfortable and conducive to focusing on the tasks at hand. If you find it easier to study someplace like the library or the union, find an area where you’ll be comfortable, have minimal distractions and have access to the resources you need—a writing surface, good lighting, a comfortable place to sit, an outlet for your charger—so you’ll be calm while you devote your attention to preparing for your finals.

4. Keep it simple: Remember, a final is only one part of your overall grade. If it’s worth less than quarter of your overall grade, it probably won’t impact your final grade that much, unless you do a lot better (or a lot worse) than you have on assignments and other exams throughout the semester.

5. But don’t make it too simple: It’s always important to finish a semester on a high note. Your performance throughout the semester will be a big factor in determining your comfort level going into a final exam. Regular attendance and good study habits are important drivers of success. When a final accounts for a large part of your grade—25 percent or more—there can be added pressure. So stay focused on proper preparation, rather than a “target” score you’d need to maintain a specific grade. Continuing good study habits is the best way to ensure desired outcomes.

6. Be ready: Give yourself enough time so you can arrive at your own pace. Wear comfortable clothing. Don’t be late because you overslept, or be rushed because you left your residence hall or off-campus apartment too close to exam time. You want to be calm, comfortable and prepared when you sit down to take the exam. And you might need every possible minute to finish it.

7. Sleep: “All-nighters” don’t work. They don’t promote retention. In fact, they can cause confusion of the material you try to cram into your head. Your brain can only absorb so much in an hour. Proper studying requires proper rest and proper rest requires good time management. Create a schedule for finals week that includes time for studying, sleep, meals, exercise, recreation and even simple chores.

8. Eat right: Healthy meals will help you to focus and prevent you from feeling tired and sluggish. Cooking or baking can also be a good recreational activity when it’s time to take a break from studying.

9. “Off” days should not change your schedule: If there is a break in your exam schedule, use it to prepare for upcoming exams. Resist the urge to “party” and stay focused on keeping a healthy daily routine.

10. Eliminate classroom distractions: Once you’re in the classroom, don’t worry about the others around you, or if someone finishes the test before you. You don’t know whether that means they aced it or bombed it. And when the test is over, put it behind you and move on. Prepare for the next one or get ready to for the break ahead. If you have any concerns, make an appointment to discuss them with your professor.