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How to tackle finals week like a pro

| Alison Wagener

Most students dread finals week, and with good reason. It's hectic. It's stressful. It's overwhelming. But here's the secret: It doesn't have to be.

Now I know what you're thinking. "How could you ever suggest that finals week isn't difficult? I try as hard as I can every semester to ace my finals, but it's never easy." And you're right! It's never easy. But with the right planning, mindset and time management, it can certainly be more manageable.

The good news is that once you finish reading this, you'll know all the tips and tricks necessary for a successful finals week. These aren't life hacks or cramming shortcuts. It's a plan for how to tackle finals week like a pro.

Two weeks before finals:

Make a master schedule for the next couple of weeks.

Be sure to include your class schedule, work schedule, and all deadlines and exam times. You can find free calendars online and print them off, or just use your Outlook calendar. This will help you visualize what you have to accomplish by the end of the semester.

Make a to-do list for your non-exams.

Break down all of your final papers, projects, presentations and other non-exam finals into small, accomplishable tasks. Try to estimate how long it will take to do each task, and prioritize what needs to get done first. Either schedule out your tasks over the next few weeks, or choose a couple of achievable tasks from your master list to do every day.

Make a study plan for your exams.

This includes breaking down the content you need to know for each exam into chunks and scheduling when and how you’ll study each chunk. Check out How to Study in (Almost) Every Situation for tips on how to study most effectively. (And ask your professors if they will have study guides available. If so, use them!)

Form a study group.

At the end of your next class, ask around to see if anyone wants to form a study group. When you get together, take turns teaching each other class content, quiz each other and work together to make study guides. 

Start early. Like now.

I hate to break it to you, but your cramming plan just isn't going to work. Sure, you may stay up all night doing flashcards, reviewing your notes and drinking entirely too much coffee, but here's the thing: Repetition over an extended period of time is the key to long-term memory storage. Cramming can help you store a lot of small pieces of information quickly, but only in your short-term memory. You may lose it by the time you take the exam.

And that hour-long presentation that your professor told you to start at least three weeks in advance? Yeah. Start that ASAP.

Last week of class:

If you’re starting now, still do all the steps above.

(But ... faster. Sorry.)

Check your progress.

It's time to check in with yourself: Have you been staying on schedule with your studying and tasks? If you're falling behind already, reprioritize the tasks you have left to do. If it’s going well, resist the urge to take on more. Keep a steady pace so you don't burn out before finals week even starts.

Revise your methods if necessary.

To be honest, the planning part of exam week comes naturally to me. The follow through? Not so much. If you haven’t been successful yet, try changing up the methods you're using, environment you're studying in or even the time of day you've set aside to study. Your ultimate goal is to find a way to study that lets you concentrate. If you need help figuring out how, check out Concentrating: Take Control of Your Environment or this helpful Six-Step Guide for Improving Concentration.

Meet with your professor for any last-minute questions.

If you're unsure about any assignment requirements, class content or your exam format, make an appointment to see your professor sooner rather than later. That's what they're here for!

Seriously, procrastinators. It’s go time.

Picture yourself sleep deprived, staring at a computer screen in McIntyre. It is 2 a.m. You have a 10-page paper due at 8 a.m. Your paper is exactly 3 1/2 pages long (already double-spaced), and you've gone through everything on your outline. Your coffee is gone, and you can't tell if the person at the computer across from you is snoring or quietly crying. 

Now that we've all experienced that horror story together, let's pinky promise to not let it happen. Okay?

Finals week:

Double-check your schedule.

This seems like a small step, but you don't want to go through two weeks of studying and then miss your exam because you showed up in the wrong room at the wrong time. 

Tie up the loose ends.

If you've followed your study plan and to-do list, congratulations! This week should be smooth sailing for you as you finish up your projects and review all your notes.  If not, congratulations to you, too! You've made it this far, and a few days from now when the semester is over, you'll be able to look back on all of your hard work.

Remember to take care of yourself.

Get enough sleep, lay off the coffee, avoid the all-nighters, eat healthy breakfasts and distance yourself from social media. Pack your snacks. Take a break to call your mom. Drink lots of water. Chin up. You've got this.

Celebrate all the wins, no matter how small.

You submitted your essay to D2L 30 seconds before the Dropbox closed? Great job! You gave your presentation and only said "um" 10 times instead of your usual 32? Awesome! You finished your exam before anyone else and handed it in without panicking and spending the rest of the exam period second-guessing all your answers? I'm so proud of you!

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Right now, your finals feel like the most crucial, stressful point of the semester. Know what to do about test anxiety and know your limits. Take this week one day at a time. But remember that this week is not the only measurement of your growth, effort, value and excellence as a Blugold. 

I'll say that one again. This week is not the only measurement of your growth, effort, value and excellence as a Blugold.

So, did you get all that down? Good. Let's get going. Good luck with your finals, Blugolds!