13 Tips for Surviving Finals Week in College

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  • Common finals week strategies, like all-night cram sessions, can backfire.
  • Students should use effective techniques to excel during finals week.
  • Self-testing, short study sessions, and teaching others can improve exam performance.
  • Adequate sleep and spending time outside may help students perform better on finals.

Put down the IV-drip of coffee and cross that all-nighter off your calendar. It turns out neither is likely to help you find success during finals week.

College finals week can strike terror into the hearts of everyone, from first-year students to seniors with one foot out the door. But instead of panicking, you should use efficient, proven techniques to cut down your study time and boost your physical and mental well-being.

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Unfortunately, many of the typical college survival mechanisms, like high doses of caffeine and sacrificing sleep for extra study time, have a tendency to backfire. Caffeine is a short-term solution for sleep deprivation, and all-nighters can make your memory worse.

According to one study, up to 60% of college students pull at least one all-nighter during their time in school, and learners who regularly engage in this practice tend to earn worse grades than their better-rested classmates.

Don't rely on short-term strategies that will hurt your long-term academic record. Instead, use the 13 tips below when preparing for college finals week.

1. Pace Yourself

Treat finals week like a marathon, not a sprint. If you've put in the work all semester, preparing for finals can be a breeze. But even if you fell off the study wagon, it's a good idea to pace yourself.

Trying to cram a semester's worth of information into your head in one night can backfire. So make sure to pace yourself for finals week and start studying early.

2. Check Your Exam Times

Before you start studying, check your final exam dates and times. Knowing what's coming can help you create an effective schedule to prepare.

What if you have two exams scheduled on the same day? Some professors let students take their finals at a different time for schedule reasons. If your finals all cluster on the same day, reach out to your professors, but make sure not to wait until the last minute to contact them.

3. Change Strategies for Different Exams

It might sound straightforward, but many college students use the same study strategies for all of their exams, regardless of the format. However, preparing for a multiple-choice exam is very different from studying for an essay test. And short answers require different strategies than show-your-work problem sets.

If your class ends with a final paper instead of an exam, consider using an online writing tool. Make sure to set aside time to research, write, and revise that paper, and don't be afraid to take advantage of your school's writing center.

4. Make a Study Schedule

Create a study schedule to avoid panicked cramming the night before an exam. Mark off blocks of time to study for different subjects.

When creating a schedule, avoid devoting entire days to material from one class. Breaking up your schedule into multiple shorter study sessions can actually improve retention.

5. Study Smarter, Not Harder

It might feel tempting to reread your entire textbook to cram for finals, but it won't work. In fact, it could backfire. Simply rereading material again and again does not do much to help retention. The University of New Hampshire calls rereading an "overlearning" strategy — it's not the most effective way to study.

Other techniques to avoid include one single cram session before the exam. Spacing out study sessions and focusing on more effective techniques like self-testing can help you study smarter, not harder.

6. Test Your Knowledge

As you're studying, test what you know. That could mean using flashcards or asking a friend to quiz you. Or use practice questions, study guides, and/or textbook quizzes to test yourself.

By testing yourself as you go, you can focus on the areas where you need the most practice as opposed to repeating material you know well. Instead of wasting time, you'll cover the material more effectively.

7. Team Up With Study Buddies

Study groups and study partners are another great way to test your knowledge. Just do your best to stay focused and avoid distractions.

You can quiz each other or use a divide-and-conquer strategy. For example, your study group can break up material into smaller sections and then teach material to one another. Learning by teaching others is an effective study tool according to multiple research studies.

8. Get Outside

Don't forget to take breaks and get some fresh air during finals week. Plus, outside time can be good for your mental health. Physical activity helps reduce stress, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Even something as simple as a 10-minute walk between study sessions can clear your mind and decrease your stress levels.

9. Choose the Right Location

Should you study alone in a silent room? At the campus library? Or in a cafe? Choose the right location for your study style. If you need background noise, consider heading to a cafe. If you prefer silence, stay in your room.

Also, feel free to change up your study location. It's a common myth that students should always study in the same spot — doing so won't necessarily improve your test performance.

10. Schedule Sleep Time

A missed night of sleep can negatively impact your memory and logical reasoning skills — the exact opposite of what you want during finals week. And long-term sleep deprivation is even worse for academic performance.

Even if it seems counterproductive, you might be better off getting eight hours of sleep before an exam instead of pulling an all-nighter. So schedule ample sleep time during finals week.

11. Reach Out to Professors

If you're struggling with concepts or material from class, contact your professor as soon as possible. Most professors are happy to answer questions via email. Some may also hold extended office hours during finals week.

Since the professor usually designs the exam, they can point you in the right direction. Rather than wasting time searching through your notes or going down internet rabbit holes, go straight to the expert for your class.

12. Show Up Early

When finals day arrives, make sure to show up early. You never know when car trouble, a road closure, or an unscheduled marching band practice might slow you down. So plan to arrive early for your final exam. And instead of trying to cram in one last thing while waiting for the test to start, focus on your breathing and stay calm.

13. Take a Break Between Exams

Once you hand in your blue book, turn in your final paper, or submit that scantron, you might feel tempted to jump right into the next study session. But schedule time for a break if you can.

After the huge adrenaline push of a final exam, reset your brain before the next test. Go for a walk, take a nap, or enjoy a leisurely lunch. After all, you need to fuel yourself to survive the marathon of finals week.

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