Surviving Finals Week
1. Don't panic and make too much of the final.
Start by checking to see how much the final is worth in each of your courses. Remember, it is only one component of your final grade. If it is worth 20% or less, you probably won't be able to bring your final grade up or down by more than one grade level (e.g., B to B+), unless you perform extremely better or worse than you have on other exams and assignments during the semester.
2. Don't be too relaxed and make too little of the final.
On the other hand, you should try to do as well on the final as you possibly can. Furthermore, sometimes the final is a big part of your final grade (30% or more), in which case it is more likely to make a significant difference in your final average. It is better not to go into the final with the idea, "I just need to get x number of points to keep my B (or whatever it is) average." It may not be possible to calculate this accurately anyway, since teachers sometimes compute things like participation grades at the very end.
3. Make time for "renewing" activities.
This is NOT the time to stop exercising or doing other things that you find enjoyable. Pace yourself! Taking a 15 to 20 minute break where you exercise or engage in another relaxing activity will decrease your stress levels and allow you to focus better on studying the material that you need to learn.
4. Use an effective study method.
The key to effective retention is repetition, and not overloading your brain (it can only absorb so much in an hour). Schedule out your time so that you can focus on each course. Remember that it's better to study in small chunks of time (e.g., 40 minutes of studying with 20 minute breaks in between) than it is to study in large chunks of time (e.g., 5 hours of studying with a 5 minute break at the end). Taking a 20 minute break gives your brain time to process and consolidate the information you just studied.
5. Get enough sleep.
Don't pull an "all nighter." You will do better if you are rested, and cramming often leads to a superficial and confused knowledge of the material you have studied. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as torture. Failure to follow tips #4 and #5 can lead to writing nonsense on exams. Teachers often fall off their chairs laughing at some of the silly statements that appear on finals.
6. Resist the urge to party on "off" days.
Instead, if you have a break in your exam schedule, use it to get a head start on the exams coming up. This can be a time to catch up on missed reading. REMEMBER: if you party, you will need to recover! Research has shown that people who engage in high risk drinking deaden their cognitive skills (i.e., ability to recall and organize information).
7. Double check exam times.
You might think this is unnecessary. "Oh, I would never forget my exam times," you might say. "I have even had nightmares about them!" Nevertheless, it has happened. When you are taking many exams in the same week, it is easy to confuse the times. Write the time on a sticky note and put it on your refrigerator, computer, class books...anything that you will see on a regular basis.
8. Follow the rules of good exam taking.
Start by taking a couple of deep breaths to relax your body and then read the directions for the exam thoroughly. Skim through the entire test before you begin so that you are better able to budget your time. If you get stuck on a problem, move on and come back to it. Later questions may give you the information you need to answer the first question. Concentrate! If you notice yourself daydreaming simply bring your focus back to the test. Ask for clarification if something is unclear and proofread your work before handing in the exam.
9. Don't worry about others finishing earlier than you.
This could mean ANYTHING. Sometimes it means that these students have written a mediocre or poor exam. Take the time YOU need and don't worry about the time someone else needs.
10. When the exam is over...let it go!
Forget it! Move on to the next one, or go enjoy the break! If you do have major concerns, make an appointment to see your professor at a mutually convenient time.