Preparing for Finals: How to Finish Strong!
By Isabel Moya | April 25, 2014 | Leave a Comment
Studying for exams
As the year comes to a close, do you feel overwhelmed and stressed? Are you drowning in the million pages of notes you need to learn before you are home free? The last month of school can put pressure on students to finish the academic school year strong. But with finals back-to-back, how can you do that?
First and foremost, give it your best shot. My teacher in the fourth grade had a poster on his wall that read, “Always believe in yourself. You never know what you’re capable of until you try.” If you have practiced good study habits throughout the semester, you are already well on your way to keeping that stress level from rising. Nevertheless, that does not mean that finals will come easy for you. So what do you do?
For me, I first make a list of the exams I have and put a big star next to the ones I know are going to take more effort and more of my time to study for. If I can, and the last week of classes are not too stressful, I start studying early. Studying a little bit every day helps me familiarize myself with the material so that when the time comes to really buckle down and focus, it is much easier to learn. Because note-taking is one of my strengths, I like reading my notes out loud over and over again until I have learned the material. I literally talk out loud to myself! My parents used to say that I was trying to fill up a bottle with as much information as I could, cap it, and later open it for the test.
Then, I go back to the book with my notes to get a better understanding of the material and to work through questions at the end of the chapter. If there is still something I am struggling with, I either talk to a classmate, or I go to the professor. The professors understand the pressure students feel during finals, and they do their best to be available as much as possible.
If I have too many hard tests back-to-back and a limited amount of time to study all of the material, I make sure not to waste any time. Instead of spending hours on one class, I set schedules for myself, stop what I am doing, and switch to the next subject. This way, I set short-term goals, and I keep myself from getting too worked up over one subject when things are just not entering my head. This usually makes me feel like I get more accomplished because by lunchtime, I have already studied two different subjects. However, I found that when I do not stick to a schedule, my stress level and my ability to think clearly decrease because I am so focused on one specific class and worry that my time is running out for the next one. My method of studying may be different from others, and it is important to find what best works for you.
During finals, it is also important to take care of yourself. Take advantage of any breaks you can get. Your brain needs time to absorb and to retain the information. Constantly studying for a final can actually overwhelm you and cause you to remember less. When lunchtime comes, do not look at or talk about the material. It is a study free zone! Campbell’s library, Campus Actives Board (CAB), and residence halls also plan exam breaks for students to help them relieve stress and to have fun. If you are struggling with the material and it just is not working for you, take a step back and take a break. Once you have had your delicious gourmet cupcake or popped some balloons or threw some marshmallows, tackle the problem again with fresh eyes and a clear mind. It will make a difference.
I am also not one to stay up all night and study. They say that you retain more information the longer you sleep. I hit a stopping point and stick to it! I usually stop at midnight, but if I need more time, I will not go past 1 a.m. It is important for you to get the rest your body and brain need to take on the final the next day. I also do not touch my notes or book at all an hour before the final. I may get up early to study, but an hour before the test, I do not touch that material and I do the same thing when talking about it. The closer the exam gets, the more anxious and nervous I feel. I do not need anyone else asking me questions or hearing others review the material that I know I have already reviewed and studied. It would make me freak out and blank on the test. It has happened to me on several exams, and I learned the hard way with a class that I had to retake. Now, I enter that exam, sit in my seat, pray, and block all noises. I suggest that you too find a happy place and not think about the exam. Finding out what increases your anxiety during exam time is key to managing stress.
A note of encouragement:
If you give it your best and you try your hardest, you should be proud of yourself for coming this far. Remember, you are getting a college education, one that for some may not be possible. Whatever you do, do not give up. Like my father always says, “Don’t forget that you are already above average. You have an opportunity to set yourself apart from everyone else. You have taken the first step, and that begins with you just being in college.”