College students across the country are preparing for the end of another term. With spring break in mind, students are working through the end of their classes and preparing for final exams; or at least in theory. Finals can also be a time of late night “study” sessions, out of control stress, and extreme partying. Success during finals requires just a little bit of planning, mixed in with commitment and perseverance. This article will help find a balance for success, during finals week and beyond!
Final Exam Preparation
Be prepared for final exams by studying material in advance. You might think cramming on the last night will help keep the information fresh. Unfortunately, pulling all-nighters and losing sleep will only allow you to function at 50-70% of your capability the next day and can set you up for panic, misreading test questions, and “blanking.”
Instead, do an initial 2-4 hour quick review of the material to assess the volume and difficulty of the material.
Develop and follow a plan for getting yourself through this material, starting (if possible) with the most difficult material.
At the beginning of each study period, do a 10-minute review of the previous period’s material.
Write out course summaries. Work through notes and assignments, but just skim the text if time is limited.
It’s Too Late NOT to Cram…Now What?
It is not helpful to spend time worrying about what you “should” have done earlier. Instead, focus on what can realistically be accomplished NOW.
Gather information about what’s likely to be on the exam. Find out which chapters in the text were covered and get a copy of the course notes if you don’t have them.
Find the following from information gathered: principal themes, sub-topics, and major illustrations. Memorize them! Repetition is the key to memorization; so use every trick you can—word association, rhymes, or sentences from acronyms.
Be selective! After memorizing major themes, decide what supporting material to concentrate on. You’re more likely to remember a narrow range of material covered in depth.
Skim the text if there is only one, or skim only the chapters that seem emphasized from your information. Take time to review what you’ve covered.
- Get enough sleep each night, at least 7 hours.
- Learn to say “no” – over-committing yourself leads to higher stress.
- Avoid any use of drugs and alcohol, as they can interfere with your mental abilities.
- Eat a balanced diet including fresh foods. This will improve your ability to think clearly, concentrate, and feel energetic when you need it most. Avoid caffeine, sugar, and junk foods.
- Be active! Physical activity strengthens our bodies and makes us more resilient to stress.
- Make time to relax. Find a technique or activity that you truly enjoy. Schedule time for this activity, especially during finals week.
- Examine your expectations of yourself during finals week – are you expecting perfection on everything? Do you spend longer than necessary getting tasks, papers, and presentations “just right”? Think about adjusting to a more achievable, but still acceptable, level of performance
- Focus on Breathing - With your eyes closed, shift your attention to the tip of your nose. As you breathe in, become aware of the air coming into your nostrils. As you breathe out, be aware of the sensations of the air passing back out. Notice that the air coming in tends to be cooler, and the air breathed out is warmer. Cool air in, warm air out. Focusing on a physiological process (like breathing) can help calm our mental activity. It helps you let go of your thoughts that stress you.
- Take a Mini Vacation - Take a moment to create, in your mind, a special place for relaxing. It could be some special place known in the past or one that exists only in your mind. Engage all of your senses by imagining the smells, sights, sounds, and physical sensations. Remember you can go to that place in your mind to relax whenever feelings stressed from studying or during a test.
- Reduce Physical Tension - Briefly tense your entire body by tensing and holding muscles. Raise your toes and hold while tensing your legs, tensing your torso, and clenching your fists. Take a deep breath and hold it while clenching your teeth and closing your eyes tight. Hold everything tense for a few seconds. Then, let go all at once.