6 Tips for Surviving Exam Week

Even after months of dedication and hard work, your success or failure in a college class can hinge on a single, heavily weighted assignment — the final. To further complicate matters, many schools compress all course finals into a single week. This may understandably seem like a recipe for stress and dread, but there are a number of ways to improve your performance during finals week. Here are six to try this spring:

1. Verify the details

Each college and university arranges its finals week differently. This means that your final for organic chemistry may be scheduled at your usual class time — or it may be scheduled on a different day and hour. Be absolutely sure that you know when (and where) your finals will be held. Scrambling to find this information on the day of an exam will only serve to increase your nervousness.

2. Get some sleep

During finals week, many campus libraries stay open 24 hours a day, and numerous students commiserate over the intensity of their last-minute cram sessions. Pulling an all-nighter, however, is one of the worst things that you can do (short of accidentally sleeping through your final). Fatigued brains do not retain information, nor do they recall it well. There are effective ways to study in the last weeks of the semester (see below for more), but adhering to a reasonable sleep schedule is the key to their effectiveness.

3. Stay active

Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, and sitting in one place for an extended period of time can lead to a tired, ill-supplied mind. You may not be able to squeeze in a full workout during finals week, but you do have time to go for a short walk or to do two sets of crunches or push-ups. Try searching online for “exercises for office workers.” This search may lead you to activities that you can do to keep your blood flowing during this critical portion of the semester.

4. Eat well

Eating healthy food is always a great idea. During finals week, you may be tempted to eat and drink whatever items are most convenient. However, the quick calories of processed carbohydrates will ultimately leave you exhausted. Instead, eat foods that are digested slowly: whole grains, fresh vegetables, and lean proteins. A little planning can go a long way as you head into finals week. A loaf of whole grain bread and turkey slices can make a stack of sandwiches. Bags of baby carrots or microwaveable frozen peas can provide a quick, healthy snack, as can a handful of almonds or walnuts.

Before a final, be sure to eat a meal that is high in protein. Most final exams are more than an hour in length, and a sugar rush simply will not see you through. Likewise, taking an important test while hungry can be a recipe for disaster.

5. Experiment with different methods of studying

If you have more than one final, you might be planning to study for each individually, likely in chronological order. Interestingly, research has shown that human brains are not designed to focus narrowly for long stretches of time. So, plan to work on an individual subject for an hour or two, and then switch. You do not have to split your time equally. If you have a British literature exam soon, review for it during more than one block of time (and never in back-to-back blocks). You will find that your retention increases, and the repetition that comes from revisiting material more frequently will help your class content “set” in your memory. You can also take short breaks each hour to refresh your mind.

6. Silence your social media accounts

The reverse of focusing too intensely is not being able to focus at all. While it is true that devoting too much time to studying can lead to fatigue, dividing your review sessions into too many parts can lead to scattered and ineffectual learning. Turning off your social media for an entire week may not be realistic or achievable for every student. Do, however, consider using it as a reward. Check in on your favorite platforms or websites for 10 to 15 minutes before going to bed or during your downtime. However, be aware of the “just for a moment” syndrome. As most people know all too well, checking news headlines can lead to an entire afternoon of watching hilarious cat videos and reading celebrity gossip.

A strong finals week performance may seem impossible, but it is anything but. Set your worries and nerves aside, and remember to stay on task, work hard, eat well, and make time to rest. Soon, finals week will be over, and you can begin the summer confident that your grades will reflect the work you did all semester long.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.

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