5 Tips for Surviving Finals Week

It’s here – finals week! The last thing that stands between you and those perfect summer days. Depending upon your class attendance, study habits, and general capacity to geek out on to-do lists, you are energized with optimism or sapped by stress.

Most of you are probably experiencing both, so we’ve compiled a handy list of how-to’s to make the week less daunting.

Here are 5 tips for surviving finals week:

1. Space: The Scene For Success

We really need to draw your attention to your study space. If your dorm room or living situation is not a conducive environment for exam prep, take your notes and flashcards elsewhere. Quiet is key.

A 2010 Applied Cognitive Psychology study showed participants who listened to music while they studied had the lowest recall. So, turn off the phone, the TV, and any other distractions, and consider downloading a “white noise” app to drown out the remaining excess.

If you know from experience there is a particular type of sound or music that helps you focus, by all means stick with it, but be deliberate – not passive – about this choice.

2. Time: The Importance of a Schedule

The act of putting plans on paper can provide a sense of calm and be your guide for the week ahead.

To begin, map out a schedule that includes everything. Your hard commitments are your study, prep, and exam time, but softer commitments like sleep and exercise are no less important. Socializing and engaging in hobbies can also help you recharge and perform at your best, so pencil those in, too.

If your schedule doesn’t go as planned, simply adjust. The point is not perfection; it is staying in command of your energy and time.

3. Breaks: The Secret Sauce

Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a given stretch. Breaks are crucial, and they are definitely not one-size-fits-all.

Some people can study for three hours straight, followed by a one-hour break. Others do well with 90-minute stretches divided up by 15-minute pauses. Only you know what works for you, but do give yourself adequate time to digest and review.

If your schedule permits, engage in some creative downtime – painting, cooking, building; anything that helps your brain switch gears. When we work the so-called “left brain” with quantitative methods, lists, and formulas, taking the “right brain” out for a spin can provide some much-needed relief. It also reduces time spent on eye-fatiguing screens.

4. Analog: The Unexpected Advantage

You’ll likely be on your devices throughout finals week, so keep in mind their drawbacks. Light from computers, phones, and LED screens (often called “blue light”) is believed to cause eye strain and disrupt sleep patterns, which can affect cognitive function.

If possible, move from screen to paper – create flashcards and write notes by hand to enhance retention. Mnemonic devices, acronyms – even setting hard-to-memorize details to a tune – can improve test performance. Better still, get face time with a study partner and test one another out loud.

5. Health: The Heart of the (Brain) Matter

We get it. You’re stressed and pressed for time, but there are big bonuses to upping your health game during finals week.

Exercise releases hormones and pumps oxygen to the brain, which can improve memory and regulate sleep. So, hit the gym, the field, or wherever you like to sweat it out, and give yourself an added edge. If you’re up for multi-tasking, test yourself with your heart rate up to potentially boost your ability to absorb learning.

Stock up on healthy snacks in advance so you’re not at the mercy of the nearest convenience store or vending machine when those anxiety munchies kick in. Carry them with you when you head off to the library or favorite study space. Avoid overly processed foods, which can induce inflammation and cause brain fog, or highly sweetened snacks, which can trigger a sugar crash.

By all means have a reward in mind for when all of this is over. You will definitely have earned it and the thought of it will keep you going strong!


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