If you’re reading this right now, chances are that you, much like myself, should be preparing for your impending doom, otherwise known as finals week. You’ve spent the last 10 (or 16 for you semester folks) weeks going to class (probably), taking diligent notes during lectures (or doodling), and completing hours upon hours (and hours) of projects and homework assignments, that would all lead up to this point of the quarter (semester) – finals week. This last week of instruction was the calm before the storm, finishing up projects, completing final homework assignments, etc. Despite the fact that you have encountered this fateful week many times before, for some reason its reappearance comes unexpectedly by the time it does come around. Because of that, you find yourself ripping your hair out, stress eating, cramming as much information into your brain as possible. If not, congratulations – you’re in denial. But before you go on that stress-induced rampage, here are a few tips to keep from doing so (or at least postpone it).
1. Don’t wait until the weekend before finals week to study
We’ve all done it. We’ve all been classically trained through years and years of going to school to procrastinate, especially when it comes to studying. By the end of every academic period, we curse ourselves for not studying sooner and we vow to not let it happen again. But do we let it happen again? Of course we do! We’re young and we value fun more than academia. I, myself, am a victim of this vicious cycle, but at this point, I figure it’s too late to change my habits since I’m almost out of the system. But for those of you who are fresh to college, high school, or whatever academic institution you’re currently attending, it’s best to nip this habit in the bud before it’s too late (don’t follow my example, kids). The days that I do find time during the quarter to study, the library is sparse of students, and the people that are there in that point of time are just there to socialize. Come the weekend before finals week, though, and the entire university population all of a sudden discover the light of day, thus making it next to impossible to find a table with a nearby outlet to plug our computers and phones into. It’s a sick process, but for some reason, we all let it happen anyway. So next quarter, try to be more prepared for finals. Study throughout the term, or at least during the few weeks leading up to finals week. You’ll be glad you did.
2. Reward yourself
I would use this tip very lightly. Like I’ve said before, we’ve conditioned ourselves to place fun over practicality. The second you start doing something fun, the urge to stop does not come easily. After all, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon (PHYSICS!!!!!!!!!!!!). Rewarding yourself should be motivation to stay as productive as possible. But make sure that the reward matches the work that leads up to it. In other words, writing your name at the top of your essay that you were supposed to start ten weeks ago is hardly reason to give yourself a few hours on Facebook. Instead, for every hour of uninterrupted studying, give yourself a fifteen minute break – go on Facebook, Tweet about how much you hate finals, or Instagram your study space with the hashtag #FinalsWeekisaPoopFest. Your reward for the next hour of studying could be to see how many likes and retweets your posts get. Or just go to Starbucks. Whatever works for you.
3. Plan out your day AND STICK TO YOUR PLAN
Planning out your day and adhering to your plan ensures as productive a day as possible. Set aside a certain amount of time for studying, allot a few breaks here and there, and schedule a lunch break. Fulfilling your plan will make you feel a lot better about how you spent your day, and you’ll feel like you deserve that all night Netflix binge marathon and In N Out four-by-four you’re treating yourself to at the end of the day. When you make a plan and stick to it, your motivation builds to do the same the next day. Before you know it, the weekend is over, and you’ll find yourself way more accomplished than you had anticipated you would be.
4. Find an environment that works for you
Do you prefer to study by yourself? With a group of people? How about the noise level? Find your environment that you’re comfortable in, one that you’re bound to be productive in, and stick to it. I myself prefer to study with a small group of friends with music playing through my headphones. Even though I am in my own headspace with music blasting into my ears, being around a few of my friends motivates me to stay just as productive as they are, if not more. By the end of our study session, I want to be able to answer the question “What did you get done today?” There should be some balance to your comfort level, though. Being too comfortable in your study space is never a good thing, and you’ll end up socializing (or sleeping, depending on where you are) instead of studying or writing that ten page paper. For me, the library provides the right atmosphere and comfort level to keep myself productive. Although the noise level and the over population of it can get a bit distracting during finals week, putting on my headphones and having my work laid out in front of me allows me to get into my zone.
5. Fake it til you make it
I like to think that the stages of stress are similar to the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The denial stage is already taken care of throughout the entire term – You have plenty of time to get your grades up before finals, given that you acknowledge the existence of finals week. Once the weekend before finals week comes around, it starts to set in that you have accomplished absolutely nothing throughout the term, and you get angry at yourself for being such a lazy yutz when you could’ve been productive. And then the bargaining stage comes around, and you start making deals with yourself – “Maybe if I study all weekend and then review before the exam, I should be okay.” The Sunday night comes around and you find yourself nowhere near prepared for your exam the next day. You start to have an internal crisis, thinking about the possibility of failing the exam, thus failing the class, forcing you to retake it next term (or, heaven forbid, next YEAR), delaying your graduation, thus putting you under more debt from student loans AND IT JUST GETS TO BE TOO MUCH TO HANDLE. Once you come down from that, though, you start to accept whatever fate awaits you, and get into the mindset of “whatever happens, happens.” If you find yourself anywhere in this spectrum, the best advice I can give to you is to fake it til you make it. Oftentimes, our stress keeps us from doing our absolute best. Not being able to understand a certain concept or having writer’s block will definitely have detrimental consequences, especially if you let it get the best of you. Take a breath, take a step back, and come back to it. If you still don’t understand that something, tell yourself that you do. It’s that confidence that will have you flying through your exam or your final paper. Stressing out about an exam (right before the exam, much less) will cause you to go too far into your own head, thus leading to sheer panic. Instead of degrading yourself and beating yourself up over not understanding a certain concept, build yourself up. Tell yourself, “I got this.” Believe in yourself, and you’ll pull through.
And with that, I have to get back to studying and memorizing more proofs and theorems (yay Real Analysis). Good luck with your exams, everyone! And just remember – Spring Break is just around the corner.