Finals week sucks. There’s no way around it. I’ve been through four years worth of finals weeks, and they always suck. That being, I have developed some strategies for making it a little bit more bearable. If you can spare the time from studying, let’s talk about how to get through finals week with your sanity in tact.
1. Plan ahead. Don’t leave everything until the last minute. Look at your deadline and work backwards to make a doable schedule for finishing everything. Working a fair amount for a few weeks is going to be a lot less stressful than working yourself to death for a few days. Give yourself plenty of time to get everything done to try to minimize your panic. This has the added benefit of breaking up your work into manageable chunks. It’s a lot less overwhelming to think about the next thing you have to do than think about all the things you have to do. Giving yourself a plan will be good for your schedule and your sanity.
2. Take regular, scheduled breaks. I always tell myself I’m going to take a break after I finish this chapter or whatever, but by the time I finish the chapter it’s 2:00 in the morning and I don’t have time for a break any more. Tell yourself you’re going to take a break every three hours or so, regardless of how much work you have finished. Then, actually take the break. I know you can get so caught up in the finals week frenzy that you think you can’t spare the ten minutes of break time, but your studying will be a lot more efficient if you’ve taken the time to recharge, and you’ll actually finish more.
3. Make sure your break is relaxing. I know it feels unproductive to take a break, but don’t trick yourself into doing different work when you should be relaxing. Take a bath, go for a jog, veg out with some television, whatever, just don’t do something that is going to continue to make you anxious, like cleaning. Your break should be relaxing or invigorating, not taxing and stressful.
4. Engage in physical activity. Get up and move as much as possible during your study time. Sitting still for prolonged periods is really hard on your body; it will distract you from studying, and it will lessen the quality of your sleep. Take the time to go for a walk, do some yoga, or do whatever physical activity you enjoy. This is a great thing to do during your scheduled breaks. Even doing a few stretches or walking around your room will make you feel more relaxed, healthy, and focused.
5. Get a good night’s sleep. I know. I know. You have to stay up all night studying. The thing is, your memories don’t consolidate until you’ve slept, so it’s better to get less studying done and then sleep than to get more studying done without sleeping. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re less productive, you have less memory retention, your reasoning skills are impaired, and, let’s face it, you’re totally crazy. Get some sleep. You’ll feel a lot better, and you’ll do better on your exams. I promise.
6. Don’t get caught up in competition. Okay, so we all know that guy. That guy who wants to talk about how he did so much more studying than you and he stayed up so much later and he made so many more flashcards. And then you’re like, man, I need to make more flashcards and stay up even later. And pretty soon you’re chugging down five-hour energies surrounded by huge stacks of flashcards, slowly losing your grip on reality. Don’t do that. Study as much as you need to, not whatever arbitrary amount will make you feel like you have suffered the most.
7. Take the time to see some friends, but only ones that have a positive effect. Hang out with friends who are going to really relax you and help you unwind. Don’t hang out with anyone who is going to freak you out, or who is going to distract you from your studies too much. They can wait until next week.
8. Try not to sweat it. Grades are important, but they aren’t worth your sanity. Worst comes to worst, you get a bad grade. It’s not ideal, but it’s not going to ruin your life. Do your best, but don’t let yourself lose sight of what’s really important: your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. You can do it. Good luck.