College and University Blog

Final Exams Study and Survival Guide

Although final exams are no longer as common as they were in years past, millions of college students across the country will be taking finals at some point over the next few weeks. In many cases, final exams can make or break a student’s overall course grade. They can even be the deciding factor as to whether or not some seniors will be able to graduate on time.

For those reasons alone, it’s understandable how such important tests can cause students considerable stress and anxiety.

5 Helpful Suggestions for Surviving Your Final Exams

Knowing how to study effectively can help you manage your exam-related stress and help you stay sane during this tough time, and has prepared this helpful final exams study and survival guide for your benefit.

#1 Figure out how many final exams you have to take and how many final papers you have to write.

It’s time to break out those time management skills that you were forced to learn about during your freshman orientation sessions, because scheduling study time for multiple final exams and giving yourself enough time to write quality final papers can be a chore in itself.

Go through your final exam schedules and double-check your course syllabi for due dates of any final papers. It’s all too easy to mix up dates and times. Keep track of what is due when, and don’t let your grades suffer because of a simple scheduling conflict that you didn’t notice ahead of time.

#2 Find a few good places to study.

The Dartmouth Academic Skills Center points out that even though studying in your dorm might be convenient, it’s usually a poor place to study. Dorms are full of distractions, especially your bed! It’s all too easy to stop studying for a short nap only to fall asleep for several hours.

Some students swear that Starbucks is the best place to crack open their textbooks, while others camp out in the library. In order to study successfully, figure out your best places to study. That’s right, places. A 2010 New York Times article referenced a classic 1978 psychological experiment in which researchers found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice in the same room. Later studies also confirmed the findings.

#3 Even though it’s tempting to stay awake all night studying, avoid cramming for exams and make sure you get enough sleep.

Cramming for exams might be an age-old college tradition, but it’s not necessarily a healthy one. Vahid Mohsenin, director of the Yale Center for Sleep Medicine, told the Yale Daily News that people should get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. “Anything less than six hours of sleep will cause problems with learning, and mental and physical performance will decline,” he said. Mohsenin went as far as claiming that staying up all night is “one of the most detrimental things you can do to yourself,” but giving up cramming is a hard habit to break.

Jennifer Haubenreiser, vice president of the American College Health Association, agreed. She told the newspaper that students should place a greater value on the amount of sleep they get. Instead, “They tend to joke about how little sleep they get,” she said.

# 4 Watch your diet.

It’s all too easy to overdo the caffeine and snack excessively while you study for finals, but you should try to watch your diet during such a stressful time. Brent Beam, PhD, a staff psychologist in Student Health Services at Washington University in St. Louis, told the Washington University in St. Louis Record that “The logic of all-nighters and caffeine diets may help in a pinch, but there are easier ways to get through it.”

Beam suggests that students eat healthy, skipping sugar and munching instead on grains, fruits, veggies and proteins; hydrate often with water to naturally sustain focus and energy; and limit alcohol and caffeine. He also recommends that students make it a point to move. Spending long hours hunched over books and laptops can take its toll rather quickly. Take a five-minute walk a few times per day and you’ll most likely notice an improved mood along with better concentration and energy levels.

#5 Take advantage of final exam “stress busters” offered by your college.

Colleges and universities realize that prepping for final exams can be incredibly stressful, and most schools offer various activities during finals week to help ease stress. You might be tempted to skip anything organized by your school during finals week, but take advantage of everything that you can—most of the events are a lot of fun.

“During finals you can feel the stress— it becomes kind of palpable,” Lori Morgan Flood, an assistant dean and director of the Center for Leadership in Health Promotion at Oberlin College, told The Plain Dealer in December 2010.

The newspaper reported that Oberlin students were allowed to dance for five minutes in the campus library twice every night during finals, while Cleveland State University tried a different approach. Free temporary tattoos, yoga and massages were offered in “Stress Free Zones” at Cleveland State during winter finals.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.