How to survive finals week: a guide

Looking around the classroom, everyone seems to be in a trance with the light far gone from their eyes. Some students shake from their eighth cup of coffee, some sleep at their desks and everyone whispers prayers for their final grades. The time has arrived. It’s the week before finals, also known as “dead week.”

The pressure of finals can have a serious impact on students’ mental health, according to the Crisis Text Line, a free 24/7 text line for individuals experiencing a crisis. Examining their Crisis Trends data, which analyzes subjects of messages, Crisis Text Line found that “the word ‘finals’ was mentioned … 15x more in one week than it was in the entire two months leading up to finals.” 

For freshmen, exam week and the extreme levels of stress it entails is a completely new experience. However, many upperclassmen, some having survived almost seven weeks of finals, have lived to tell the tale. Here are some tips on how to conquer your tests and thrive. 

1. To procrastinate or not to procrastinate? 

Abigail Garringer, senior business administration major, said, “For me, I need the pressure of last minute studying in order to actually study because if I start two days out, it’s not going to get done because I don’t have the right pressure for it … Know your boundaries, what works and what doesn’t work.” 

However, for some students, procrastination can be a dangerous game. To finish your classes strong, don’t give up now. Create a to-do list or schedule for completing papers and projects and studying for exams. Remember to factor in time for short breaks. 

Katie Mercer, senior photography major, encourages fellow students to not put off their work. “Work hard enough throughout the semester that when it comes time for finals, your final grade really will not change your total grade in a way that you don’t want it to change,” Mercer said.

2. Fuel your body and your mind. 

While shoving facts and figures into your brain, don’t forget to consume healthy foods and snacks as well. According to the University Health Services at UC Berkeley, balanced meals are important for learning. They recommend limiting “candy, cookies, and sugary beverages … because they are not nutrient dense and may cause you to feel sluggish after eating them.” Instead, they suggest eating “a brain-empowering snack of berries or nuts before … [which] provide more nutrients and digest more slowly, making you feel full and keeping blood sugar more stable.” 

3. Tune out negativity and your social media. 

Under stress and pressure to perform, it is easy to be hard on yourself to do well on every assignment. Although it’s important to complete your assignments in a timely manner and to have pride in your work, remember to set standards and goals for yourself that are actually achievable. 

One way to increase your focus and positive mood is through music. Emma Pruitt, senior English major, said, “I like listening to either energetic music or really calming music when I’m studying, just depending on what I’m studying for. If I’m tired, I tend to listen to more energetic music, so I can stay awake.” 

Also, take a break from social media. Not only will this increase your study and sleep time, but you will feel better as well. A 2017 study conducted by the Center for Behavioral Health at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center found “more daily social media use was significantly associated with a greater likelihood of … a probable anxiety disorder.” 

4. Sleep. Seriously. 

When you’re cramming for exams, writing 20-page papers and feeling overwhelmed by group projects, sleep appears elusive. However, research has proven sleep’s positive impact on testing performance.

In a 2018 study conducted by Baylor University, “sleeping 8 hours was associated with a four-point grade boost” for students who averaged “eight hours of sleep for five nights during final exams week.”

Pruitt believes that students should take sleep seriously. “Too much stress is really unhelpful, and it ends up being detrimental to your physical health and your eventual outcomes with your tests,” Pruitt said. “Make sure that you sleep before tests because that’s really important … Even if you stay up late studying for a test, if you don’t sleep, all that studying will not have mattered as much.” 

5. Stress isn’t something to brag about.  

During dead week, consumption of caffeine and lack of sleep become ways to measure one’s dedication, or in some cases, absurdity. While it can be fun to joke about the craziness of finals, not taking care of yourself should never be a competition. 

According to Crisis Text Line, this culture of self-destruction sets “the expectation that not taking care of yourself is a prerequisite to being successful during finals … and it certainly doesn’t mark you as a better student.” Instead, they recommend that students engage in self-care practices.

Whitney Smyth, sophomore nursing major, said, “Self-care is never pretty, but it has to be done. It is ok to tell your friends ‘no’ and take care of yourself …  Only study for 45 minutes at a time. Give yourself a 30-minute break. Take a walk, run, play, let your brain rest and then work on a different subject for another 45 minutes. Then call it a day. Do that up until your finals.”

6. Remember where your identity lies. 

Ultimately, while grades and exams are important, students should remember that they are more than a test score. Britney Meadows, junior kinesiology major, offers this encouragement. “While studying is important, it’s really good to focus on yourself and your wellbeing. Don’t isolate yourself. Make time to be with friends some … Practice awareness and pray a lot,” Meadows said. “You really have to remember that the whole point of studying is for you to make your future better. If you make yourself go crazy trying to do this, it’s kind of pointless.”