“So close and yet so far.”
I’m convinced there’s no better way of describing finals week than this.
Every May of college, I remember staring longingly at the calendar as summer break crawled closer and closer. With great anticipation, I looked forward to the day the cycle of homework and projects would end; when my brain could finally rest from memorizing formulas, dates, and names and my hands from scribbling information off powerpoint slides.
And then…finals week. Seven more days until I was done. Seven more days until freedom.
So close and yet so far.
For between me and summer always stood the most challenging set of exams ever assembled (at least that’s what it felt like). Like sharks, they circled me – multiple choice…problem sets… thirty-page double-spaced essays – ready to sink their teeth into my confidence and destroy any hope I had of finishing the semester with decent grades.
If that’s how you’re feeling right now, buried in notes and textbooks, you’re not alone. The good news is that your finals don’t have to defeat you!
Here are five things to keep in mind as you prepare:
- Start early
There’s a reason your parents always told you not to procrastinate. Not only does it help relieve stress, it gives you the chance to ask for help when you come across something you don’t understand. Studies also show that something called the “spacing effect” occurs when you space out your studying over a longer period of time. This effect increases the likelihood you’ll not only remember material for the test but after it as well!
- Recognize your limitations
The truth is there are only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week and most of that time is filled with responsibilities, work, events, and relationships that aren’t academically related. Take note of how much time you actually have in your schedule to devote to studying. Because your time, health, and brainpower are all limited resources, you’ll need to prioritize. Often this will mean cutting out certain activities or luxuries in order to free up time to study. You may even need to sacrifice working on one subject in order to have time to work on another.
- Find study partners
Just because you have to take the test on your own, doesn’t mean you need to study that way. While study groups offer a chance to receive help from peers, they also allow you to give help as well. Explaining a concept to another person adds an additional level of interaction with the material, making it more likely you’ll remember it during the exam. Sometimes the best way to learn is to teach.
While the temptation is to spend every waking moment stuffing material into your brain, your brain is actually much more effective when you allow it to rest properly. Though the science behind memory is complex, it’s widely accepted that information storage actually takes place when you’re asleep! When you deprive yourself of sleep, you not only hurt your brain’s ability to focus on new information, you make it harder for it to access old information as well.
- Remember tests aren’t everything!
Ultimately finals are just pieces of paper and words on a computer screen. While they may have the power to determine your grade, they cannot determine your worth as a person. Don’t give them that power. You are much much more than your test score.
In the end, the most important thing you can do is simply to try. So study hard, rest well, and know that no matter what the result, summer awaits!
Best of luck!