6 Ways to Own Finals Week

April 24th 2015

Laura Donovan

The 2014-2015 school-year is coming to an end, but before you get excited about summer break, you have to get through finals week. It's a stressful time for sure, especially since you're likely moving out of your dorm and scrambling to say goodbye to all your friends before the big three-month break, but here's how to tackle your exams like a pro.

1. Get enough sleep

When you have a million things to do, the need for shut eye might seem like an inconvenience. Believe it or not, you'll be more productive during the day if you get enough rest at night, and you'll perform better on your exams if you're not totally sleep-deprived by the time you have to take them. A 2014 study from University of St. Thomas revealed that students who sleep poorly have a higher chance of getting bad grades and withdrawing from classes than their well-rested counterparts, so even if you have the urge to stay up all night preparing for a big test at 8 a.m., you're probably better off going to bed early and waking up refreshed and ready to work.

“Well-rested students perform better academically and are healthier physically and psychologically,” University of St. Thomas researchers and academics, Roxanne Prichard Monica Hartmann said last year.

​This is supported by a 2007 study by St. Lawrence University, which found that all-nighters can lead to poor grades during finals week, as sleep deprivation can result in delayed reactions and careless mistakes.

"You can't do your best work when you're sleep-deprived," said study researcher Pamela Thacher, who added that all-nighters can be a "fun" rite of passage for college students but ultimately hurt their performance. "Pulling all-nighters compromises your sleep overall."

In 2012, UCLA researchers conducted a study on Los Angeles high schoolers and found that cramming and sleep-deprivation can negatively impact student exam performance. “If you’re really sacrificing your sleep for that cramming, it’s not going to be as effective as you think, and it may actually be counterproductive,” study author Andrew J. Fuligni told TIME. "[W]e saw that when they crammed, they got significantly less sleep and when that happens, it’s more difficult to learn what you’re studying."

2. Make a schedule

If you have a tendency to procrastinate or get overwhelmed by pressure, you'll benefit from a set routine during finals week. Write down your study priorities for the week and draft up a schedule to manage everything that needs to get done. Many respond to finals week anxiety by cramming, "which may lead to the inability to remember or think logically," according to the University of Alabama, so planning ahead accordingly can help prevent test anxiety and stresses as a result of waiting too long to prepare properly.

“Final exam week is different from any other week throughout the semester; therefore, it is vital that students plan ahead for when they are going to study, sleep and relax during that week,” Rebecca Umobong, senior academic counselor at Southern Methodist University’s Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center (A-LEC), said last year.

3. Eat well

During stressful moments, many turn to comfort food, but certain fatty, salty treats can leave you feeling unproductive and lethargic, so eat healthy to maintain energy during finals week. One good option is oatmeal, which is a great source of fiber and can keep you full for hours, according to a 2013 Journal of the American College of Nutrition study. The longer you feel full, the less need you'll have to stop your studying to eat, and you'll also feel less inclined to snack.

During exam week, UC Santa Cruz's (UCSC) housing system recommends opting for protein over carbs to keep energy levels high, "Choose meals and snacks that emphasize protein over carbohydrate. Protein-rich meals and snacks keep your energy on an even keel. For example, snack on cheese, crackers and skim milk instead of crackers and juice. Top your pasta with grilled chicken strips rather than have pasta and sauce alone." UCSC also recommends fulfilling one's sweet tooth by choosing a high protein nutrition bar over candy or ice cream.

The B12 vitamin, which gives you energy, is also abundant in red meat, oysters, and scallops, among other foods, so anything with B12 will keep you alert and working away.

4. Getting exercise

If you plan to budget study breaks into your finals week agenda, be sure to fit exercise into your schedule. Exercising will not only make you feel good afterward, but potentially help you perform better on your exams.

"Cardiovascular health is more important than any other single factor in preserving and improving learning and memory," Thomas Crook, a clinical psychologist and memory researcher, told Women's Health. "You're working out your brain at the same time as your heart."

Dr. Charles H. Hillman, an associate professor of kinesiology and community health at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reiterated that working out can have a positive impact on the brain. "Exercise improves attention, memory, accuracy, and how quickly you process information, all of which helps you make smarter decisions," Dr. Hillman told Women's Health.

Justin Rhodes, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, wrote in a 2013 Scientific American piece that exercise helps the brain because of blood flow, "Part of the reason exercise enhances cognition has to do with blood flow. Research shows that when we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body, including the brain. More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better."

5. Review other materials from the semester

It's important to look closely at midterms, tests, quizzes, and other assignments throughout the semester to avoid making the same mistakes on the final exam, according to SMU academic counselor David Lee.

“As part of the finals planning stage, students should analyze each of their past tests and papers looking to identify any repetitive errors or problem areas," Lee said last year. "These are important focal points for exam preparation."

6. Find a dog

Over the years, more and more college students have turned to furry friends to deal with finals week stress. In 2012, the University Health Services program at UC Berkeley brought dogs to campus during finals to help students de-stress during a high-pressure week.

“The dogs give instant stress relief,” Kim LaPean, communications manager at University Health Services, told the UC Berkeley News Center. “Many students miss their pets, and can’t have pets in the residence halls, so this is a nice way for them to get that love during a stressful time in the academic year.”

That same year, Emory University's pet therapy program had a positive impact on at least one student in the academic community, according to The Huffington Post.

"We had a student who came in and a staff person commented they had never seen that student smile," Emory University's pet therapy program founder Richelle Reid told the publication. "It has had positive effects, helping them to just have a moment to clear their minds and not have to think about studies, not have to think about books."

Researcher Loise Francisco-Anderson told HuffPost that animals can be even more helpful than people during stressful moments, which finals week definitely presents, "You can release some of the emotions to a pet that you can't to a human. A pet keeps it confidential. You don't have to worry about someone else saying, 'Oh, I think she's having a nervous breakdown over the science exam.'"

Happy studying!