5 Tips for Staying Calm, Cool, and Collected During Finals Season

Browse through social media during finals season and you’ll see no end of students lamenting the state of their mental, emotional, and future lives. Generally accompanied by a meme depicting the end of their life as they know it. Funny? Sure. Inevitable? Not even.

Getting through finals week does not have to be a painful, life altering experience. Below I’ve got five quick tips on how to make your finals week less painful.

1. Get Enough Sleep

For many students, finals week is better termed “see how far I can push the limits of my ability to stay awake for 24, 36, 48 straight hours” week. Aside from studies that show that sleep is necessary, forgoing sleep for 24 hours is the same as being legally drunk, staying in your normal routine means that you’ll just generally be under less stress. Getting a proper amount of sleep means that you’ll be more awake, alert and focused on the exams that sit in front of you.

But what about final projects or papers? You might gasp. Consistent and good sleep also makes you more productive. Have you ever felt yourself hit that wall, where the ideas just won’t make themselves legible on paper and you end off staring into space? Or maybe you work late into the night and it ends up taking you twice as long to write that final page as it did the first one. Guess what? You’re tired and it’s showing. (Please note: there is a case to be made for procrastination as a positive force or creativity, but I’m leaving that argument for another day.)

2. Eat Protein

During a long study binge it is often easier to reach for a candy bar, bag of chips, or Starbucks Frappuccino. And while your brain needs carbohydrates for function properly (read: do not try to start a crash diet during finals week), your body actually burns through carbs pretty fast. This means you’ll get a burst of energy from the sugar, followed by a nasty crash. During finals week, make sure that you are reaching for good sources of protein (whether that’s chicken, eggs, or even peanut butter) to help you stay full (and therefore focused) longer.

3. Eat Breakfast (or a small meal) Before an Exam

In a very similar vein to the advice above, it’s important to grab something to fuel your brain before going into a test. This will allow you to make sure that you aren’t distracted by hunger pangs mid-exam (and your peers will likewise thank you for keeping your stomach quiet!). One trick I used during my time in college was to keep a protein bar in my bag. This was especially helpful if I had the dreaded schedule of having finals back to back. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich or protein shake also make good, portable options.

4. Get to the classroom early and pick your seat wisely.

Two-for-one advice here. First, set your alarm so that you can get to the classroom early. This will let you take a few minutes to review any last minute notes, or ask the professor any last minute questions. It also give you the opportunity to hit the bathroom if needed, make sure you have your pencil and that your phone’s ringer is turned off. Having a few minutes to take a deep breath before you begin the exam means that your energy will be focused on tackling the difficult questions, not on whether or not you managed to put your shoes on the right feet as you raced across campus at the last minute. If you are a commuter student, I’d recommend leaving even more extra time to account for traffic, or other unforeseen problems.

Second, pick your seat in the room wisely. If this is the room the class has been held in all semester, sit in the same seat you’ve sat in all semester. Doing this will help you to better recall the class material during the exam because you’ve given yourself a physical clue in the location.

5. Moderate Your Caffeine Intake; Drink Water instead

There are several reasons for doing this. First, while caffeine can be useful in keeping you awake, it can also make you fidgety. Being unable to sit still during an exam, or stand relaxed during a final presentation is going to make it harder for you to concentrate on the task at hand. Second, caffeinated drinks are often diuretics, meaning that they’ll give you a desperate need to use the facilities. You really don’t want to end up having to turn in an exam early simply because you…well, had to GO. (For more on how to avoid this problem, see #4). But, you say, I’m contradicting myself by suggesting that you drink water instead. Won’t that create the same problem? Maybe, but only if you try and drown yourself right before or during the exam. The reality is that most Americans are dehydrated most of the time and this makes you tired. If you bring a water bottle to sip out of during the exam instead of slamming an espresso or five hour energy beforehand, you can alleviate some of the tiredness and improve your alertness without the ill side effects of caffeine. (Note: you should not take finals week as an opportunity to go cold turkey on caffeine, as that will leave you with a nasty withdrawal headache. Drink your normal amount and no more).

These are five tips that helped me sail through finals weeks in my past with a relative amount of ease. What do you do to make finals week less stressful and more successful?


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