I took my first college finals in the December of 2012, and next week will mark my second to last round of that misery. Over the course of 5 years, I’ve made a lot of changes to my study habits. They’re still imperfect thanks to a mind that wanders and Netflix list that constantly grows, but they’re much improved. So here are the top 5 changes I’ve made that took me from academic probation (I blame Calculus) to the President’s list.
(1) Do sleep the night before an exam; do not pull an all night-er.
As a freshmen, my exam tactic was to spend 12+ hours in the library cramming every piece of information into mind possible, take an espresso shot, trudge across campus to my exam, pass out in my twin-sized bed for 4 hours, and repeat. This is a terrible strategy. Your brain is not going to be functional, and none of the data you’ve crammed in is going to stick.
I still don’t get luxurious long rests during finals week, but I do get enough hours to function properly. Not only is sleep an important mechanism for your brain to recall information, it is also important for your immune system. There’s nothing worse than trying to take a final in a medicated haze with used tissues encroaching on your paper. Sleep is essential to both mental and physical health, so prioritize it.
(2) Do spend time with friends; do not pick parties over grades.
Humans are social creatures, and finals week is no excuse to sequester away. I realize that some people absolutely cannot study unless they are alone in a quiet place, and for those people, a study group might not be an effective use of time. That’s totally fine. Text a friend and make your next coffee run together, though! While social schedules belong on the back burner during finals week, friendships do not. Stay connected to your support system and send encouragement to your classmates. If there’s one thing being a part of the Clemson family has taught me, it’s that we’re all in this thing called life together!
(3) Do drink lots of water; do not treat coffee as a food group.
This goes hand in hand with getting sleep. When you get sleep, you don’t need as much caffeine to keep your eyelids open. Coffee is still an essential comfort in my study process, but it is no longer a requirement for me to function. Plus staying hydrated by drinking water will help your immune system just like sleep, making you a much less likely target for germs.
(4) Do wear something you feel comfortable in; do not forget to shower.
This is something the MBA program forced me to learn. In undergrad, I was leggings and a t-shirt on a good day, and finals week was a chance to rock sweat pants in public. My MBA building requires business casual dress, which was a big adjustment. I still think comfort is key to acing finals, but there’s a difference between dressing for comfort and dressing with a total loss of self-respect. Even if sweat pants are your jam, take a hot shower and run a brush through your hair. I find that looking less like a stress case externally helps me feel less like a stress case internally.
(5) Do use the resources available to you; do not trust exclusively in tribal knowledge.
For many classes, there are study guides that have been passed from one generation to the next. Take advantage of those, but do not trust in them exclusively. Professors can make changes, and the easier the study guide was for you to access, the more likely is is they will become aware of it. Often if that happens, the final will change drastically.
While studying smart and focusing on the concepts most likely to appear will save time, make sure your review of the material is comprehensive. Just because your hall mate had this exam last semester and swears it was only on that one graph does not mean your final will be only on that one graph. Focus primarily on topics the professor indicated were important, take advantage of resources from peers, but don’t neglect entire sections of material based on word of mouth.
Finals can create stress levels that impact our mental health, and the studying time crunch limits our social schedules. However, I hope you can realize what a blessing it is to have this stress in your life. Some degree of stress is good for you as long as you’re coping with it appropriately. A life without stress is a life without caring, and having something to care about is so essential to feeling your life has meaning.
If you’re in school like me, you’re preparing for a new phase in your life, and I’m so excited for you! Keep the great things that will happen as a result of your education in the back of your mind as you tackle finals and don’t let the stress destroy your dreams. Cling to why you’re doing what you’re doing. At the end of the day, it’s just a number, and even if it isn’t what you hoped for, a bad grade won’t be your downfall.