Over the 32 years of practice I have talked with many high school and college students dealing with the stresses of final week. Finals season is always a challenge, and many of the ways kids try to deal with that stress end up putting additional stress on themselves, the family around them, and their mental and emotional health. This year, work smarter and not harder to take care of your schoolwork and yourself at the same time.
Here are a few tips and questions to ask yourself when preparing for finals. Preparing can be one of the best strategies for managing your mental and emotional health.
1. Create a game plan
Know your assignment due dates and exam times and locations. Having a timeline will help you better block out your schedule. Be realistic about what you can do at this point in the semester.
2. Enjoy caffeine ( in moderation)
You don’t need to avoid your favorite coffee or tea. Studies show caffeine can boost mood, concentration, and even short-term memory. Too much caffeine ( more than 400 milligrams or about 4 cups of coffee a day) causes jitters and anxiety and disrupts sleep. If you are struggling with anxiety and sleep, caffeine can prove more harmful than helpful.
3. Don’t skimp on sleep
It can be tempting to skimp on sleep at finals time, especially if you are in an environment that views lack of sleep as an expectation. Lack of sleep impairs your memory, mood, and ability to process information. This can also worsen your mental and emotional health. Studies show that sleep improves both test scores and academic performance.
4. Build in breaks
Building in breaks for fun will help you work better for longer. Decide when you will take these breaks. “I will work for 50 minutes and take a ten minute break for myself.” Breaks can include things like a quick walk, music, nap, or a funny show. Short breaks recharge and prevent burnout.
5. Stay social, but limit social media
Study groups, shared meals, or just working next to a friend in the library are all good ways to stay connected and get some peer support. All that work can make it easy to isolate or even avoid assignments. Others can provide accountability and motivation to keep working,
6. What other obligations do you have over the next few weeks?
Attempt to clear your calendar as much as possible. Fewer distractions the better! Build obligations into the schedule the week of finals. Be realistic!
7. How much does each exam count toward your final grade in each course?
Do the calculations and determine what will be reasonable and attainable for you. If in doubt go talk with your teacher or professor. Spending too much time studying for a test that you think might raise your grade but inevitably won’t is a time sucker.
8. Which exams are comprehensive and which cover less material?
This will determine the time needed for studying and preparing your schedule for the week. Make sure you have all the materials required for studying all that material.
9. What types of questions will be asked on each exam? Objective or essay? Memory or application level? Determine what study tactics will work best for each exam.
Making and using flashcards to memorize terms and formulas
Creating charts or matrices to show how ideas are organized and connected
Doing practice problems in math and science
Rewriting and summarizing notes from lecture and text for essay exams
Planning for practice testing or “dress rehearsal” for each exam.
Most important of all, you are more important than a grade. Getting a certain grade can feel like the end of the world. With all the pressure to succeed, it’s easy to forget that you and your mental and emotional health get lost in the mix. You wouldn’t judge another person’s life or value based on one test or paper. Show yourself some respect and kindness and take steps to manage YOU!!
Lisa Gray MSW, LCSW
Lisa M. Gray