Studying for finals

Finals advice you can actually use

By: Zabric Kline, Law student and former Success coach

Finals week is upon us, and if you’re anything like I was in my first few years of college, you’re planning for late-night cram sessions fueled by coffee and fast food in the days leading up to your exams. I’m a senior now, and my advice is to stop right now and finish this article. If I’ve learned one thing about final exams over these past four years, it’s that there are better ways to study for finals — ways that don’t leave you sacrificing sleep and your physical and mental health. 

Cramming sessions are not mandatory

When I was a first-year student, I thought that cramming sessions during finals week were a right of passage. Those long nights may have made me feel like a college student, but looking back, they were totally unnecessary. I’m not saying that you don’t need to study for your finals, but cramming for a test won’t help you learn more and could even hurt your potential

I have a background in sports and playing instruments, and before a big match or recital, I would never try to cram months worth of practice into one night. If I tried that, I knew I wasn’t going to see a rapid improvement in my performance, and in fact I would probably feel worse the next day. Why do we approach our studies any differently?

Give yourself time

Start thinking about your exams in the same way you would a big performance or game. Your finals are an opportunity to show what you’ve been working on, and like any other performance, there is a proper way to practice. 

When practicing a piano piece for a recital, I wouldn’t try to learn the whole song right away, even if I didn’t have a lot of time. Instead, I would start practicing with my right hand, then my left, and slowly progress through the piece. The most critical part of this process is giving yourself the necessary time to learn the proper way. 

When applying this method to finals, you should be able to give yourself enough time to study the material piece by piece. Ideally, this process would start at the beginning of the semester, but even if you don’t have a lot of time, breaking the work into chunks will be a lot more beneficial. 

It’s also important to pay attention to how you allocate the time you have. For the same reasons you shouldn’t exercise for eight hours straight, you shouldn’t expect your brain to be able to study and retain information for hours without breaks. I found studying in smaller increments (I started with 30-minute chunks) with breaks in between for a snack, drink of water, or a quick stretch helped me actually learn the material better than using my old method of marathon studying.

Final tips from a senior

Try to sustain (or start) good habits during the weeks leading up to finals. Good sleep, healthy food and lots of water are great ways to feel energized throughout the day. I’ve recently begun embracing naps and short walks outside (weather permitting) as a way to keep my energy levels high. I also try to make adjustments to my normal schedule during finals week if possible by reducing my workout intensity or taking some time off work to rest. 

Finals are coming up soon, but there’s still time to use these strategies and start creating healthy habits. You got this, Sun Devils!

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