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How to Survive Finals Week


There are three words that strike fear into the heart of the bravest of students, “Finals are coming.” Every semester you tell yourself, “This time will be different.” You plan like a genius the first two weeks of class and then somehow it falls apart and you’re playing catch-up the rest of the semester. How did this happen? How did the semester slip away so quickly? Now you stand at the threshold of final exams, and once again you are struck by panic.

Students all over the country experience this anxiety year after year. But now, many colleges and student groups are providing help. So take a deep breath and let’s take a look at some healthy ways to cope with the most wonderful time of the year.

1. Get in the Zone

There are places you get work done and then there are places where you scroll through Facebook for hours on end. Get to a place where you can focus. For some people this is the library, for others a coffee shop, and others the Math Emporium. This place will be different for everyone. Some work well in silence, some with music and some with background chatter. In any case, beware of distractions! The library is great!… unless you are frequently running into friends and getting chatty. A coffee shop has just the right atmosphere!… until you see that cutie in the corner making eyes at you.

  • Turn off social media. I know it hurts, but you will live for a day without it. And think about all the new things you’ll see when you turn it back on after the test! There are some apps out there to help with this too.
  • Be awake. While you shouldn’t down cup after cup, coffee and tea give you that extra boost when it’s too early or too late to be awake. Tea can also be calming, a great way to de-stress while working! If you’re trying to wake up early to study, a quick run and/or shower are great to tell your body, “It’s time to work.” If you’re up late and your eyes are drooping, a quick (I mean quick) nap can give your body the illusion of rest and help you actually understand what planet you’re on when you wake up.
  • Use pump-up music. Sometimes it’s hard to get your head in a positive and confident place. That’s where “The Eye of the Tiger” or “Don’t Stop Believin’” can be a game changer. A great one if you’re reading or writing is lyric-less techno, fast enough to give you a good pace and wordless so as not to confuse or distract you. (Anyone for Deadmau5?)
  • Make a plan. So you only have a week left? Don’t waste it guessing how much time you will need! Make a schedule or to-do list by what is due first. Pace yourself and remember to include time for breaks (more on this later). Make sure you don’t forget anything on your list and you’ll have peace of mind that you won’t forget it later.
  • Be positive. You can do this. Even if you don’t have much time left, or feel like there’s just too much to do—it’s not over yet! You still have time. Take a deep breath and tell yourself (non-sarcastically) that you have the ability to succeed.

2. Study Already

This probably goes without saying, but seriously, study. Not all of us can be geniuses who understand all the course material after one reading. So take some time to strategize instead of just staring at your notes and silently screaming.

  • Flashcards. Flashcards are great for language, history, sciences, maths (that have formulas to memorize), and much more. For all the things you despise and can never remember (like dates, names, and conjugations) make note cards.
  • Mnemonic Devices. There is no study tactic that will save you at the last minute like a mnemonic device. Simply take a list of bullets you need to remember, and make a memorable sentence from the first letter of each line. For example, if I need to remember the names of the planets in our solar system (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, [Pluto]) I only have to remember “Most Vaporeons Eat Meat Jerky Strips Until Nine P.M.” Side note: The more ridiculous the sentence, the easier it is to remember.
  • Teach it. Find a willing participant (or reluctant roommate) and explain the subject matter to them. Not only is it easier than re-reading your notes again, it helps you internalize and thoroughly understand the material. If you hate history, try to tell it like an interesting story. (King Edward VIII. Total nutcase.) Another tip: Sometimes walking around or bouncing your foot helps you to keep moving mentally. Physical activity keeps your blood flowing and the oxygen going to your brain so you can fire on all cylinders.

3. Take Care of Yourself

It may seem like there is nothing more important than your grades right now, but while you may survive with a GPA just a few points lower, you will not survive if you do not sleep and eat. Make sure you take some time (no matter how stressed you are) to take some steps to ensure your body can keep pace with your willpower to pass that test:

  • Sleep. And sleep some more. All-nighters (contrary to popular belief) do not actually help you retain knowledge before a test! According to some researchers, 6-8 hours of sleep are required to be alert and ready for a test. An all-nighter the night before the big test may actually make you perform worse on your test! If you are nodding off during study time, rather than fight it for hours and retain nothing, take a nap! Naps of 30 minutes or less will help you be more alert and get more out of your study time.
  • Eat. And eat well. Make sure you aren’t skipping meals! It can be easy for some to lose track of time and forget to eat meals, don’t let this happen to you. Eat well-balanced, healthy meals and pack yourself nutritious, stress-relieving snacks. Some examples are oatmeal, nuts, fruits & vegetables, chia or sunflower seeds, tofu, shellfish or salmon, edamame and dark chocolate (in moderation). Tip: Sunflower seeds are good for staying awake too! Cracking the shells helps to keep your body awake without the side effects of coffee or energy drinks.
  • Hydrate. A BBC research experiment showed that drinking water before and during an exam could actually improve your grade! “After taking students’ academic ability into account, by examining coursework grades, the researchers found foundation students who drank water could expect to see grades improved by up to 10%.”
    Not only that, but drinking more water helps your skin look better, helps to prevent headaches and much more.
  • Caffeinate carefully. Tea, coffee and energy drinks are a common staple around exam time. While some caffeine is necessary, be careful not to drink too much or too late at night. Drinking coffee after 4pm can inhibit good quality sleep that night. Try to maintain or taper off your regular intake of caffeine. Stopping altogether may incur caffeine withdrawal symptoms. While increasing your amount of caffeine can give you a initial boost, after it wears off it makes it harder to concentrate in the long-term. Tea and decaffeinated coffee are great substitutes. And some teas also relieve stress! (Examples: Ginseng, Lavender, Chamomile, Peppermint and Hibiscus.)
  • Exercise! I know, not the most popular remedy for some people. But even a simple walk around the Quad can actually help you relax and focus later! In fact Maren Schmidt-Kassow, a professor at the Institute of Medical Psychology in Germany, did a study of the effects of exercise on memory. From her findings she reported, “Light-intensity exercise will…help to prime the brain for the intake of new information and the encoding of that information into memories. If the exercise is more vigorous, however, it may overstimulate the body and brain.”

4. Take Advantage of What Your School is Offering

Some schools now offer specific services to students during final exam week. This can range from late library hours, to study break activities, to therapeutic pet visits. Why not take advantage of the services they provide?

Virginia Tech offerings:

  • Therapy dogs! On Wednesday, December 14th, VT Paws will bring out their therapy dogs (and the occasional cat) from 6:00-7:00pm in Squires Student Center for an hour of therapeutic puppy love.
  • Free coffee. Newman Library provides free coffee on exam nights! They also have hot chocolate, tea, snacks, and stress relievers like bubble wrap.
  • Free Exam Week Group Exercise Classes. VT Rec Sports is offering a free week of Group Exercise Classes during exams! Exercise is a great stress reliever. Check out the classes they’re offering here.
  • Finals Extravaganza. Take a study break on Wednesday, Dec. 7th from 12:00-1:00pm at McComas Hall! Come relieve stress during finals with fun activities, free snacks to boost your energy and brain power, therapy dogs, chair massages, and other fun events!
  • Free Ice Cream Sundaes! What’s better to help you study than ice cream? VT Dining Services is hosting “Brain Freeze” at D2 Dining Hall on Mon, December 12th from 9:00-11:00pm, providing free ice cream sundaes to meal plan holders.

Radford University offerings:

  • Stress Busting Kits. RU Peer Health Educators will be passing out stress busting kits on-campus the Sunday before finals this year!
  • The Snuggliest Stress Buster Ever! On Wednesday, December 7th, McConnell Library will be hosting this event featuring chair massages, scarf-making, therapy pets, and refreshments on Level 3 from 10:00am to 10:00pm.
  • Group Exercise Classes. Exam week is a great time to take a study break and try out one of RU’s many great (and free!) group fitness class offerings. Check out what’s available here.

We at Valley Women’s Clinic hope you have a great end to your semester. If you find yourself in need of our free and confidential services before you head home or when you return, we are here for you. Request an appointment at our Blacksburg or Radford office.

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