If I say "Finals Week," what do you think of?
It may be a Sam's Club trip for those 24 cases of Red Bull, or the 3 a.m. trip to Denny's, or pulling out the beanie to cover the hair you haven't washed for a week.
It may be wondering why you’re hungry at 4 p.m., and then remembering you forgot to eat today. It may be being so out of it that you stagger to Chase at 9:30 Wednesday morning and wonder why you’re there alone.
Perhaps more than anything else, Finals Week can mean stress. Stress to want to end well, stress to try and salvage a rough semester, stress to not look like an academic fraud, stress to want to have good news grade-wise for the parents as you walk in the door.
Stress itself doesn't have to be a bad thing. It can serve as motivation to study, and the adrenaline it produces can give you energy to work hard. The challenge is to control it, and not let it overwhelm you.
Ten ways to keep Finals Week stress from eating you up:
1. Sleep - Staying up all night and studying is not the path to success. Sleep deprivation is a well-proven method of torture. Studies show that once you get overtired, all that reading is just not going to stick in your memory anyway. Better to show up a little less-studied but well-rested and clear-minded.
2. Eat well - Make sure you eat regular meals with healthy food (try to avoid the carb binges), and stay up on your fluids. But radically increasing your caffeine intake can make you jittery and unable to focus, and that's even more stressful!
3. Get some exercise- It's a double blessing; it not only can get your blood (and your endorphins) pumping and improve your stamina, it's also a great stress reliever. And (along with sleeping and eating well) it's a way to keep the stress from hammering your immune system; taking a final with a stuffy head is no fun.
4. Schedule your time this week; Start now--don't wait any longer! Pencil in your exams, meal times, study periods, breaks, etc. into some sort of calendar or planner. Procrastination is your worst enemy. Set priorities and stick with them. Even if you haven't practiced any ‘time management' all semester, do some now.
5. Good study techniques; it's never too late to use them. If you're not a total loner, group study can be really productive as long as you're disciplined and focused. Flash cards (or a digital equivalent) can be great for fact-based study, and you can break them out during meals or other ‘in-between' times. Try this for remembering textbook materials. And find a couple good places to study as well; even if you already have some good spots, you may find yourself crowded out this time of year.
6. Take breaks! Yes, you hereby have official permission to take a break. Try not to study for more than a couple hours straight. Your mind needs time to digest before taking on any more. So after studying for 2 hours, go take a walk (or do something else you enjoy) for 15 minutes. But if you study for 15 minutes then take a 2-hour break, that's sort of, um... counterproductive, you know?
7. Learn to say no! Turn off the unimportant stuff, like your phone and Twitter and YouTube and Facebook...it's only for a few days! And try to avoid the stress-carriers; you know, those people who interrupt your studying to unload on you about how they don't have enough time to study and how the rest of their life is falling apart (you're not a stress-carrier yourself, are you?).
8. Show up! Be sure you know when and where your tests are. No, seriously; every year we have somebody who didn't bother to check the schedule and ends up missing a final.
9. Have a plan for the test itself. Be sure to pack ahead anything you might need (calculator, etc.). Don't get there late; you don't need that stress. But don't get there half an hour early and sit there and twitch. Show up ten minutes early and find a quiet spot for a few minutes of quiet reflection and prayer. This is not the time for more studying; trying to cram at this point will probably just freak you out. Instead, spend a few minutes with the God of peace; He's there with you. Take some long deep breaths. And don't panic if you're not the first one done with the exam. What does that prove?
10. When it's over, let it go. This is no time to go all perfectionist on yourself. Reward yourself with something you enjoy, whether you aced the final or not. You've earned it. And if you've got more finals ahead, keep to your schedule for studying; if you're done, congratulations. Celebrate...but not so loudly that you distract the folks who are still studying.
The "final" message? Relax. Don't panic. Have a plan and work hard at it; put in the hours necessary. But keep the final in perspective, keep the class in perspective, keep the semester in perspective. Your life will not end if you blow a test.