Image from Unsplash.

Image from Unsplash.

Having suffered completed seven weeks of finals as a college senior, I’ve had plenty of time to learn what works well and what works horribly during this stressful week. Finals require you to make tough decisions every single day, and they really test your discipline. Hopefully you can plan your decisions ahead of time to avoid as much suffering stress as possible later on. Make use of these tips when spring finals come around:

Maximize time, location, and convenience.

Starbucks is a hip place to study (location) and you can get your caffeine fix in less than ten minutes on a good day (convenience). But if it’s a bad day and your local Starbucks is off-campus, you will have driven all the way there and struggled to find parking, found out there are no tables left, and will be waiting in line for a peppermint mocha because you did not go through all that trouble just to walk away empty-handed.

Your room is obviously a convenient location and you save plenty of time rolling out of bed and into your desk chair…if you end up rolling out at all. We always hear not to study in bed, because none of us are immune to that cuddly cat nap that creeps up on you after an hour of studying, the cat nap that turns into 2 hours gone from your study day. But even studying at your desk can be counter-productive during finals. With no class and minimal meetings, I had 16 hours of my day to dedicate towards studying. Now, I’m an introvert, but I would not have lasted more than four hours sitting alone with studying as my only focus.

On my campus, the library and student center are the prime finals week spots that maximize time, location, and convenience. The library is only a ten-minute walk from my apartment, with semi-comfortable chairs, bathrooms and water fountains on every floor, and a cafe on the main floor. The student center has all the same amenities, but I chose the library because it also has study rooms where I could kick off my shoes in privacy and talk to my study buddies during a quick break without bothering any other students.

Choose your study buddies well, and be prepared to make sacrifices.

I usually spend a lot of time with my boyfriend every single day, but I did not study with him once during all of finals week. He likes to listen to music out loud, laugh at Super Smash Bros videos, and sit in his underwear, which is why he stayed in his own dorm for the week and I did not join him, much to his disappointment. Instead I studied with my friends that I knew had strict work ethics, or at least those that could sit in front of their laptops without being a visual or auditory distraction. Being surrounded by three or four people who appear to be hard at work surrounded by Lewis structures and ANOVA results, you feel pressured, or even motivated, to do the same. Or, at the very least, you don’t want to be that guy blatantly not doing work by laughing at funny Vine compilations. Nobody wants to be that guy who makes everyone else think, “Okay, YOU might not have work to do, but WE do.”

Choose to surround yourself with the people who will bring out the academic in you, and don’t be afraid to say no to the ones who bring out the party animal. If you have three exams and a paper for finals, but your best friend only has a group project and invites you to her study room where her group will be, try your best to decline. They’ll definitely be talking and you’ll definitely struggle to focus and not be distracted.

Know what you need, and HAVE IT.

One of my study buddies never carries a phone charger, and when you are studying for over 10 hours and use your phone to listen to music, you need a phone charger. Without fail, every single day, he would sigh deeply and announce to the room: “My phone is dead. I need a charger.” And we would silently roll our eyes at his mindlessness. Don’t be this guy. Before you leave your dorm for the day, look over your study schedule (which you should have for every finals week) and carefully think about what supplies you’ll need. Outlining your paper? Bring your reference articles, highlighters, and post-its. Reviewing Chapters 15, 16, and 17? Bring your textbook, notebooks, and colored pens. General finals essentials include: snacks, water bottle, phone and laptop charger, mouse, contact case and glasses, and a light hoodie if your location gets cold.

It’s an inefficient waste of time and focus to have to interrupt your study mode when you realize your forgot essential supplies. Prepare before you start your day (or better yet, the night before) to ensure you make the best use of your time and mental effort.

Sacrifice a bit, but not too much.

DO NOT be that person who brings a blanket and settles in on a couch overnight to save yourself both the spot and the time it’d take going back to your dorm to sleep. DO be that person who still showers every day, out of respect for their sanitary health and the noses of fellow students. Realistically, it’s not worth it to sacrifice basic human needs for finals week. Don’t put off showering, meals, or sleep. The latter two are essential to your studying efficiency, anyway. (The former is just common sense and common courtesy.) It is worth it, however, to decline invitations to parties, movie marathons, or all-day outings. None of those would serve as a break conducive to your studying.

If you find yourself reading the same paragraph over and over and still not absorbing it, move to a different subject or take a break. Breaks should not be excessive or passive (i.e., no hour-long Netflix breaks or 20 minutes of scrolling through Tumblr). Stand up and stretch. Finish your water bottle then go to the fountain to fill it up. Go to the bathroom and splash water on your face. Offer to throw out everyone’s garbage as a short walk. Or go on a quick lap around the library. Your body, in addition to your mind, needs a break from studying.

Accept help. All kinds of help.

My roommate picked up Qdoba for me and our other roommate one night, while we were in a library study room. She offered to walk it over from our apartment to the library. Normally, I’d decline and go get it myself. But I was comfortable and focused on studying, and I’ve come to learn that most people don’t offer favors unless they mean it. So I accepted and ten minutes later, I gratefully scarfed that burrito bowl down while I drew my flow-charts.

On another occasion, I was visibly frustrated that I couldn’t interpret the results of some statistical outputs. I sighed deeply with my forehead in my hands and was just about to look the output over again when a study buddy asked if she could help me out in any way. Almost reflexively, I started to decline with, “Oh no! It’s perfectly fine. I got it.” But I evidently did not ‘got’ it, and I timidly slid her my papers and pointed out my confusion. She perked up with the correct interpretation and explained it. And I was promptly able to finish my Senior Capstone paper.

Finals is a time to be considerate to others’ studying, but also to accept others’ consideration. If someone’s offering their services during a period where time and effort is of the essence, they mean it. Accept it, no matter how small, and consider paying it forward. We’re all suffering pushing through this together.


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the author

Alicia Lalicon is a junior at The College of New Jersey, pursuing a Psychology major with a Women’s and Gender Studies minor. When she’s not reading about mental health and feminist ideas, she proudly enjoys dancing across bamboo sticks as the secretary of Barkada (TCNJ’s Filipino club). Her life philosophy is to always strive for improvement: physically, mentally, and intellectually. Her life motto is “You don’t owe anyone any emotions or reactions.” You can find her being seemingly cold-hearted on Twitter, reblogging black clothes and food on Tumblr, and reading intently behind a book or laptop screen.

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