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The Most Wonderful Ways to Study for Finals as a College Student

Senior Academic Mentor Anne Hsia shares three tips for how to make studying for finals a little less stressful and a little more wonderful.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well, to get to the most wonderful Christmas break – going home, catching up with friends and family, and visiting your favorite local spots again – you have to survive finals. Whether you’re a college freshman finishing up your very first semester or a senior, here are some tips that might help make the weeks leading up to finals a little more bearable and possibly more wonderful.

Take care of yourself. While finals are a test of your knowledge of course material learned throughout the semester, you also need to make sure you are prepared not only mentally, but also physically and emotionally. One place to start is to get enough sleep. Thinking about pulling an all-nighter before your big exam? Think again. Sleep is actually an important part of learning and memory. Your brain uses the time you’re asleep to transfer information from short-term memory to long-term memory so you can recall those facts and formulas the day of the exam. Sleeping well the night before, as well as the days before exam week will boost your performance during the few hours that you are taking a test. Sleeping also boosts your immune system. Trust me, taking an exam while you have the flu is no fun.

In addition to sleeping well, make sure you eat well. Your brain consumes energy while studying, so make sure you feed it enough nutrients so it can perform at its best! Leafy greens, berries, and fish high in omega-3 fatty acid (salmon, etc.) are all scientifically proven to boost your brain function. While it may be tempting to drink coffee non-stop and use meal time to study (causing you to snack your way through dinner or order in fast food), do your body a favor by taking a break and having a nutritious meal, whether that’s from the cafeteria or your kitchen. You’ll find yourself more energized and focused after the meal, and ready to study again!

Ask for help. There is nothing wrong with attending review sessions, emailing your professor or TA with questions, or attending office hours. In fact, varying the way you study will help you understand and remember the material better. As you engage with different people, they may provide nuanced insight into past concepts that helps you more than simply reviewing your notes. Also, if you’re writing your final paper, remember that the person grading your paper is your professor, so there is no harm in running your thesis or outline by them (and if your final is an exam and they’re nice, some professors will give you clues about what they will include on the final if you see them during office hours!). If you have friends in the same class, ask to study together, if you don’t already. Study sessions will be more engaging and fun, and you’ll probably be able to solve more problems together (and create practice questions for each other) than alone.

Start early. Finals are often the culmination of all that you’ve learned over the semester, so start early! One week is not enough time to review all the material for four classes over four months – you’ve learned a lot. Ideally, you started preparing for finals the day fall semester started by attending class, taking detailed notes, and doing the homework. There is nothing that replaces diligent studying throughout the semester. But if that is not you, fear not! The next best time to start studying is now. Pull out that syllabus from day 1. Map out all the topics you need a refresher on and block off time to study each unit on your planner or calendar.

Pro tip: Give yourself more time than you think. You will be much less stressed finishing a study session early than cramming an entire unit into the last 5 minutes. And just because you created a plan now doesn't mean it cannot change as finals week approaches. Maybe you realize that one project is taking a lot more time and the essay was much easier than you anticipated. You can rearrange your schedule and reallocate your precious resource: time. You won’t have that luxury the night before the deadline.


With these few tips for preparing for finals, you are now ready to start studying. Remember that finals do not define you as a person, but are simply an assessment of your learning. By reaching out for help and taking care of yourself, you are one step closer to doing well in finals week and having a wonderful time. And now, practice the last tip by starting your studying now!