If I had a nickel for the number of times I have heard, "Procrastination in the last two weeks of school is more than the entire rest of the semester combined," I'd be rich. Over the course of finals week students usually have two goals: to do well on exams, and to keep stress to a minimum.
Students are usually spotted late at night in the library double-fisting caffeinated beverages, munching on sugary snacks, shuffling around papers and books to find a place to lay their head, and it's not uncommon to sleep as much in a week as one would in a single night.
Carol Moran-Brown, senior director of the Counseling Center at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., explained, "Staying stress-free is important, but stress is not inherently bad for students. There is an ideal level of stress for each one of us, which helps motivate us to do our best. When we are functioning at that ideal level, we are sufficiently pushed to do our best, yet not paralyzed by the results of excessive stress. The goal is to find the ideal stress level and then try to stay there."
External stress emerges because studying should be one's top priority, and unfortunately, no young adult likes to admit that his or her social life has to be set aside for a bit.
"In order to perform best on final exams, one must remember the basics: stay active, get plenty of rest, and eat a good breakfast; all those healthy study-tips that students have been told since grade school," Moran-Brown added. "In addition to that, one must find time to escape studying and take time for his or herself."
From a student perspective, surviving the gauntlet of oral presentations, exams, essay writing, and projects in the weeks ahead, here are some techniques Champlain College students suggest will successfully minimize stress and maximize efficiency.
Here are some time-tested tips for relieving stress at finals:
Take advantage of on-campus programming during and prior to finals week
Many colleges help their students to de-stress during finals week by offering school-sponsored events. Check into what your school offers; Champlain College Student Activities Planners have an entire week of programming laid out around relieving stress of finals. Their activities include art therapy, bead buddy making, crayon art, henna, and more. Some resident assistants plan similar activities within their residence halls, too.
Students enjoy a holiday sweater party in their residence hall during finals week.
In the spring semester, students look forward to 'Spring Meltdown,' a themed carnival with games, raffles, and a barbeque, followed up by a rave in the campus center on the last day of class.
The College also has late-night snacks in the dining hall, coffee in 'the Lodge' student-run snack shack that is open until 1am, and you can even get a free massage in the student life center if you make an appointment in advance.
Short exercise breaks can help relieve stress, socialize, and burn off the extra sugary calories you may consume. Take a jog downtown, ride your bike to campus, do yoga, attend a tabata class, play pick-up basketball, or go to the wellness center and get your fitness on. Exercise helps you focus, it gives you additional energy, and it releases endorphins to make you feel better. In order to make deadlines, stick to 15-30 minutes of exercise a day. If you must, bring a book to study while you're on the exercise bike or treadmill.
If exercising is not your thing, progressive muscle relaxation is a technique many people find helpful. Systematically go through the major muscle groups of your body, tightening, holding and then relaxing each group. Start at the top of your body and move down (face; neck/upper back/shoulders; arms; abdominals; upper legs; lower legs; feet/toes).
Eat Nutritious Meals and Snacks
Often, students eat even more unhealthily during finals week than they do the rest of the semester. With a time crunch, they go for quick, tasty, on-the-go foods and mindlessly much away until they are left with an empty package. This is a big mistake. Junk food gives you instant energy or a sugar high, but it affects your concentration and memory and will end in a food coma or sugar crash.
Eating nutritious foods will energize you and increase your concentration and retention. Check out the healthy vending machines around campus for more nutritious choices. If you're choosing snacks from your kitchen or the dining hall, fruits and vegetables are best; they have the required vitamins and nutrients to prevent sickness and give you energy. Simply maintaining a healthy diet is an easy way to help manage stress and get good grades during your finals.
Your brain works best when it's hydrated. Dehydration causes fatigue and headaches, which will distract you from your work. Caffeine dehydrates you more, so for every coffee you have, have a glass or bottle of water; your body and mind will thank you.
In moments when you feel your stress level is climbing, take a deep breath for four counts, hold it for four counts, and exhale for four counts. Try this a few times. You may be shocked at how much better you feel.
Treat yourself to lunch before your final
Get away from campus and get your mind off of studying if you have a spark of confidence. If you find yourself in Burlington, check out Handy's Lunch on Maple Street for some Champlain alumni love and support. Earl Handy '96 will hook you up with the best lunch around!
Catch some ZZZ's
Everyone has different sleep habits, but it is never healthy to pull an all-nighter. If you do, make sure you have time to take a nap so you get the sleep your body needs. Sleep will improve the quality and retention of studying, even though you may have less study time. Less is more.
Studying non-stop is actually not helpful. After a long period of studying, your concentration will be broken, and the material that you are trying to learn will not be retained well. Studies show in order to really grasp information the brain needs time to absorb what it has learned. You should use short breaks to exercise, eat a healthy meal, rest, socialize, catch your favorite TV program, enjoy the great outdoors, or do some other activity that takes your mind off the study material. You will absorb information best if you can study before going to sleep. But, the most important thing is that you do something for yourself and reward yourself for getting some work done, no matter when you find time to do it.
Select a good study space
Don't just start studying anywhere. Find a quiet, orderly place. Unfortunately, your dorm room or apartment is probably a bad place to study. With all the familiar objects around and your roommates hanging out, it would be too easy to get distracted. Instead, try to visit the campus library, open all night during finals week, or spend a couple hours in a café. A peaceful environment will be an immeasurable help to your concentration.
Prioritize & Plan
"Failing to plan is planning to fail." If you start studying without a plan, you are likely to focus on the wrong material or get distracted. Plan how to allocate your time and what to study. Check your syllabus or ask professors for a study guide if you have an actual exam, and in the case of final papers, presentations and projects, plan your time wisely.
Ask for Help
Many students are afraid to ask for help. If you do not understand what to do or study, ask someone. You could speak to your professor during office hours or talk to your friends and classmates. Not to quote High School Musical, but we're all in this together. The professor wants to see you succeed and so do your friends; they most likely will be glad to help.
Talk to a counselor
Look into your school's counseling and health services. The Champlain College Counseling Center provides confidential counseling services to all students free of charge; you don't need an appointment and you don't have to go regularly. If you find yourself needing help with managing your stress, consider talking with a counselor. They don't bite!
Some campuses also have Academic Coaching. Champlain's hosts various events before and during finals week to introduce you to healthy study habits and also give you a place to meditate with others during this stressful time.
Talking with a trusted friend or family member about how you are feeling helps because most of them have "been there, done that" or are also preparing for finals. Talking things out can have the immediate effect of reducing stress levels. Sharing with someone else helps you feel like you aren't alone, which can be so helpful.
Write research papers and finish projects early
Most of the time, professors give plenty of advance notice before a final paper or project is due. Don't procrastinate on these when you know you'll need to study during finals week. For Champlain first-year students, their self-portraits are assigned in stages so it is ensured that they are not cramming for the paper last minute. Hopefully, by now, all juniors have handed in their literature review and can focus on other projects to come.
Use Study Groups
Learn the material by yourself, and review it by explaining the subject to the study group. With the right group of people, you can learn more about the topic then you could by yourself. Different perspectives and observations are good to be exposed to. Choose your study group wisely and reserve one of the conference or study rooms in the library.
Double-Check Your Exam Times
When you are taking many exams in the same week, it is easy to confuse the times. Write the time on a sticky note and put it on your books, desk, or computer. Missing an exam is the easiest way to fail.
If there is a conflict with your final exam schedule, let professors know far ahead of time. They may offer the class a chance to attend their other sections' exam times, which you may find more convenient to you.
What are you telling yourself?
A lot of stress is about our perceptions and the messages we are giving ourselves. If you are telling yourself that only an "A" will do, when you know there is no chance of such a high grade, you may be setting yourself up for excess stress that gets in the way. Check out your perceptions and replace irrational expectations with a more rational one.
If you can pinpoint the sources of stress during finals week, whether it is your upcoming graduation as a senior, maintaining your GPA, trying to find an internship in the spring, managing good study habits and a healthy social life, and/or not getting enough sleep or making your way to the gym as usual, this may help you better avoid these problems or reduce their impact. "When it comes to stress it's important to know what stresses you out and what works to help reduce your stress. There is no stress reduction technique that is a cure-all," said psychology major Jordan Lupien, whose senior capstone project last spring highlighted individuals' responses to stress.
Stop Wasting Time
College students always procrastinate by browsing on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and other social media and pop culture websites. It's bound to happen, but if you turn off your Internet connection when it's not needed to study, you can avoid the distraction. Need a quick laugh? Just go watch How Animals Eat Their Food on YouTube. Then please, get back to work.