Handling Finals: A How-To Guide

Finals week is on its way, which means stress levels for students, and staff, across campus are running higher than ever. When exams and last-minute assignments are creeping up, finding ways to manage the stress and workload is important more than ever. Here are some tips and tricks to keep you stay sane during this insane time of year.  

The first thing to keep in mind is that you can still pace yourself even if you are cramming all your studying in at the last minute. Throughout finals week, try your best to pace yourself with your workload. Instead of doing everything all at once, figure out what to prioritize and what you can push aside for now. Giving yourself breaks throughout the day to recharge and avoid burnout is a surefire way to lower the stress throughout finals week. To put this into practice, try making a daily schedule if you have not already. Allocating a couple of hours a day to relax and rest can set your mind at ease. If you do not have a paper planner to write in, using online calendar apps and websites is always a good option.   

If you find yourself losing focus while studying, try some different study methods. One popular strategy for studying is the Pomodoro Study Method, and it might be helpful to try this out during finals week. To use this method, you will set a timer for a certain period of time and after that timer’s up, you will get a few minutes to take a break. The most common interval of time for this method is 25 minutes of studying and 5 minutes of recharging. You will repeat this pattern four times before taking a more extensive break of around 15 minutes. This technique for studying is simple, and it can be good for students who struggle to focus for prolonged periods of time. A professor at Duke who uses the method says, “the Pomodoro Technique works because it breaks down large projects into smaller obtainable goals, helps you anticipate the duration of tasks, and provides breaks to relax.” If your coursework is making you feel overwhelmed, trying out this study method might be a way to ease your academic anxiety.  

Another tip for making it through finals week is to practice what is effective; some ways we study are not as helpful as we think. Scientists have discovered that the reality is “most students rely on ineffective study strategies. In fact, researchers have found that between 83.6% and 84% of students rely on rereading: a study method that provides very limited benefits.” The truth is, most students are taught throughout their educational careers that simply rereading information and taking notes is the best way to study, but for many, that idea reigns untrue. Because everybody has unique learning styles, some people benefit more from using flashcards or even by simply listening to lectures. If you find yourself struggling to remember what you are learning in class, trying new study methods might be helpful. Try finding online videos about your lessons or try quizzing yourself with flashcards. If you are studying in a way that does not fit your needs, your study time will not be nearly as productive as it potentially could be. Staying aware of your learning needs is one of the best ways to use your time wisely, especially when the stakes are running high.   

However, this does not mean rewriting or rereading information cannot be beneficial. If this happens to be a studying style that suits you, there are many ways to make your notetaking and reading even more helpful to you. The first thing to consider is the layout you are using when taking notes. A scholarly article from Stendhal University reports that “a matrix structure for recording information has proved to be more beneficial than an outline structure, which is in turn more beneficial than the linear structure used by most students.” This means that while many students will simply write out their notes line-by-line, there are other methods that have proved more useful. The outline structure is generally a bit more organized, and it is done when the notes are divided into main topics and subtopics. This can help make your thoughts more organized and easier to understand. However, the most beneficial method of them all seems to be the matrix structure, which means creating graphs, diagrams, and visual representations with your information. If you have not already, try taking notes by using tables and diagrams. This allows for more creativity and personalization with your notes, and whatever sort of table or map you create is up to you. This method is most favored by researchers, as it helps with memorization and thought organization more than the linear and outline structures. When you are taking notes during the upcoming week, try switching up your layout if you have not already. You might be surprised by how helpful it can be.   

If you are drawing a blank on ways to study, utilizing study guides and practice tests might be helpful to you. Finals exams can seem very overwhelming, especially when the test is on everything you have learned across the fall semester. By accumulating information from all the lessons you have covered throughout the fall in the form of study guides or practice tests, you can make your exam seem a lot less intimidating. For many, tests can cause a lot of anxiety, so practicing with a test format might be helpful for you. In fact, studies show that practice exams are the best way to prepare for real ones as they implement “spaced retrieval practice.” which is defined as the practice of learning information over time. This can help students to memorize information better and, therefore, makes answering those final exam questions a lot easier. If you need a starting point for where to study, consider finding online study guides and practice tests, or even spend some time making your own.   

Another thing to consider during finals week is to try out studying with other people. Many students will find that socializing is an effective way to minimize their stress and boost their mood, and if being part of a study group sounds helpful to you, it is something to consider. Study groups are also effective at holding students accountable, so if you find yourself struggling to stay on task, this also might be a beneficial thing for you. If studying with other students sounds helpful to you, take the step to reach out to a friend or a peer this upcoming week. However, if you do not have someone around to study with, there are other options. One of these options is Bumble, which is an app that is not just used for dating, but also for making friends. Recently, Bumble was brought to the UND campus, and it gives you the chance to meet new acquaintances in the area, especially if you need a study buddy. It might seem like a daunting thing, but there are hundreds of students on campus waiting to meet new people.   

If you need assistance when it comes to learning your class content, drop-in tutoring might be something to consider. There are many different students and staff members on campus who are more than willing to help students learn and catch up, so if you feel like you have fallen behind, do not be afraid to ask for help. To find the tutoring locations and times, check out the UND Drop-In Tutoring page on the university’s website.   

The most important thing to remember as the semester ends is that finals week should not cause you to sacrifice your health. Putting yourself first and prioritizing your wellbeing is always the best idea. Even if your test scores do not meet your expectations, you still deserve to take some time to yourself and relax over the holiday break. School is not meant to be easy, and you are not alone if you find yourself struggling with your academics. The biggest tip above all is to put yourself first during finals week. Take some time to do what you enjoy, and do not be afraid to rest or take a break if you need it.   


Ava Stockstad is a Dakota Student Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected].