5 Ways College Students Can Prepare for Finals

Budget your time and set realistic expectations so your work during the semester isn't wasted.


College finals week can throw even the most seasoned of college students for a loop. No matter how many times you've been through it, finals week is still a major pain in the brain. What is supposed to be the last lap of the semester often turns into a sleep-deprived, caffeine-fueled, stress-inducing cram fest.

While it's quite a challenge to turn college finals week into something good, with a little planning it can at least be turned into something manageable. Here are some tips:

1. Plan your schedule: Spend a few minutes writing down everything you need to do in your calendar, from doing laundry and sleeping to writing papers and studying. Time has a tendency to slip away during finals week, so plan and keep track of it the best you can. Just because you've been able to pull all-night study sessions earlier in the semester doesn't mean it's a good idea to do so now.

In most college classes, a significant percentage of your grade depends on your finals week performance. Don't let weeks of hard work go to waste because you didn't budget your time well during the last week of the semester.

[Get more advice on finishing the semester strong.]

2. Set reasonable expectations: Be realistic when it comes to planning your schedule. Allocate (and use!) time to sleep, get some exercise, eat well, and just hang out. Your brain needs a break from all the studying, so let it relax by hanging out with friends, surfing the Internet, or just mentally checking out for a while.

3. Take care of your physical self: You can't rock that chemistry final if you're sleep deprived, in funky clothes that needed to be washed a week ago, and fighting a cold. Treat your body kindly during finals week, and it will return the favor! Will you get as much sleep as you ideally need? Probably not. But you should get enough so that you can be mentally sharp both during your study sessions and during your exams themselves.

Allow yourself the luxury of a long, hot shower and the comfort of freshly washed clothes. It's the little things, sometimes, that can allow you to really focus on the task at hand during a difficult exam. Make sure you feel at your physical best if you hope to perform at your mental best. 

4. Eat well and get exercise: When you're short on time, these are often the first to go, unfortunately. Technically, what you've eaten over the last 24 hours may count as food—but it didn't provide much nutrition. You don't need to visit your doctor to know how much better you feel when you've had a good breakfast, a respectable lunch, sensible snacks, and a smart dinner. Additionally, even a 20-minute walk around campus can do wonders for your physical and mental health. You're in college to learn how to live an educated, examined life, so start simply and realize how important physical health is to your academic success.

[Reduce college stress by taking rec classes.]

5. Utilize the resources that are available to you: You don't have to be failing or on academic probation to utilize campus resources. Take your final paper to the campus writing center to have someone look it over before you submit it. After all, what do you have to lose—other than a bad grade, of course?

Check with your department to see if there are study groups forming that you can join. Utilize any free peer mentoring or tutoring that is being offered on campus. Make an appointment with your professors during office hours to have them go over the material you're studying, the thesis for your final paper, or any other material you want (and need!) to do well on during finals.

[See U.S. News's Best Colleges rankings.]

And lastly, if your residence hall is too noisy, head to the library at 3 a.m. Taking advantage your college library's 24/7 schedule during finals week doesn't make you a nerd; it makes you a wise college student who's planning well for one the most difficult weeks of the semester.