Court Street Stories: Finals study tips

Dear college freshmen,

So, you’re new – new to this whole college atmosphere, new to the concept of mid-terms and final exam papers counting for your entire semester grade. That’s a lot of pressure riding on just a few days of class and a handful of examinations.

But have no fear! I, as your trusted sophomore guide, will lead to the promised land of passed classes and leave you on your way to conquer the rest of your academic career with A’s and B’s galore*. These finals study tips may help ease your pain.

1. Go to class. 

Well, it’s a little too late now to heed this advice … but you should’ve known this was coming! The best way to feel prepared is to attend all of the class discussions and be present to ask questions. No one’s going to answer your Week 2 questions during Week 15. #sorrynotsorry

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2. Take notes (especially notes not found on the PowerPoints).

I figured this tip out during one week of a really long lecture in Political Science 101. The professor was talking a mile a minute, and — try as I might — my left hand just couldn’t keep up with all the babble. But then, I started to think about it. All of the PowerPoint notes were on Blackboard; therefore, if I missed a note that was already on the screen, I could just copy it down later. I started to write down only the points NOT on the screen — the points that were just part of his babble — and that strategy has worked perfectly ever since. You see, it’s the babbling voice that’s going to be making the final exam, NOT the PowerPoint.

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3. Get plenty of sleep (like, at least 7 hours EVERY night).

I know, I know. You want to go out with your friends every night because you are an independent young woman (like me!) with no parents hovering over you, and the opportunity presents itself, and you’ve had a long day, blah blah blah. I don’t care if you’re the President of the United States, you and every other human being on this planet need a decent amount of sleep. And decent does not equate to 2.5 hours, with a nap in the afternoon, on a daily basis. That’s just a basic AP Psychology fact of life, so embrace it and sleep when the sun goes down (what a novel idea).

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4. Eat a breakfast, why don’t you. 

I’m always so puzzled at the people who proudly announce: “I’m just not a breakfast person.” That’s like saying, “Yeah, there’s this thing called AIR, and – you know? – I’m just not a fan of it. I’m choosing not to breathe today.” Um, sorry? Breakfast, or any kind of food (not just coffee), in the morning is what helps start your metabolism, helps you think clearly for the rest of the day. If you’re sitting in an exam and all you can fantasize about is what you’re having for lunch … sorry, you’re never going to answer those 58 multiple choice questions to the best of your ability. Maybe, if you had some granola or a pancake (or two), you just might think clearly enough to finish the test without salivating for a sandwich.

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5. Be organized. 

This skill of organization comes in handy during the week beforefinals, when you’re looking for all of your notes throughout the entire semester and starting to study. It doesn’t help much if your notes on the Revolutionary War for History are mixed in with your notes on the Argentine Tango for Dance class. I like to keep a separate two-pocket folder for every class, and keep all my like-minded notes in distinct notebooks (example: all my Journalism class notes are stored together, while I have a separate notebook for Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies). Color coding materials is also super helpful for me. I try and pair up the color of the notebook with the color of the folder (is that too extreme?). Whatever your method, make sure you stick with the same organizational pattern throughout the semester. You’ll be thanking yourself, come finals week.

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6. PANIC! (just kidding, don’t panic) 

Relax. If you’ve been going to class, taken copious notes, slept a decent amount, always eat your breakfast, and are organized to the max — what do you have to worry about? The people who stress and freak over finals are usually ill-prepared. But you’re not! You’ve listened to my advice and are ready to knock these finals out of the park! (I see you there, baseball reference.) But, if you start to get nervous in the examination — and you’ve done all that you can do to prepare for the test — take a deep breath. Reflect on all that you’ve done to prepare up until this moment of anxiety, close your eyes, and say to yourself: I’ve done all I can do. I’ve done the best that I can. Now, I will prove that I am ready. Framing it like this has always helped me calm down and perform to the best of my ability. And really, that’s all that anyone is asking you to do.

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(Don’t be like this minion.)

7. Treat yo self. 

I always forget this part about finals week. I’ve just worked my butt off, trying to wrap up an entire semester of classes, projects, exams, and team peer evaluations (just, ew) that I get burned out pretty quickly if I don’t take an evening for myself, every once in a while. I like to practice yoga, or go to the gym, as my way of “treating myself” for a week of hard work — and finals week is no exception. If you feel confident about your exam, go out and celebrate! Buy some ice cream, or buy that book you wanted to get from Barnes and Noble (but you’ve been too cheap to press “Place Order”). It’s all part of that healthy balance of commitment to school and self-preservation.

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8. Don’t study all night. 

Ever seen those Snapchats from your peers who are studying at the library, all the way up until 5 in the morning? Tempting, right? Seems like they’re really dedicated to their studies, right? But … remember that other point I made about sleep? I always feel in a better state of mind when I sleep more than I study in one night (excluding a day’s worth of classes). That’s because I’ve spent all semester learning, finals week is just me regurgitating all the information I’ve learned (a lovely mental picture you got right there, me spitting up facts about lede blocks and nut grafs, I’m sure). So don’t think 12 hours in a library will make you more intelligent. If you haven’t taken your studies seriously up until the moment of the exam, you’re (just a little) screwed — no matter how long you sit in the company of scholarly texts during finals week.

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9. Know that this is not the end. 

So, let’s say all my tips can’t save you from a failing grade on your final exam. So what? Sometimes, things just happen, and we have to be humble enough to let them go. Maybe, you just weren’t ready to take on that Physics exam. Maybe, that class was a little bit more challenging than you expected. Whatever it was, it’s over. There’s nothing that can change your grade, once the semester ends. Breathe; be humble; and move on. But take it as a lesson: What have you learned from this class? What can you do better next semester? College, like life, has a learning curve. So, don’t beat yourself up over one missed opportunity. Happens to the best of us. Stay strong, stay committed, and come back even stronger next year — a whole lot wiser than last year.

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*Satisfaction not guaranteed. I am not liable for any of your course grades, you do that yourself.

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This story also appears on Court Street Stories 

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