Select Page

Post University Blog

Every college term culminates in finals week, in most cases this ends up in an exam, project, or presentation where you demonstrate what you have learned over the last several months. Framed as an opportunity, finals can be exciting. You could emerge with a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

Planning makes all the difference. If you enter finals week feeling organized and prepared, there is no reason you cannot ace your exams and end the semester on a high note, all while keeping your stress levels manageable. If, however, your approach to finals is haphazard, you will quickly find yourself overwhelmed. To help you keep the chaos to a minimum, we have outlined several important strategies for finals week.

The Importance of Finals Week

From the student’s perspective, finals might seem needlessly stressful. In reality, they serve an important function: While preparing for and taking these exams, you have a unique chance to synthesize a variety of concepts covered throughout the semester and emerge with lasting takeaways that will remain impactful for years to come.

Finals are also important because they provide powerful preparation for future. A final is a high-stakes event where students must put their knowledge to the test, just like real-world instances where these students will need to do so during their careers. For example, many students who take finals will also eventually need to take standardized tests such as the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), or industry-specific certification exams. These tests feel a lot less nerve-wracking after completing dozens of final exams.

How Finals Showcase Your Learning

The problem with finals is that many people frame them as an innately stressful and burdensome experience rather than considering the valuable opportunities these exams provide. Above all else, finals are meant to showcase learning. This is the easiest way to demonstrate the breadth of concepts you have mastered and the many skills you have developed along the way.

Grab a copy of the final exam at the beginning of the semester, and chances are, you will not perform well. A few short months later, however, you will have a newfound expertise in a subject that once seemed out of reach. There is no better way to show off this progression than by acing your final exams.

Preparing Yourself for the Final Week

The process of preparing for finals begins long before the official week arrives. In fact, a proactive mindset should play into your study efforts from the very moment you receive each syllabus. You will need several months to academically, emotionally, and even physically prepare for this experience. This means creating plenty of reminders throughout the semester, plus regular check-ins to verify your progress.

Study Strategies for Success

Throughout each semester, you will want to keep final exams top of mind as you complete assigned readings, participate in projects, and attend classes. With each learning experience and concept covered, consider: Do you feel as if you could correctly answer related questions if they appeared in a final exam? Your ability to do so will largely depend on how you study.

The goal should be for maximum retention of subject material, as opposed to simply learning concepts long enough to complete the next quiz or assignment. Retention is best accomplished by implementing these essential study strategies:

Avoid Procrastination

If you take one recommendation from this guide to heart, it is the need to avoid procrastination at all costs. No matter how much you cram the night or even the week before a big exam, you cannot possibly learn enough to compensate for a semester of lollygagging.

Learning is best accomplished at a steady pace, complete with plenty of reviewing along the way to help you cement important concepts. Prone to procrastination? Account for this tendency with full-semester finals prep by scheduling self-imposed exams throughout, replete with rewards when you complete them.

Get Some Sleep

Avoid all-nighters (of the partying or studying variety). Sleep is vital to information retention, and not only do all-night cram sessions fail to deliver lasting insights, but they also could actively hinder your performance during finals week. Sleep is important throughout the semester, and if you find that you are falling behind because your schedule is so packed, it may be time to scale back so you can get the rest your body so desperately needs.

Find a Good Study Space

Where you study is just as impactful as when and how often, so seek out a space that helps you feel focused and motivated. For many students, the library is a natural fit, as it provides a wealth of learning resources plus a quiet, purposeful environment. Others thrive in the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop, especially when participating in study groups.

You also need a space that is entirely your own. How you approach this will depend on your current living situation, but at minimum, set up a desk designated to your study efforts. This should be completely clutter-free to limit the potential for distractions. If you have roommates, you may need to coordinate to ensure that your space is quiet when you need to focus.

Have a Study Playlist

Silence is not necessary while studying, and depending on where you live or how loud your roommates or family members are; a little music might actually help you focus. It is important to choose the right music, as some songs are simply too distracting.

Classical music has long been the go-to for studying, but neuroscientists now suggest that this is not always the most effective. Rather, familiar music is preferable, especially if it motivates you to keep studying when you would rather be elsewhere.

Create Practice Test Questions

Trusted learning frameworks bring much-needed structure to your study sessions. There are many study methods worth implementing, but most emphasize a central strategy: developing your questions based on the material you have covered and then answering them as you would in a real exam. Consider giving these popular solutions a try:

  • SQ3R. This acronym emphasizes a few key processes from any study session: survey, question, read, recite, and review. Under this approach, each study session will begin with a glance at the textbook or your notes from lecture, followed by drafting questions related to the material covered. Read the chapter, recite your questions, and finally, review thoroughly. A similar method known as PQ4R (preview, question, read, reflect, recite, and review) is also worth trying.
  • Feynman Technique. Drawing on the unique power of teaching as a vehicle for learning, the Feynman Technique involves pretending to teach another student about a new concept in simple terms. Then, the questions begin: Could any aspects of your explanation be improved? If so, you can return to the material and review it more thoroughly.

Study in Groups

Struggling to stay motivated? Look to study groups for accountability and motivation. This is a key tactic for avoiding procrastination: If you are part of a group that meets regularly, you will feel obligated to show up and study.

As with personal studying, it may help to build structure into your meetups. Several of the strategies outlined above can be useful, with many groups relying on the Feynman Technique. Mind mapping can also be a fun and insightful group activity. Under this visual organization system, a single word occupies the center of the page. This should spark thoughts of related keywords or concepts, which can branch out from the central theme.

Take Breaks

If you have ever had the experience of getting in the zone while studying, you know just how satisfying it can be to find your flow. You still need breaks, however, as eye strain and mental fatigue can take their toll. Productivity app DeskTime provides powerful insight into the power of breaks, revealing that the most productive users work for 52 minutes before taking a 17-minute break. Do not settle for scrolling social media; a short stretch break or walk is far more effective.

Making the Most of Your Free Week

Some colleges provide a fully unscheduled week between the last day of classes and the first day of finals. Consider this week yours to spend as you see fit. For many students, this means dedicating long hours to final exam prep or completing final projects or papers so they can be submitted on time. Ideally, you will emerge from this week off feeling prepared and well-rested. Set aside at least a few hours for activities you enjoy and get plenty of rest.

How to Balance Rest and Revision

While it is standard practice for students to dedicate dozens of hours to studying during their free week, this is also a valuable opportunity to recharge after a long semester. Ideally, you will have paced yourself well enough over the last few months to allow for a slower, more methodical approach to studying for final exams. Set aside at least a few hours for activities you enjoy, and take this opportunity to boost your sleep hygiene before finals week begins.

Dealing With Multiple Exams in a Single Day

Chances are, you will eventually face multiple finals on the same day. This is not as problematic as it may initially seem, but you will need to be proactive with studying throughout the semester, especially during your rest week. Remember: You should not be cramming the day before either exam anyway.

Structure your study schedule as you would in the leadup to single exam days, but make an important switch the day before the actual exams by completing a light review of necessary topics within each course and then focusing on getting the physical and mental rest you need. This means implementing an effective wind-down routine so you can get a great night’s sleep.

On the day of the exams, meditate, eat a nutritious breakfast, and get a few minutes of exercise. Focus on one exam at a time, just as you would if they were scheduled for separate days. In between the exams, skip the cramming and, instead, treat yourself to a short stroll, an episode of your favorite show, or even a nap. Practice deep breathing whenever you feel overwhelmed. You can do this.

Effective Time Management Techniques

Ideally, you will have made efforts to develop your time management skills throughout the semester. Now, these qualities need to go into overdrive. Begin the planning process by mapping out your big week. Create a color-coded weekly calendar that reveals your exam schedule and how you will spend the hours leading up to each exam. Do not forget to schedule time for rest.

Next, take a closer look at the last two weeks before finals, and again, schedule a manageable, procrastination-free study routine that allows you to dedicate enough (but not too much) time to each course. Prioritize your courses to determine which require the most attention. Set goals for each study session, and do not be afraid to reward yourself if you meet them.

What if You Cannot Attend a Final Exam?

What happens if unforeseen conflicts prevent you from taking your final exam on the scheduled date? While it is imperative that you make every effort to attend, situations beyond your control, such as severe illness, emergencies, or a death in the family, may prevent you from showing up.

Depending on the situation, it may be possible to complete the final requirements online. For some virtual and even hybrid classes, this is the norm. Otherwise, contact your professor as soon as possible to determine whether you can reschedule the exam.

Does Your University Allow Rescheduling of Exams?

Most colleges and universities are strict about final exam scheduling, only offering exceptions in the most urgent or severe circumstances. If you know in advance that you will not be able to attend an exam for reasons approved by your college, it may be possible to complete your exams before the usual finals week. Such arrangements are rare, so you should plan to be present for the scheduled exams. When in doubt, check your college’s official finals policy.

Make the Most of Finals Week at Post

At Post University, we are committed to helping you meet your goals. This means providing plenty of support as you prepare for finals. Look to the Center for Academic Success for guidance throughout the semester.

Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!