Refresh for Finals

Final exams can generate a considerable degree of stress.

Many students experience stress and test anxiety as they prepare for final exams. Take time to figure out how to effectively manage your stress so that you can perform well academically.

Stress Management

Stress is your body's mental, emotional and physical response to changes and challenges in (your) daily life. Stress can be positive - such as helping you concentrate and focus - or negative - such as causing anxiety and excessive worrying.

What are the symptoms?

High levels of chronic stress can result in:
  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling low or more anxious


The next time you encounter a stressful situation, try these steps:

  • Stop what you are doing and the continuous flow of negative thoughts for a few seconds.
  • Breathe deeply, feeling your abdomen rise and fall, releasing any tension as you exhale.
  • Reflect on what is going on. Is this truly a crisis? If so, will worrying and becoming tense help to solve it? Will this matter as much in a few weeks? Can you do anything productive to make this better? Ask yourself rational questions and listen to your rational answers.
  • Choose how you are going to react in a positive manner - a choice that serves you. Realize that you have the power to choose your actions in the face of stress.

Relaxation Techniques

  • 10-Second BreathingSlow down your breathing to a 10-second cycle (i.e. six breaths per minute). Inhale for 5 seconds, then exhale for 5 seconds. Keep it up for a few minutes.
  • 5-Minute VacationClose your eyes, take a few deep breaths, visualize a relaxing vacation spot and let your imagination transport you there.
  • LOLThink of something funny that happened recently and laugh out loud.


Study Strategies

Completing final exams comfortably and confidently requires practice, preparation and effective skills, such as time management, realistic goal setting and utilizing support.

When to Study

  • Study difficult or less interesting subjects first. If your problem sets put you to sleep, do them while you're fresh. Save subjects you enjoy most for later.
  • Avoid marathon study sessions. When possible, study in shorter sessions as they tend to be more productive. If you do a long session, take a planned break every hour, work on different projects and avoid studying similar subjects back-to-back.
  • Be aware of your best time of day. Many students learn best in daylight hours, while others are most productive at night. Observe yourself and schedule study time for your most difficult subjects when you feel the most alert and productive.
  • Use waiting time. Have short study tasks ready to do during wait times (e.g. between class, in line, etc.), such as reviewing lecture notes or using 3x5 cards to quiz yourself on equations, formulas or definitions.

Where to Study

  • Use a regular study area. When you use the same place to study, your body becomes trained that it's time to study when you're there and you become able to focus and concentrate more quickly.
  • Don't get too comfortable. Avoid studying on your bed because this can lead to lower productivity while studying as well as insomnia while trying to sleep at night.
  • Set up study groups. A study group doesn't take the place of individual study but it forces you to articulate concepts and can feel more fun and productive.
  • Avoid noise distractions. Avoid your phone, the internet, TV and music while studying. While many students insist they study better with music, research actually shows that you benefit from listening to music before studying, not during.

If You Get Stuck

  • Pick one task. The satisfaction of getting one thing done often jumpstarts your motivation. Meanwhile, the project gets smaller.
  • Is this a piano? Carpenters have a saying when they bend a nail: "Well, this ain't no piano." It means perfection is not necessary. If you can make a project 95% perfect in two hours, and 100% in four hours, ask yourself whether the additional 5% improvement is worth doubling the amount of time you spend. Learn what does and doesn't need to be perfect and prioritize time accordingly. 
  • Ask your instructor for tips. Go to office hours or ask a question after class to seek clarification about the course content. In the process, you often pick up new strategies for how to understand the material in preparation for your exams.


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