Managing your time and studying effectively during finals week is so important. Often finals are worth a big chunk of your grade and it's now or never to showcase that you know what you are doing. This post is meant to help guide you through the time management process during the last few weeks of college to make sure that you are giving tests the adequate amount of time in the weeks leading up to finals week. I hope that you find this post helpful as you begin to go on this finals week journey whether this is your first finals week or your last.
1. Figure Out Your Actual Finals Schedule
If you want to manage your time during finals week the first thing you need to do RIGHT NOW is check out your finals week schedule. Where are you supposed to be and when? Confirm this with your professors if you need to. Then map it out on a sheet of paper day by day, hour by hour. Once you have that information set in stone it can really help you plan the next step in the time management process.
See If Your School Has Rules For How Many Tests You Can Have A Day During Finals Week
Many schools have a limit of how many tests you can have during a single day or how many tests you can have during a 24 hour period but many students don't take advantage of this awesome opportunity to reschedule their exams. IF your school has a policy like this it seems that most schools don't want you to have three or more exams in one day which is entire possible depending on when your classes are as sometimes it feels that finals week schedules are so radically different from class schedules.
It is important that you figure out your schedule as soon as possible because some schools make you request this rescheduling in advance, which I can understand because often teachers will have to rearrange their entire schedule in order to make this happen if they don't teach multiple sections of the class you are taking. If you must reschedule it's probably a good idea to reach out early just out of common courtesy.
Many students don't reschedule because they just want to get finals over with as soon as possible, but be sure that your grades are ready to wing it if you do.
2. Tally Your grades & Figure Out Where Your Focus Needs To Be
After you figure out your schedule, you need to figure out where your priorities lay. A number of factors go into this decision and while they are mostly grade based, there are other factors as well:
What is your grade in the class?
First and foremost, base it around your grade in the class. If you have a 100 in a class, how much can (or can't) this knock your grade down. Sometimes you are blessed because your grade will be an A even if you get an F on the test. Those classes are always the best, and in order to understand that you need to calculate your grade. This grade calculator on Ben Eggleston's website has literally saved my life when I have a class who doesn't have a simple grading scheme. If your professor's grades are based on percentages this calculator will seriously be your best friend.
- Can you climb, drastically fall, or are you stuck in place? Further elaborating on the point I made earlier, you need to understand something--sometimes your grade is pretty locked in place. Often you may be stuck to get a B unless by chance you make a 117% on the final. If this is the case, figure out the lowest you can make to maintain your B and try to shoot above that score. On the other hand, sometimes it is SO easy to fall into a C or below unless you get a certain grade on a test.
- These may seem like similar stories, but think of a person who has an 86 B versus a person who has an 80 B. One person is a little more secure in the fact that messing up a little on the exam will not hurt them, and one is pulling what my Chemistry teacher in high school used to say is a "Barely B."
- These two students will study drastically different because of how comfortable they are in the skin of being a B student. The first one has had a mixture of As and Bs and feels more confident in their ability to maintain while the second student has probably had some good Bs but also some Cs and they are so close to the edge.
- The same can be said of a person with a 90 A versus a 96 A. The first student has had some As but also quite a few Bs, whereas the second one probably had almost exclusively different variations of an A. The student with a 96 will feel more confident because they have had more practice getting As than the student with a 90.
- All of this to say, think about how comfortable you are in your ability to maintain or go to the next level with your score. Also think about the weight of falling if that is a possibility. Then factor that into where you focus when studying.
Is the final cumulative?
Second, is the test cumulative? Cumulative tests are always going to be more difficult than regular tests as you need to spend time relearning some concepts from months ago in some cases. Cumulative tests tend to happen when the material builds on each other (think math and science related tests) but honestly cumulative tests can happen anytime anywhere.
If the test is cumulative that doesn't mean you have to start freaking out just yet, but it does mean you may have to prioritize the test if you don't remember a lot of the earlier material. You need time to fully immerse yourself to properly study for a cumulative test, especially if you are a student who likes to binge study (aka pulling all-nighters the night before, taking the test, and then forgetting everything once you are done.)
If you have a pretty solid grasp on the material you may not need to spend a lot of time on cumulative tests but I would personally make them a bigger priority than tests that cover recent material only.
What are your test trends?
Third, what are the trends with how you have done on previous tests? You need to go to your test scores and notice trends. What are your test scores telling you? Below I am going to walk you through a few examples to show you how I might conceptualize test trends for four fictional students.
Fictional Test Scores
- Student One: In this example, student one had three exams that got progressively worse. They started with a 90, then an 85, and then the last test score they received was an 80. This doesn't mean that the student can't score better, but the general trend has been a downward trend, so if they need more than an 80 to get the grade that they want, it would be in their best interest to prioritize the test.
- Student Two: In this example, student two has a pretty straightforward upward trajectory in their test scores. They started with a 90, then a 95, and then lastly they received a 100. It could be believed that their final score will range between a 90-100 based on prior experience. Depending on the score they have and the score they want to maintain they may not need to prioritize the test.
- Student Three: This student is pretty stagnant. They haven't made any gains or negatives over the course of their exams as they have made a 90 on all of their exams. Depending on the type of exam they have and given that they maintain similar study habits it can be seen that they will probably make a similar score. On the other hand, based on the score of 90 it can be seen that this student is potentially a borderline "Barely A" student (but we can't tell for sure because we don't know what they got on other assignments.) If they are a borderline student they may still want to prioritize the test. Obviously this would probably be a different situation if the student had received 96 As on all previous tests.
- Student Four: This student is a doozy. They did well on the first and second tests getting a 90 and 100 respectively, but then test three threw them for a loop and they got a 85. It would be in their best interest to reflect on why their last score was so low (Did they have other projects that week? Did they grow too confident in their testing abilities based on the upward trend? Did they study inefficiently?) Based on the answers to that reflection students in this situation should assess how seriously they take the final exam so they can make sure that get the grade they want.
When are your tests?
Now, let's go back to the schedule we made in step one. This is not the end all be all of how you should study (because we are talking about other factors obviously.) You can easily study in order of test date, but in order to do that you need to feel really secure in all your test scores. It is important to understand when your tests are though.
For example, if your hardest test is on the last day of finals week, you may not have to put all your effort and energy into that test right away, but it does need to be on your mind throughout the week. Understanding when your tests are will help you pace yourself and study effectively during finals week.
What is the layout of the test?
You must also think about what they layout of the test is.
- Is the test multiple choice, short answer, essay, a mixture of all those?
- What test methods do you do best? Do you flourish on essay test or do better with fill in the blank?
- How many questions are on the test?
- Does the timing to take the test feel right or rushed?
Once you think about these questions at length you will be able to determine your thoughts about taking the test and how difficult it will or won't be for you. If you feel good about how many questions are on the test and you do well with the testing methods you may not need to prioritize the test. However if the timing for the test or the test method doesn't work well with you putting in extra studying time may help you feel more at ease so you may want to prioritize studying for the test.
Once you have ALL of these questions thought out remember the following statement:
Prioritization doesn't mean don't study
Prioritization means that you should study the tests in order of importance, but it never means don't study for a test. There will be certain tests that you barely have to study for, but you should do the minimal amount of studying necessary to feel good about the test if possible. You need to make sure you feel comfortable on test day and that you don't squander an opportunity for a particular grade. Prioritize how much time you spend studying for each test as that is important, but always study at least a little bit.
3. Start early, end early
All-nighters are not okay. The best advice I can give to you is to start early so you can end early. Start studying for your tests way before finals week so that you can break study sessions into reasonable chunks and so that you don't have to pull as many all-nighters. I get that sometimes it's necessary, but your goal should be to minimize them as much as possible. A long while ago I discussed the dangers of all-nighters and why I don't like them. Follow those thoughts, and plan better study schedules.
When you study longer you can cut out a lot of sleepless nights which would be good for your overall health during finals week. Don't stress out, instead, make sure you have an adequate study plan that breaks your studying down.
4. Manage your time using the pomodoro technique
Y'all already know how obsessed I am with the Pomodoro Technique. I explain this technique more in this blog post, but this method of studying really helps me stay focused and power through tasks without getting too distracted. I love this because it has small and larger breaks built in so you aren't studying for hours on end. The act of taking a break really helps because it allows you to take some time away, evaluate your previous study session, and refocus your brain for a new chunk of time. If you don't have that constant ring back to reality it can be easy to go hours "studying" and not actually accomplishing anything.
I am not saying that the Pomodoro Technique will be the answer to all your studying prayers, but I encourage you to test it out and see if it could be the best study method for you.
5. Remember to take actual breaks
Since the Pomodoro Technique includes so many "breaks" it can be easy to skip over the time that you actually need to yourself each day. Yes, the five minute short breaks and 25 minute long breaks are awesome, but they are not a break that you can really grab on to. Take an actual break and de-stress for a bit:
- Take a nap
- Read a book
- Go for a walk
- Cook a healthy meal
- Go to the movies
Why is this important to time management? Taking care of yourself during finals week is of the utmost importance. I know it seems counter productive to take a few hours off, but this is a crucial step. You can't do anything if you break down during finals week due to stress. All your careful planning and methodical organizing will be for naught if you end up so sick you can't get out of bed. Taking the time to recharge your thinking cap is so important so that you can survive finals week.
Finals week isn't an easy task. You are literally doing multiple important tasks in all your classes whether that is writing a paper or taking a huge final test. Think of this as the Boss Battle in a video game--you want to make sure you have adequate energy before you go into the final battle.
6. Keep a finals pack nearby
When you are studying for finals, often times studying gets the best of you and you may be studying for a test up until the last minute. Then, the last minute turns into way too close to the time to take your test and you aren't ready to go just yet. This is why you should have a just in case finals pack ready and by the door. What are some things you should consider putting into your finals pack?
- Scantrons (if your teacher doesn't provide them)
- A small calculator if you are taking a math class (a small calculator is better than no calculator and being late) and depending on how you store your finals pack, a regular calculator
- #2 pencils
- A couple sheets of scratch or ruled paper
- Snack crackers or 100 calorie snack packs (in case you get hungry)
You can probably fit all of these items inside a ziplock bag or even a tiny tote bag. Have these items packed in case you are running late. Sometimes you get a crappy final exam time (who thought of finals at 8 AM?) or you just are too busy studying to remember the time so having this bag is a lifesaver.
7. Take a deep breath and slay
Before your test remember to breathe and slay. You got this. You have prepared your heart out and I believe in your hustle. When I want to remind myself of something, I make an inspirational wallpaper. Lucky for you, I got ya covered so you don't have to spend your time procrastinating like I did. Instead, click the picture below and you will be taken to a Dropbox folder where you can download all of my awesome Take A Deep Breath And Slay wallpapers. You can change them out each day of finals week--or you can just use the one you like the most. You can also pick which one(s) you want to download in case you don't want them all.