final exams

Finals. Eww.

When I was in college, people often said things like, "You think this is hard, wait 'til you're out in the real world." Or, "Honey you ain't seen nothin'. When you're out in the real world--that's when the hard work begins."

Real world? Have you not been to college? It is scary real. Plus: in the real, real world, there are no finals.

Oh don't give me that. I know there are proposals and pitches, deadlines and due dates, but it's not the same. Really. It isn't. I know. I've been to college not once, not twice, but three times. And I've had about that many different careers. And seriously? Nothing compares to the intensity of finals. Often the only thing that got me through was telling myself, “In two weeks, it will be over; good or bad, it will end.”

There are some things that make it easier though. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from the 17 semesters I have spent preparing for finals.

  1. Start early. (Okay, it’s a little late for that now, but remember that next time.) Learn things well as you go along. Review your notes frequently. It will help keep the information fresh and will dramatically reduce your stress during finals.
  2. Do your reading when it is assigned. Haven’t done your reading? Well forget it then. You will never get all that read before the exam. So don’t try. Just skim the chapters and get a general idea of what’s there. Next time you’ll know: complete your assigned readings as you go along. (I didn’t learn to do this until grad school, so kudos to you for getting a head start.)
  3. Did your prof give you a study guide? Start with that (especially if you haven’t done your reading). I know, seems obvious, but sometimes in the frenzy to prepare, we miss the simplest solutions. Maybe you decide you’ll get to the study guide after you do all the readings you haven’t done yet or after you review your notes or whatever. Don’t do that. Start with the study guide.
  4. Take care of yourself. Keep up your exercise routine even though you think you have too much studying to do. If you must, take notes with you and read while you are on the treadmill or stairmaster. Even better: give yourself a 20-30 minute break from studying, exercise, and come back refreshed.
  5. Eat right. Carb crashes can cause serious exam fatalities. Get your protein. Drink your water. And lay off the sugar. Your brain will thank you.
  6. Sleep. No, not during the exam. But do get a decent amount of sleep. That means, you should be getting almost as much as you normally get. Of course you are going to have late nights and early mornings. Just remember that rested people recall information much better than exhausted folks.
  7. And remember: good or bad it will be over in a couple of weeks. You will make it through.

About the Author Aileen Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.

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48 comments
Kaela V. says November 19, 2012

My best tip for taking final exams goes a little along with number 6. I was told that the night before exams, make sure you get enough sleep. They also said that you should get more than usual so you'll be well rested. That doesn't work. Messing up your sleep schedule like that can make you feel bad on the day of the exam, rather than good. So, like you said make sure you get about as much sleep as you usually get so that you're well rested.

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    Laythe R. says November 20, 2012

    I agree very much with you kaela, Sleep is very impotant before taking tests. I like to try to make sure I get the eight hours of rest before taking test. I also like the eating right option too. I know a student in my reading class that always drinks coffee during class and taking test. The other night I noticed that he was very jitty and shaking alot during the test. Research has show that after drinking one cup of coffee that their can be up to a 40% loss in blood flow to the brain and your heart rate sky rockets. WOW! Thats alot I can see how concentrating during test may become harder. So even though it seems im bias towards coffee im not, I love coffee but have learned not to drink it before test.

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    Prather,Kenneth says November 20, 2012

    In my case I have to study hard,sometime over and over. Go to bed on time,so that I get lots of rest. That way I know I will be ready for the test.Starting late or not studying,just masses me up.

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    Janet Edwards says November 21, 2012

    I agree with you. I find it extremely hard to sleep under pressure though.

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Daniel G Salas says November 20, 2012

My best tip for finals is, do not let yourself get freaked out. Be calm, relax and take deep breathes when you freak out you’re your inner critic comes out and you stop thinking. Give yourself a good pep talk before the exam and just do it clear your mind and just do it.

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Paul Gaither says November 20, 2012

I never realized how important diet was to school work until I entered college. I used to cruise through High School, back in the day, on little to no sleep and a series of bad nutritional decisions. After becoming a little more aware of the effect of what I put into my body, I have come to the understanding that it is most important to eat properly before testing or any type of school related activity for that matter. Protein is most important followed by as much water as one can tolerate without the extra trips to the bathroom. One can come to the understanding of what works best. The best tip I would have is to keep snacks on my person. No high sugar snacks and water. Stay away from energy drinks or large quantities of coffee. Oh yes, BREATHE. Once this action stops, you are handcuffed. I really don't have any questions about exams. I have taken a few. You have to prepare.

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Lindsey Smathers says November 20, 2012

Tip #1, starting early, has been one that has helped me very much!

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Ashley Buchanan says November 20, 2012

The starting early tip has helped me so much throughout high school and now in college. When i start early, i finsh faster and have time to work on other assignments. This is the no stress tip!

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Chelsea Kirby says November 20, 2012

Defiantly go to bed on time, and eat right. Stay away from fast foods and sodas. You need good thinking foods like apples, peanuts, eggs, and chicken (not fried) . Now those are just a few to name, but they are called brain food for a reason! Also eating a good healthy breakfast will keep you full so your tummy isn't growling at you while you're in an exam!

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Gabrielle Clark says November 21, 2012

I would say Tip 2 is the best tip for me. I always forget to do my reading and after the test I feel like "oh my gosh I just failed that" I hear other people in the class be like "that was so easy it was from what we read." When I do read, test are so much easier.

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Janet Edwards says November 21, 2012

The most important tip I believe is helpful is all of them. I read over all notes, eat right and "try" to sleep the night before any major tests. For Biology there is a study guide that allows us to quiz ourself on the information that we should know for test time. There is a Math Lab also. That's where I do my homework and quizzies for this class. The information in both modules is very helpful for gaining confidence before the dreaded test.

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Kaitlyn McClure says November 21, 2012

I have found that cramming doesn't work. I like the third tip. Start with the study guide, and go from there. The sixth tip is also helpful. Staying up late to study has never worked out well for me. I have found I do better when I get the proper amount of sleep.

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Diane Dusseau says November 21, 2012

I think my best approach to doing well on tests is to study the material in short chunks throughout the day, throughout every day. I find that when I read the material then I take notes while I am reading and it helps so that I retain it longer. The day before the test I reread my notes, go over the things that I am not quite sure how it is and focus on the things that are vague to me or I am not sure that I understand. I look over all of the power points and rewrite the major information to help myself retain it.
I make sure that I get plenty of sleep, eat good meals and less junk food. Just like you need gas in your car to make it run, I eat quality food to make my body perform well. I make sure that I have at least 8 hours of sleep every night.

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Jessica Vella says November 21, 2012

I really like tip # 3 I think studying the study guide will refresh my memory on everything I have learnd this semester. So that i can be well prepared for the final exam, I also like tip # 5 eating right and drinking lots of water will help my brain stay in tip top shape.

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Ronnie Parks says November 22, 2012

I found that if I destress and not worry about the things I can"t change and just relax. I reread my notes and my index cards to go over the things that I am learning. If I am not sure about something then I go back to my book and reread the section. Then, I just try to apply the knowledge that I have retained. It usually works out pretty good.

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Tommy McAbee Jr says November 22, 2012

I glace back through my notes. I look at titles and subtitles and try to remember what each one was about. Then if I do not remember or I need a refresher, I read it back over. If I write something down, I will remember it forever, especially if I write it more than once. I study for around 10 to 20 minutes then I come back to it later. I read a study a year ago that said if study for a straight hour , you will only remember around 20 minutes of it..

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Roy Walden says November 24, 2012

I agree with the first one. I believe that the longer you study material before an exam, the more likely the information will be imprinted in your long term memory and short term memory!

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Demosthenes Sawyer says November 24, 2012

I think that starting early gives a student a huge advantage. Whenever a student is ahead in a class it takes a ton of pressure of the student. Also, when a student is ahead it gives them more time to exercise, sleep, and review instead of playing catch up.

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Tiffany Penland says November 24, 2012

I use both of those examples, I need a good nights rest and I have to start studying early and try to keep up with my reading assignments. I try not to freak out, but i usually do.

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Sarah Trull says November 24, 2012

I liked tip number one, to start early. If you start early the material seems to stick with you. When you try to study at the last minute it seems like you are memorizing only to forget the material after the tests are taken. Studing early takes alot of stress off of you and that will help you do better on the tests.

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Lena D. Greene says November 25, 2012

I like Tip # 3, when the professors pass out that study guide, Its almost like their passing out the answer key to ya! Makes life a little easier when you know what to expect, and can be prepared.

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Nicole Hyde says November 25, 2012

I believe that the best tips for finals is #1 and #4 because its important to take care of yourself and its important to look over all your notes and assignments before exams.

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cordie ray says November 25, 2012

I really agree with the first tip that is me all the way.

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Nick Taylor-D'Ambrosio says November 25, 2012

#5 - Eat Right.

This is the tip to which I relate best. Caffeine and sugar shorten my attention span. When I eat right I tend to have little trouble doing lots of homework or studying. However, I think complex carbs and omega fats are healthier than protein.

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Jean-Pierre says November 26, 2012

I think the best way to prepare for an exam is to study for long periods of times with breaks repeatedly. I like tip number 6; sleep. I really feel much better when I am fully rested plus its the easiest one to do.

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Elizabeth Cannariato says November 28, 2012

My best tip to take a final exam is #6. I am the kind of person who needs at least eight hours of sleep. If I have a good night of sleep, I assure that I will be able to do my best on tests.

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    Elizabeth Cannariato says November 28, 2012

    Nick, the carbs and fats might not be healthier than the proteins, but they sure do taste better!!!

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Erik Murillo says November 29, 2012

I really like these tips. I have tried some of them in the past before. I strongly agree with getting your sleep because those couple hours extra can make a big difference for you. Also studying for just hours and hours not taking breaks is a bad idea because your pretty much trying to put so much information inside without giving your brain the chance to take it in.

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Samantha Thompson says November 30, 2012

A tip i have for exams is not to cram everything in your mind the night before. leave that to a short night of study and sleep great!!! Also dont worry just believe you've got what it takes!! 😀 "to get an A you've got to say you'll see one very soon!"

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Lonnie Hager says December 1, 2012

I found this very helpful. Due to recent "unforeseen" events I have had to re-evaluate my strategy plan for all my classes and set a new plan. With that in mind I would like to add something to this list. Stress: get rid of it. No good comes from being stressed about classes, assignments, or even the finals. Just let it go and let it flow. Do what is with in your power to do your best. Stressing out over a grade will just end up being counter productive to everything that you have worked so hard for this semester. Use your resources and most of all use your instructors. They are there for a reason and will help you in every possible way that they can. With that being said, I have never faced the challenge of finals until now and due to unforeseen events recently, I have found myself 3 weeks behind in 3 classes. Talk about stressing out. It wasn't until I was able to return to school that I discovered I was stressing over something that I didn't need to. Once I let the stress of catching up go, and studying for the finals I began to accomplish more. I'm no longer 3 weeks behind and I'm 75% percent closer to being where I want to be this semester all because I let the stress go.
"Just because a river gets damned doesn't mean it stops flowing."

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Samone H. says December 3, 2012

I find tips three and four very useful for me. I have a very busy life and i often find it hard to make time for anything not involvin my son, my job or school. Getting enough rest and taking care of myself always make me feel beteer and allows my body to operate with more energy as needed. i also find study guides very helpful when it comes to studying because it gives you an idea of what to study for rather than going into study mode without a clue where to start.

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Grace Nyanga says December 12, 2012

Sleep is what I need. I tend to deprive myself of sleep. I must change and sleep more.

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brandon russell says March 13, 2013

any amount of stress taken away is a plus so thank you for trying to give more tools to help..

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James Hamlin says March 15, 2013

The points you made are obvious and designed to help. Implementing them and sticking with it will be hard but it willl be over soon.

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Chris baldwin says March 18, 2013

Stuh- dee Guy-ed..? whassat? Some kind of glorified answer key, or something? That sounds great, when will you be handing those out, ha ha?! But seriously, looks like great advice; and I have no problem with reading- well, except maybe reading too much of what wouldn't qualify as educational so much as, well, mindless krip...

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    Susie Burns says April 1, 2013

    Thank you for the great tips ! I have been struggling greatly just thinking ahead wondering how do I prepare for the testing. I have been wondering what information will I need to know to get through the final exams. This helps me put it all into perspective to move forward in confidence.
    My favorite and most challenging will be taking care of myself.

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      Aileen Lawrimore says April 2, 2013

      Taking care of oneself: the challenge for every mother! Let's work on it together, okay?

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Alejandra Garcia says April 1, 2013

My weakness the reading. Always feeling like its too much, I automatically get so overwhelmed. I end like you said on this blog waiting to the last minute to catch up right before exams and instead of entering with a broad idea of what the chapters were about I'm so confused it makes it harder while taking an exam. So I will begin to do what you recommend and just start reading all my assignments on time.

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    Aileen Lawrimore says April 2, 2013

    It's a process Alejandra. Don't be too hard on yourself! Take it one assignment at the time . . .

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John Rogers says April 7, 2013

Mrs. Lawrimore,

Your thoughts on "REAL" world Vs. school is spot on! Let me give an excerpt from my own life experiences to back up your examples...... As a Young man (after you finish reading my little blurb you'll understand why I refer to myself as a younger me...), I found myself graduating high school and in what I thought was the "REAL" world. I couldn't have been more wrong. I started my first attempt at college right out of high school and quickly found that college was not in my future( or at least not at that time). My thoughts on college was that I am failing because I don't understand or that the amount of class/home work was over baring and I just cant keep up..... WRONG AGAIN!!!! With Dropping college I set out into the "REAL" world.... Two weeks after leaving college I was bus bound to a little place called PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. home to the East Coast's U.S. Marine Bootcamp. I quickly thought to myself after being "Received" and the first 72-86 hours of no sleep, Yup this is the "REAL" world! WRONG AGAIN!!!! As any Marine with more than an enlistment will tell you, the Marines while as real of any job can be It is its own world and the easiest thing you can really ever do. Let me branch off for a moment to explain... while growing up you have your parents telling you what do, how to dress, how to act, Etc. You will find that is very much the same in the Marines. You have a schedule, you are taught the rules and regulations to fallow and the physical portion is like going to an extensive P.E. advanced Weight training class, with a teacher that simply enjoys running you in the dirt. I Enlisted in 2000, so things were pretty much train and hang out... Less than a year later and 9 days before my wedding (my wife and I have been married for 11 years now) a horrific act tore our world apart (now this is where you should see my comment of being a young man comes in). That act forced me to mature and FAST! Less than 3 months later I found myself in a country doing things up till then I had only read in books. Even after multiple Combat deployments, and a re-enlistment of another 4 years, I still feel that was mentally the easiest job. Exiting the Marines a Found out with a quickness, I was now in the "REAL" world. After 2 years me and my wife moved back to the asheville area and my daughter was born shortly after. The move was great but not so much for the degree and field of study I had attained the second shot at college. Who would have thought the weather would have been so mild? In the HVAC field that is not a good thing. Low hours forced me to make a choice to once again go back to college for a life change. All of what I have just explained provides a good back story as to why I feel you are spot on. College is a very hard life to adjust to because YOU (the student) are your scheduler, Parent, etc. It is up to you to make the right study habits, get to class, juggle your free time, work and most importantly, KEEP YOUR SANITY!!! There are still things I fall short on when it comes to certain classes and that is usually due to me taking one or two classes that require me to focus a major portion of my study on them, which hurts other classes. With that I agree totally College is way more mentally taxing than what most consider the "REAL WORLD".

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    Aileen Lawrimore says May 8, 2013

    Wow John! Thanks for this great story. This is a perspective I had not thought of before and I really appreciate your pointing it out. Thanks for the time you put into this response. It will no doubt help others who struggle with making the transition from military life to the civilian world.

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Rachel Haney says April 9, 2013

The first tip is probably the one that I need to concentrate on the most. When it comes to studying I am sometimes a procrastinator. I am usually a last minute skimmer and that usually does pretty good for me. I do need to start studying more though, I think it will stick in my brain more and when I do my skimming that will just be a last minute refresher.

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James Smith says April 19, 2013

Keeping up with my reading has been my savior. Like you said if you don't you will never get caught up. I also set aside blocks of time for studying because if I didn't nothing would ever get done. Aileen I agree that if I don't get enough sleep I can't absorb anything and feel brain dead.

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he says May 2, 2013

I was so glad to read good or bad it will be over in two weeks. This was good news to me. 🙂

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Sierra Robinson says May 13, 2013

My best tip for Finals is to just relax. I try to get all of my heavy studying done at minimum one day before the exam. I give myself a day to just relax and not stress out over things. I will review any notes quickly before the exam so I have them fresh in my mind but I have found that just simply relaxing goes a long way.

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