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How To Survive Exam Week

Updated on May 1, 2013

Exam week is the most important week of each college student's semester. During exam week, tensions run high. So does the caffeine.

Before you panic over your final exams, here are six great tips to keep you calm and help you prepare for your tests.

1: Start Early

Ideally, you've been learning and studying since Day One. Ideally....But then, if you'd been on your A-Game all semester, you probably aren't terribly worried about this exam, and you probably aren't reading this...

Perhaps this is the most obvious rule - yet it also tends to be the hardest to follow. Start studying as soon as you possibly can.

As a college student myself, I can understand and appreciate the undying desire to procrastinate. But the longer you put off studying, the more stressed you are going to be when you try to cram the night before, and the less information you are going to be able to retain.

As soon as your professor posts a final exam review guide, print that bad boy out and start looking over the things you don't remember.

It's okay to save a comprehensive review for the night before, but at the very least, ensure that you at least sorta' kinda' remember learning everything on the outline.

2: Exhaust Your Resources

There are so many ways to study for a test. Some people like to go over old notes. Some people find it helpful to listen to recorded lectures of the teacher explaining each chapter. Some people just need to sit down with the book and read it again.

But don't discount other resources to help you prep for the exam!

Check if your teacher or TA's offer office hours. Larger schools often have tutoring centers to help students with the most difficult subjects - and these centers are probably open for extended hours the week before exams. Don't hesitate to ask questions - your professors, TA's, and tutors will be glad to help. (Plus, they're getting paid to!)

Go back over your old tests and make sure that you understand how to get the answer of every problem. If your exam is cumulative, there's a good chance that most of the material will be similar to the content you've already been tested on.

If you're REALLY lucky, you might be able to find an old version of the test. Most teachers nowadays are wise to students who try to cheat, so they will usually change the numbers or flip-flop a few words in test questions to make a "new" exam every semester. But if you can look over a previous semester's final exam, you'll be able to get a grip on what sort of problems or questions are likely to be on your final. If you happen to have a freakish amount of luck, you'll get the rare professor who doesn't change around the problems - and voila! A+!

3: Unplug

I hate this rule. I hate it so much.

As a Twitter and Facebook junkie, I practically have a USB umbilical cord. But if, like me, you have no self-control when it comes to scrolling through your phone - you're going to have to have the discipline to turn that phone off!

It's easy to get caught up in that "I'll just check Twitter for two seconds" trap. Suddenly, it's been an hour and you're commenting on your best friend's new Facebook profile picture. What happened?

If you have the self-discipline to be able to turn off the phone and leave it alone, go for it. Some of us might have to go the extra mile and leave our phones on the other side of the room, where we can't be tempted to just turn it back on for a quick email break.

Some of us (*cough cough* ME!) might need to rely on our friends and roommates to protect us from ourselves. Have your roommate confiscate your phone if you can't seem to keep your hands off. Make a trusted friend change your Facebook password during exam week so you won't even be tempted to catch up.

Your studying will be much more effective if you can survive a week of being unplugged and actually get down to business!

4: Plan to Take a Break

Scientists claim that studying is most effective when you take a ten-minute break every hour or so to relax your mind and move your body. So for fifty full minutes, work like you're getting paid for it. And then go ahead and take a Twitter break. Stretch a little. Throw stuff at your roommate. Anything that will cut your studying stress - we won't limit you to those suggestions.

It's also important to take a break during exam week for something fun. The most caffeinated, most sleep-deprived, most miserable students will try to study non-stop, with breaks for lunch and dinner only. The really smart ones know that it's healthy to take a break to do something that couldn't even possibly be mistaken for studying.

Grab some stressed out friends and go ice skating. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Plan something relaxing to take your mind off your exam stress. Looking forward to your fun movie at the end of the day will make plowing through a few chapters of a finance textbook a lot more enjoyable.

5: Gang Up on the Test

Still freaking out about that anatomy final? Odds are, you aren't the only one. Find another student, or even a couple students, who are also panicking.

Having someone to double-check practice problems with or ask questions to can make a world of difference for a difficult subject. Don't focus on just "getting the right answer." Your goal should be to fully understand why the answer is the answer, and how you find it. Don't be intimidated if you're behind - this is your golden opportunity to hear from the students who DO get it. It's your chance to figure it out right before the test, and to get it from the perspective of someone your own age, rather than a stuffy old professor.

Also - don't fret if you seem to have a better grip on the material than the rest of your group. Teaching someone else how to conquer a linear regression can be just as good of a review for you as it will be for them.

Studying in a group is a double-edged sword, however. Make sure your group is actually studying. If you spend far more time discussing who got kicked off of Dancing With the Stars the night before or what the world will be like once Kim Kardashian has Kanye's baby than you spend discussing your notes or doing practice problems, you're in trouble. It may be time to reevaluate who is in your group and whether your studying is more effective in the group or if you go it alone.

6: Cut Yourself Some Slack

Exams are scary. We get it. We feel it. We all know what it's like to have a late night panic over a test we aren't prepared for.

But a crucial part of the exam preparation process is staying calm. It's a test. Yes, it's important. It's probably 30% of your grade. But if you don't get an A, is your life REALLY going to fall apart? In most cases - no.

Slow down, read over your notes, and do what you can. Having fits over something you just can't figure out? Stop. Focus on what you DO know. Work around that specific topic or problem. Break it into smaller pieces. Come back to it later if you need to.

Still can't figure it out? It's one problem - don't give yourself an aneurysm. (If that one problem happens to be 75% of your test material, disregard. You have full permission to panic.)

Now - unplug your laptop. Grab some coffee. Hunker down in the library. Get to work!

Good luck on your exams!


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    • Deborah-Diane profile image

      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      This is very useful information for any student. When I was in college, I always found that it helped to study for a big exam with at least one other person. We would both go over our notes and explain them to the other person. If there was a discrepancy, we had time to check it out. It kept us focused, and we could cover a lot of material in a couple of hours. Also, when we explained what we had written down to someone else, it helped to fix it in our own minds. Great hub!