A Guide to Finals (Put Down Your Coffee!)

Stacey Kaliabakos ‘23

Opinions Editor

Photo provided by Stacey Kaliabakos
Tired college student

Not many parts of our lives as students are as stressful, worrisome, and decisive as final exams. Most of the time, finals serve as a benchmark for all that we have learned throughout the semester and require a lot of preparation. Although most people, especially at the College of the Holy Cross, think that final exams and papers need to consume their lives, often requiring all-nighters during the last weeks of the semester, I believe that there are ways for finals to not be as stressful as one may fear. It’s easier said than done, but the key to less panic and stress is trying to minimize unproductive habits that make you unable to focus properly. Here are some friendly suggestions that have helped me throughout the past five semesters of finals here at Holy Cross:

  1. Don’t procrastinate! This is a tough one. Studies (or at least my conversations with everyone I know on campus) have shown that procrastination is a very natural part of life and sort of encompasses the college experience. Some students procrastinate more than others, lamenting over endless all-nighters and having to spend their last dining dollars on caffeinated drinks from Cool Beans and The Lobby Shop. Unfortunately, procrastination often leads students into panic mode and ultimately to worse grades on final exams and papers. Therefore, it is necessary to start planning ahead for finals earlier in the semester. Information from the early weeks of a course is just as important as what is being taught towards the end, but it is most likely to be forgotten when finals come around. Putting in some effort at the beginning of the semester, like beginning a study guide or reviewing your notes from previous classes, means less stress as finals draw near. Also, brainstorming for papers and creating an outline as soon as you get your prompt is very helpful. That way, you’ll have something to start off from when you sit down to actually write your paper. This method is called cognitive reinforcement and is truly helpful in limiting the negative consequences of procrastination. 
  1. Find a place to study! For me, that place is the classics library in Fenwick, but many of my friends like to study in Rehm, Cool Beans, Dinand, or even in their room. Your study environment is vital to being prepared for your exams and to be able to focus on assignments. If you are easily distracted, it may not be best to study in a noisy setting like Cool Beans or Crossroads. I have found that having a designated quiet study spot really puts me in the “grindset,” if you know what I mean. 
  1. Make a study playlist! Listening to the right music can make for an enjoyable and effective study session. There are tons of studies out there that prove that listening to music, especially classical music, is helpful for focus and productivity, and also lessens anxiety levels. Personally, I really like to listen to music from other countries when I study: this semester, I have listened to a lot of Japanese jazz, for example. If you don’t have the time to make your own playlist, there are thousands of options on Spotify and YouTube to try out.
  1. Take advantage of the resources at your disposal. If your professor is offering a study session in preparation for an exam, go to it armed with questions and a notebook. If your professor is extending their office hours, go visit them! I have found that going to office hours has been beneficial in a million ways, especially when I have a paper due. If you bring in a draft — even if it’s not fully completed — most professors are willing to sit down with you and help organize your thoughts and may even provide you with feedback and edits on the parts of your essay that are already written. I also would recommend making an appointment with the Writer’s Workshop. This can sometimes get you extra credit in certain classes, but it is also just great to have another pair of eyes look over your paper to catch any grammar or spelling errors. And sometimes you can make a friend while editing your essay!
  1. While all these tips should be helpful for doing well during finals, none of these can work their best if you don’t get enough sleep. Sleep is directly correlated with memory: sleep enhances your brain’s ability to concentrate and has an active role in solidifying your memories, which helps when taking an exam. This circles back to the issue of procrastination, which should be avoided when possible. Although an all-nighter might help you turn in that essay by 10 a.m., it will really be detrimental to your health in the long run. Sometimes, it’s important to take a step back and remember that your mental health matters. It may be best to ask for the occasional extension or talk to your professor when you’re feeling so overwhelmed that it seems necessary to sacrifice much-needed sleep.

I am wishing all my fellow Holy Cross students a lot of luck during this stressful time! The semester’s so close to being over and it’s almost time to relax with friends and family this summer.

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