Finals week can be an absolute mess, especially when you’re trying to write several papers, study for multiple exams and pack up your belongings at the same time. But did you know that there are ways to get ready for finals even if you’re a month or two away from that terrifying time? Her Campus talked to collegiettes about their best practices for getting ready for finals—even in the month of March!
1. Talk to your professors if you need special accommodations
It may seem obvious, but it’s crucial to look at your academic calendar before it’s actually finals week! Since professors give out syllabi at the beginning of the semester, you should already have the due dates for most, if not all, of your final assignments. Start looking at what will be your most stressful points during finals week. Do you have three papers due in a 24-hour period? Do you have two finals scheduled at the same time? Now is the time to start looking at your options!
Megan Lucas, a junior at Wesleyan University, made the mistake of not looking over her calendar last semester, and it led to her most stressful finals week ever. “I really procrastinated seeing when my assignments were due, and when I made the realization that all four of my final papers needed to be turned in on either Thursday night or Friday morning, it was already too late to make alternative arrangements,” she says. “Many of my professors had told us earlier in the semester to contact them at least one week in advance to ask for paper extensions, and I felt so stupid for not taking the time to see if I needed these arrangements.”
Because of her experience, Megan encourages collegiettes to take time to map out what their last couple weeks of classes look like. “It doesn’t take much time to see how many papers and exams you have and when they’re due over the last two or three weeks of class,” she says. “Doing so will save you from having to pull two all-nighters fueled on stale coffee and Easy Mac!”
To avoid having a situation similar to Megan’s, start talking to your professors at least a couple of weeks in advance if you notice some conflicts in your schedule. Professors typically provide instructions for accommodating students in their syllabi, so be sure to consult that document first. Megan also recommends chatting with a professor during his or her office hours so that he or she will be able to write down your arrangements on the spot instead of rushing off after class.
Additionally, check with an administrator or professor to see if your college has any formal processes you need to go through to get a paper extension or an exam time change. It’s better to do this as far in advance as possible instead of getting frustrated during finals week!
2. Come up with study strategies and start your study guides early
Do you know off the top of your head how exactly you’re going to study for each of your classes or how you’re going to tackle each of your papers? If not, writing down your plan of attack should be something you do ahead of time in March before the finals week stress sets in! Make sure you nail down your study habits and strategies way before your exams.
Julie*, a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, tried to wing it during her first semester of college and felt totally lost in the process. “I hadn’t thought about how I was going to study for all the different exams I had,” she says. “Instead, I panicked, kind of just read everything over once or twice and went into all of my exams feeling completely unprepared and stressed.” Julie felt like her finals week was out of her control, and her grades suffered.
Following that experience, Julie decided she needed to save herself that same stress during her second semester in school. She researched different study strategies and talked to both her professors and a dean about how to better go about preparing for her exams. “I created study ‘road maps’ in late March and during the first couple weeks of April,” she says. “These included outlines of all the materials I’d learned thus far, schedules for how I was going to study everything and contact information for professors, TAs and tutors in case I had any questions.” Julie’s second-semester finals week went way better than her first one!
Want to get prepared like Julie? Talk to professors in their office hours about their suggestions for studying for their exams or tackling their papers. Julie also recommends talking to other students who’ve taken your classes in the past to see if they can offer any insights you can’t find anywhere else. How did they prepare for those exams? What information is the professor more likely to test you on? These are things to figure out before finals week to make your study time more effective and less stressful!
In addition for coming up with a plan for her finals preparation, Julie also started working on study guides for her exams even though it was only late March. “Some professors were nice enough to let me know what to start studying a month and a half before the final,” she says. “By the time finals week rolled around, I had most of my study guides complete!”
Julie also started organizing her notes and compiling her own study guides and outlines for her other classes. “I scribble a lot of stuff down in classes, and it was so nice to go back over my notes and decipher everything I’d written so far over the course of the semester,” she says. “It’s much easier to see what you have questions on when it’s March than when it’s the night before an exam!”
3. Find your study spaces well in advance
If you like a particular environment to study in, figure out where those spaces are or reserve them (if you need to)! What kinds of places do you work best in? Are there particular accommodations you need? For example, do you need an absolutely silent space like a library or empty classroom, or are you more productive with the ambient noise in cafes and coffeehouses? It’s better to get your study space in order now instead of waiting until the last second.
“During my freshman year, I found empty classrooms to do work in throughout the semester and just assumed that they’d be there during finals week,” Megan says. “However, little did I know that so many students like to use these classrooms when exams roll around, and since rooms have to be reserved through a request system, I kept getting booted out of classrooms by people who’d claimed them weeks ago.” Megan felt stressed about having her study environment change right before the most important time in the semester.
Not sure where your favorite places to study are? Use the rest of the semester to figure it out! It’s better to go into finals week with a plan instead of being stressed and unsure of how your week will work out.
It’s also a great time to reserve rooms if you have to. Colleges have different processes for reserving spaces (some make you go through your online student portal, others make you sign up for a time slot in person), so ask your peers, academics deans or professors to see how to reserve a room if you haven’t before!
4. Don’t forget to factor in all of the non-academic work you have to do
It’s so easy to get caught up in the finals week mayhem that you forget all of the other tasks you have to complete during your last week of school, like cleaning out your dorm or apartment. Packing seems simple; don’t you just throw everything into boxes and leave? But when you’re exhausted and stressed from exams and papers, trying to figure out how to pack everything up can be a gigantic hassle.
Jessica Pearl, a junior at the University of Florida, learned how difficult packing at the last second is the hard way her freshman year. “I had to move out less than 24 hours after my last two exams, and I just sort of assumed that I’d box everything up during that time,” she says. “Little did I know, packing is the biggest nightmare ever! I was extremely sleep deprived, hungry and fatigued, all while trying to pack a grand total of 11 boxes.”
When sophomore year rolled around, Jessica knew better. She started slowly packing up her room during the last week of March, putting away non-essential items that she never used in suitcases and boxes under her bed. “By the time finals week rolled around, I had around 85 percent of my room packed up,” she says. “I only left out clothes, toiletries and other small items I used on a daily basis, like my water bottle and hand sanitizer.” Jessica’s parents also visited her a couple weeks before school ended, so she had them bring some of her boxes home with them.
If you don’t live close to your campus, start looking at storage options for the summer. Many storage businesses send information to students via snail mail or email, but talking to the residential life staff, your RA or older students also helps (since they’ve gone through the process of summer storage before). Lots of colleges also provide information on these storage companies in their student centers or residential life offices, so those are definitely good places to check out!
If you don’t want to spend big bucks on these services, try storing items with friends or people in your dorm. The sooner you get your storage and moving situation set up, the less stressed you’ll be come finals week!
The end of the school year can either be incredibly stressful or totally doable if you start planning early. Follow these steps and keep that last-minute exam cramming to a minimum this spring!
*Name has been changed.