That time is upon us. The time of year you long for and dread all at the same time. FINALS WEEK. It happens every semester whether you like it or not. I consider finals week to be one of the most stressful times of a student-athlete's life. I promise, there are few things once you're done with college that are stressful like finals week. And remember, this is coming from someone who went to college for 10 years (and has been done with school for awhile), so I've got some experience with this one! Given I've been (and helped student-athletes) through a few final exams, I thought it would be a good idea to throw some tips your way.
1. Know when your finals are scheduled.
It may seem like a very basic tip, but verify your final exam schedule as soon as possible. (You'd be surprised how many students I've worked with in the past 10 years that did NOT know their final exam schedule the week before finals...) Know how the schedule plays out so you can plan how you will study for all of them, especially if you have more than one final on the same day. If you have any conflicts (e.g., two are scheduled at the same time), talk to your professors ASAP!
It's also important to know if your final exam is cumulative (over all material during the semester) or a regular exam (based on only a portion of the material, likely the material covered since your last exam). The type of test dictates how you will study for the exam.
2. Make a study schedule.
Planning out your study schedule helps you figure out how you're going to study ALL of the information for ALL of the classes all at the same time. Be specific about what you will study and when. For example, if you're going to study Biology on Monday morning, your plan should look like this: from 9am to 11am I will read and take notes on Chapter 1 and 2 in my Biology textbook. This will help you determine just how much time you need to devote to all of your classes.
3. Keep a good mindset.
We know mindset plays a role in our experience of stress. This time of year I hear many student-athletes say "I'm gonna fail my final exam" or "I'm not gonna pass that class" when that's not entirely true (or helpful to think like that even if it might be true).
I'm not suggesting you'll thing overly positive thoughts like "I'm going to get a 100% on my final exam!" (unless you're COMPLETELY sure that's true). I'm suggesting you think more BALANCED thoughts. Thoughts like "I may not get an A in this class, but I'm going to do my best to get a B" or "I've studied to the best of my ability, and I'm going to do my best on my final exam." These types of thoughts help keep the stress in check (or at least don't make the stress worse). I also encourage you to not be SO chill you don't take your final exams seriously. Keep it balanced!
One other mindset tip is the "next play" mentality. This means once you're done with one exam, let it go and move onto the next exam. Much like the last play, you can't do anything about the exam you finished, so don't waste your time worrying about it. It's done. Use your energy to focus on the next exam so you can do your best (just like you'd focus on the next play).
And if you're so inclined, watch the talk below about how to make stress your friend (which is simply a mindset shift).
4. Take breaks while studying.
When I ask about study schedules, I often hear "I'm going to study all day Sunday without breaks." The reality is NONE of us can have sustained attention for 8 to 10 hours with no breaks. Taking breaks actually makes studying more efficient (helps restore attention). Make sure your breaks aren't so long that you don't go back to studying (so no epic Netflix marathons...save that for winter break). Breaks should be long enough to clear your head but short enough to keep you motivated to keep studying. A good guideline is 10 minutes of break for every 50 minutes of studying, but you can adjust that for your own personal preferences.
When you take a break, do something physical like a walk around the library or stretching. Or go outside to take a quick breath of fresh air, do some deep breathing exercises, or watch some funny videos. If you're lucky, your school may have something cool like therapy dogs at your library or DeStress event....(you'll wanna click on those links if you attend the University of North Dakota). I don't know about you, but I consider that a legit stress reliever!
5. Take breaks from social media.
I know, I know, that doesn't seem possible. I mean, who is gonna look at all the adorable dog photos while you're away?! I'm not suggesting you need to delete your accounts, but at the very least put your phone away (or turn off notifications) for a few hours. My personal favorite is leaving your phone in your dorm/apartment or in your car while you're studying. If that doesn't seem possible, only check social media during study breaks. Regardless of what you choose, getting constant social media reminders (likely about how stressed your fellow student-athletes are about finals) will do NOTHING to help you study. So buffer yourself from some of it.
6. Get sleep.
DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT pull all-nighters. Sleep deprivation will make cognitive functioning more impaired (check out my blog on 3 Tips to Stay on Top of Stress for more info) and make performing well on final exams less likely. Getting good sleep also helps our mood, which you certainly need during finals week!
There you have it. 6 quick tips for finals week. Either you got some good tips or realized you're on track and need to keep doing what you're doing. Remember, when you're done with finals week, you'll have a few weeks off from school. You may still be active in your sport season, but take advantage of the academic break and do some fun, relaxing things!
Dr. Erin Haugen is a licensed clinical psychologist and sport/performance psychologist located in Grand Forks, ND. She specializes in helping college student-athletes excel in sports and in life. She is a former basketball player, current triathlete, and loves dogs.
Disclaimer: You should consult an appropriate professional for specific advice tailored to your situation. If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, you should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.