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Top 10 Techniques to Help You Survive Finals

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With finals just around the corner, the end of the semester can be a very stressful time. But never fear! By following these ten easy tips, you can enjoy the end of your term and still ace your exams.


  1. Start early and space it out. Lots of students spend an inordinate amount of time studying for their first final, only to realize when it’s over that they’ve barely started reviewing for the rest of their classes. To avoid this situation, study for all your finals a little each day. Draw up a schedule for yourself, and whenever you crack open a book, set a time for when you have to move on to the next subject.
  2. Eat lots of brain food. Your brain works overtime during finals, so make sure you feed it right! Foods such as salmon, blueberries, leafy greens, and legumes are good for both your body and your mind. If your tests are long and there’s no rule against food in the classroom, bring some easy-to-eat snacks—such as apples, cheese, nuts, and raisins—to prevent your brain from conking out in the middle of an exam.
  3. Don’t stop exercising. It can be tempting to skip your work-outs with finals on the way, but this is actually the worst time to become sedentary. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain and has been shown to improve students’ academic performance. Yoga is especially good for managing the stress of finals.
  4. Engage in active studying. To study quickly and efficiently, don’t just keep reading your books and notes over and over again. Instead, engage your mind by asking yourself questions as you read, saying things in your own words, explaining concepts to other people, drawing things out, answering practice problems, and making review sheets.
  5. Have something to look forward to while you’re studying. Keep yourself motivated by planning to reward yourself after the exam. This is totally up to you—it could be going to a party, indulging in a decadent dessert, watching some mindless TV, and so on—but it should be something specific.
  6. Get enough sleep. Many students sacrifice sleep to study for finals, but they’re not doing themselves any favors. Your brain processes and absorbs information while you sleep, so make sure you get 7 to 9 hours a night for optimal grades.
  7. Study the right materials. For every final, make sure you know if it’s cumulative or not, what topics will be covered, what the format will be, and so on. Ask your teacher if you’re not sure. Make sure you go over your syllabus and your notes from the first day of class, as these often contain useful information about the final. Pay special attention to homework, exams from earlier in the semester, and practice exams, as your final is bound to contain lots of similarities.
  8. Control your physical environment when you study. Research shows that plants, natural light, and moderately cool temperature can improve concentration. People also retain more information when they switch up where they study rather than spend all their time in one place, so don’t lock yourself in your room or live in the library.
  9. Take lots of breaks. To keep your brain on track, try studying in twenty or thirty minute bursts, interspersed with five-minute breaks.
  10. Find ways to de-stress. Make sure you take part in some stress-busting activities such as talking to friends, watching TV, taking walks, and so on. Some schools offer free massages or even pet therapy to relieve anxious students.

Learn more helpful study tips and techniques to raise your grades with The Secrets of Top Students by Stefanie Weisman.


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Stefanie Weisman became the valedictorian of Stuyvesant High School in 1999 and went on to study history at Columbia University. She was awarded the Albert Asher Green Prize for having the highest GPA in her class. After working for several years in corporate America, she got her M.A. in the history of art and archaeology. She was a Craig Hugh Smyth fellow at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. Around this time, Weisman developed an interest in technology and returned to Columbia to get a B.S. in computer science.

Weisman is the author of The Secrets of Top Students.