McAdvice: How to (actually) survive finals

Image by Kyle Parks.

Finals week is almost among us once again. This week is rightfully dreaded by students – even those of us who stay on top of tasks throughout the semester can expect sleep depravation, extreme busyness and greatly heightened stress levels.

But it doesn’t have to be so bad. There are ways to prevent this week from being harder than it has to be while still emerging successful.

The following pieces of advice have been tremendously helpful to me (and hopefully you):

Make an action plan.

When you know everything that’s due and what times your exams are, it is best to decide what to work on and when. If you’re anything like me, it is nearly impossible to multitask, so essays and other assignments will need to be broken into portions.

Be realistic.

Be realistic when estimating how much time each step will take, and assume you’ll take longer than you’d prefer to – at the very least, you can be pleasantly surprised by being ahead of schedule. If possible, studying should not be all done at once, and it is often best to begin a few days before an exam. In your action plan, also take into consideration that not studying for an exam until the day before is sometimes the best option based on time constraints. (Also, I attribute last minute cramming to several exam successes. Just saying). 

No all-nighters.

Please don’t do this to yourself. This should be a last resort. While these affect everyone differently, staying up all night will leave you exhausted and confused for days, something already widely experienced even among the more well-rested during finals. From my experience, it is much better to find a good stopping point during the night and sleep for a couple of hours before finishing up an assignment and/or studying. Oftentimes, a brief rest can increase productivity and ultimately make tasks less time-consuming.


You need to decide which aspects of course content you need to really study and which you are pretty proficient in. It is also best avoid switching between the content for multiple classes too frequently – this can become confusing and overwhelming. If you have multiple exams in one day (I’m so sorry) then it will be good to break studying into chunks (part of your action plan). Nonetheless, everyone is different: some benefit from periodically switching between classes, while others do better studying for an exam in its entirety and then moving on to another. Figure out which is best for you.

Accept that your social life will take a hit.

Unfortunately, you’ll most likely have to cut back on social life. This can be hard, especially when your friends will be leaving for the semester. Try to combine socialization with other tasks, like eating (side note: skipping meals to save time will quickly become counterproductive). Take a bit longer than you have to at dinner and chat with friends. This will help preserve your mental health, which often suffers during this time of the semester.

Minimize social media use.

Log yourself out of social media accounts. These platforms are designed to get you to spend as much time on them as possible, so it’s easy to unintentionally throw away 15 to 20 minutes even when you thought you’d give your newsfeed “a quick look.” Only let yourself use social media during occasional breaks. If you need to, consider even turning your phone off while studying.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Remember that, while life is horrible during this week, you’ll be glad you worked so hard when final grades appear on the Archway, after you’ve had time to relax. And yes, I know it’s hard to think about this when it’s 5 a.m. and all you want to do is give up.

Good luck, everyone!