Almost every week of college, classes and life can feel jam-packed with assignments, responsibilities and daily activities, but the week of finals heightens these feelings. The nature of finals and the weeks approaching finals is naturally overwhelming, and for most students, there is much at stake academically. However, after managing through several final exam seasons, finals have become less and less daunting to me over the years. It took being retrospective about previous performances and working to understand how I function as a student and learner to change my approach to final exams and projects. I found that my biggest challenge wasn’t not being able to comprehend the material, but the worry I would feel about understanding the material well enough to do well on an exam. My expectations of myself were getting in the way of getting ready for an exam, so I started by accessing my mental and emotional perspective of situations that made me nervous. One of the first things I learned was how to handle certain situations that seem out of my control, like having to take a final exam, and I realized that one thing I do have control of is how I respond to a situation or event and how to proceed. While this adage isn’t applicable in all situations, I found it useful whenever I became anxious or doubtful about my ability to prepare and perform well on an exam that has so much riding on its result. This is something I am still actively working on, but it has really served me well in dissolving these emotional blocks I sometimes experience with exams.
Finding effective study strategies was in constant development for me, as I would imagine for other students, because I would have to adjust my techniques and how I practiced based on the course, how assignments were graded and the overall style of my professors. One pretty consistent strategy I found that works for me is making study guides for each exam or assessment, so by the end of the semester, I had compacted all the key concepts in class and was essentially just reviewing. These study guides included redrawing diagrams or structures and error analysis of practice exams or quizzes in class. Another form of practicing and reviewing the material is getting together with a friend and teaching them whatever lesson you’re reviewing. You will realize what parts of the subject material you need to spend more time studying when you have to teach it to another person.
Finals are nerve-wracking and sometimes seem unfair, but there are ways to confront final exams, projects or assignments that will keep you physically and mentally healthy. It might just take being honest with yourself about what is or isn’t working for you to recognize areas that really exhibit your strengths and those that can be challenging.