I hate final exams. I admit it. The fluorescent lights, the clicking pencils, my heart racing as everything I’ve learned for an entire semester floats from my brain. After months of effort, I can’t shake the feeling that the measure of my success rides on whether I can keep it together for just three. more. hours.

Through trial and error, I’ve come up with seven steps to combat finals stress and to finish out the school year strong:

1) Give yourself credit for what you’ve already done. Even though it might not seem like it, you have already started studying! Paying attention in class and taking diligent notes lead to more success on tests than simply cramming the night before.

2) Organize your notes. It sometimes feels like unnecessary extra work, but organized notes make for organized studying. If your teacher gives you a study guide, use it to check your notes. If you missed a day of class or notice a gap, ask a friend or go back to the books to fill in what you’re missing.

3) Know your best way to study. Do you learn best by yourself or in a small group? Do you remember more if you’re in your favorite hammock or comfy chair, or do you prefer the structure of a desk or library cube? People learn in different ways, so pay attention to what works for you and build your study strategy from there.

4) Study in small sessions over a long period of time. Not only is it more effective, it’s less stressful too. Our brains work best in 45 minute segments, so taking a break is not only beneficial to your mental health but also to your retention of information.

5) Know what relaxes you the most. I know I said it already, and it seems counterintuitive, but breaks are a crucial part of the studying process! Whether it’s going for a run, walking your dog, going to lunch with friends, or simply taking a nap, giving yourself a brain break goes a long way for your mental health at test time.

6) Be extra mindful to sleep and eat healthy during test week. Foods high in protein and Omega 3 have been clinically proven to improve test scores. For more info on pre-final eating, see this article on Livestrong.com.

7) When it finally comes time to take the test, breathe, relax, and know that you are prepared. Not only does your brain work best when it’s fully oxygenated (take some slow deep breaths), but you will be more likely to remember what you know when you’re feeling calm.

Do you have other exam hacks? Tell us in the comments!

Sources & Resources

Baker, Linda, and Bruce R. Lombardi. “Students’ lecture notes and their relation to test performance.” Teaching of Psychology 12.1 (1985): 28-32.

Curcio, Giuseppe, Michele Ferrara, and Luigi De Gennaro. “Sleep loss, learning capacity and academic performance.” Sleep medicine reviews 10.5 (2006): 323-337.

Stroth, Sanna, et al. “Aerobic endurance exercise benefits memory and affect in young adults.” Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 19.2 (2009): 223-243.

Thalheimer, W. (2006, February). Spacing Learning Events Over Time: What the Research Says. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from http://www.work-learning.com/catalog/