University of Wisconsin–Madison

Study and Preparation Tips for a Successful Finals Week

Parents and families play an important role in coaching their students through the rigorous academic aspects of college. But when students are feeling overwhelmed about finals week, it can be hard to know how to help. Experts from University Health Services offer the following tips to pass along to your students to help them stay focused and healthy during the most stressful time of the academic year.

Three weeks before exams: Mentally prepare. Make a schedule. Set some goals.

  • Get organized. If you’ve fallen behind, now is an especially good time to reevaluate your study habits and get back on track. Do you have your exam dates written down? What does your finals schedule look like? Starting to think proactively will help ease your mindset going into exam time.
  • Identify your goals for each exam. How have you been doing in your classes, and how well do you understand the material? Based on these answers, set reasonable but optimistic grades to aim for. Spelling out goals will help to motivate and guide your studying.
  • Start reviewing what you’ve learned this semester, bit by bit. It doesn’t hurt to outline a schedule for yourself so you can break down your studying into smaller, more bearable increments. This way, short study sessions will become a part of your everyday routine.
  • Be kind to yourself. You’ll be going through a lot in the next few weeks. Take some “me” time before finals and do something meaningful. Cross a few activities from your bucket list before the semester is over.

Two weeks before exams: Get into study mode. Enlist support.

  • By now, finals should be top of mind for you. But don’t stress! Instead, work on preparing study materials: flash cards, outlines, study guides. Keep in mind that different subjects may lend themselves to different types of resources.
  • Now is a good time to gather some study partners and start reviewing course material together. Meeting with a group is a great motivational tool. You can all keep each other on track, and exchange notes and information.
  • Make an oasis. After spending hours crouching over your laptop and textbooks, you’ll want a comfortable place to decompress. Make your own oasis — a place waiting for you to relax when you need a break this week. Your oasis can be anywhere or anything. It can be a bench outside, a favorite blanket, a walk in a park, or a fitness class. Also, try out a few deep breathing techniques to calm your mind and release your stress.

One week before exams: Check in with instructors. Stay on top of your schedule. Keep it interesting.

  • After two weeks of reviewing your materials, you probably have some unanswered questions. Now is a good time to pay your professors and teaching assistants a visit — they’re the best people to clear up any confusion. Talking to them might ease your stress levels, too.
  • Continue to stay on top of your study schedule. If you find yourself hitting a wall, change it up! Break down your studying by topic and into smaller, more manageable tasks. Allot a set amount of time for each task.
  • If you have been studying in the same spot all semester, try somewhere new. Different vibes and a change of scenery can revamp your focus and motivation.
  • To do your best, you have to feel your best. During finals week, studying may be a higher priority than heading to the gym or eating three balanced meals. But if you spend the week before finals making healthy choices, you can boost your energy and increase your focus for finals week.

Two days before exams: Final review. Test yourself. Focus on what you know.

  • Good news: since you’ve been staying on top of things, there’s no need to cram during the 48 hours left. At this point, it’s more effective to really nail down the material you feel most confident about, rather than scrambling to try to learn new information.
  • Give yourself practice tests to reaffirm all the knowledge you’ve accumulated over these past few weeks. If you made a study group, meet one last time to go over the material.

The night before exams: Easy does it.

  • Relax! You’ve earned it. The best thing you can do for yourself now is get a good night’s sleep. Those eight-plus hours of sleep will improve your memory and help your brain retain the material you’ve been poring over the past few weeks.

Exam day: Confidence is key — you’ve earned it!

  • Make sure you’re prepared with the basics: a pencil, calculator, or whatever else you may need for your exams. (Some exams may require you to show your student ID or write down your student ID number.)
  • By now, you’ll be able to take that exam with confidence. Envision yourself acing it — and with all this preparation, you deserve to!