Pumpkin spiced lattes, colder temperatures, holiday decorations, and snow, are not only festive signs of the holiday season but also represents one important thing for students: finals. Winter final exams can be a stressful part of the year as they make up a large portion of the final grade. It is common for students to be riddled with anxiety and depression during this time of year. With the right tools and coping mechanisms, it is possible to prepare for final exams without being entirely overwhelmed. 

  • Stay away from all-nighters: Cramming for exams by pulling all-nighters may seem like a good use of time, but its not. Cramming massive amounts of information without allowing the brain to process the information during a full night’s sleep is not recommended. The brain needs time to decode information and store it into memory, and this is done during a full night’s rest. Instead of cramming for exams, cut out a block of time each day to study, which may mean thatw you start a few weeks before the exam date. 
  • Plan ahead: Procrastination is not the key ingredient to success. Planning ahead to make sure you have all of your assignments turned in, knowing which areas you may need help in, planning study groups, and carving out allotted study time are all essential aspects of being prepared for finals. Last-minute studying can elicit panic and anxiety when these feelings can be avoided. 
  • Put together study groups: Studying in groups can be a fun way to study for finals. Individuals can share knowledge and study tips and quiz one another to make sure everyone is prepared. Study groups can also improve socialization and can be a great way to meet new friends and strengthen existing friendships. 
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol: Adderall, caffeine pills, and other study drugs are popular among high school and college students, especially around finals week. Study drugs and alcohol are dangerous coping mechanisms that can lead to substance abuse disorders and poor decision making. 
  • Practice self-care: Finals can be a stressful time, and therefore it is important to eat a balanced diet, stay on a healthy sleep schedule, and spend some time engaging in hobbies and social activities. Although studying is important, taking healthy breaks to re-focus is just as important. 
  • Don’t skip out on the final review: Most professors or teaching assistants will hold a final review outside of regular class hours. These final reviews are packed full of important information. Attending these final reviews can help determine how much more work is needed to prepare for the final exams, and also can give a lot of insight into information that may be on the final exam. 
  • Ask for help: Finals can be overwhelming, and it is okay to ask for help. Talking to a therapist, a friend, a professor, or anyone in your support group is a good way to express your thoughts and feelings. Maybe you do have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, or you need medication adjustments for your current mood disorder. Scheduling a therapy session before final exams is a good way to take care of your mental health. 
  • Practice: Review old exams and if available, take a final practice exam. Reviewing old tests not only helps with deciphering what you know and what you don’t know, but it also helps you become reacquainted with your professor’s exam styles. 

Depending on where you are in school, you will have many more semesters of finals. Eventually, you will get into a routine, become confident in your study skills, and learn how to cope with stress and anxiety. Finals will eventually become a routine every few months, and of course, it is natural for the stress to start to build around these exams, but the more you plan ahead and take care of yourself, the more confident you will become. Test-taking is a skill; it requires hard work, time, and mental strength. 

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases, including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.