How to Not be Overwhelmed with Finals

Before you know it, finals will be upon us! This is always a hectic time of year for students. It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the activities going on in your life and trying to find time to study for your exams.

Take a few minutes to read through these tips about preparing for finals. By making a few adjustments in your study routine, you can maximize your study time and find some flexibility to do the things you enjoy.

Ways to Make Studying Less Stressful

  • Don’t wait to review your notes — instead, review them within one day of learning new information.
  • Review every day. Spending 15–20 minutes reading over your notes daily for each class will make a difference!
  • Ask instructors to clarify what you still don’t understand. This will show the instructor you are taking your studies seriously and want to know the correct information for the exam.
  • Ask a classmate to share notes. What did you get that he/she missed and vice versa? You will both benefit from this study technique.

When It’s Time to Study, Stay Focused on What You Can Control

  • You can control when and where you study. You have no control over the party at your neighbor’s house.
  • Take responsibility for yourself. Don’t stress over trying to schedule study times with friends who will not commit.
  • Be aware of the power of positive thinking and confidence. Tell yourself this: I am going to do well on my exam.

The Best Time to Study?

No time is “best” for everyone. You have to choose the time that works for you.

Study at the time you are most alert. Personally, I am a morning person, so I would study then, but some students prefer to study in the late evenings.

Set up a study schedule based on your exam schedule. Try not to study for several exams at once (if this is a possibility). Also, try to finish studying 24 hours prior to the exam.

Let Your Preferred Learning Style Guide How You Study

If you are not sure what type of learner you are, read up on the various styles. You might even choose to take the short assessment.

  • If you are an auditory learner:
    • Read aloud.
    • Record yourself reading your notes and listen to it when you can.
  • If you are a visual learner:
    • Color code your notes by topic or chapter.
    • Graphically organize your notes.
  • If you are a kinesthetic (hands-on) learner:
    • Teach someone else (a friend, your pet, etc.).
    • Rewrite your notes…neatly.

Studying for Math Exams

  • List all the formulas you need to know.
  • Complete practice problems that were not assigned in class.
  • If you have them, look over old tests and quizzes.
  • Redo problems you got wrong on homework assignments.
  • Ask a classmate to write up a short quiz for you. You do the same for him/her.


This is not the best way for most people to study. It’s overwhelming and stressful, and can often lead to a poor outcome. If you find yourself having to cram:

  • Focus on keywords and phrases.
  • Skim chapters focusing on headings.
  • Read chapter summaries.

You can listen to our PawCast episode about study skills for more information on why cramming doesn’t work for most people:

On Exam Day

  • Arrive early to your proctor site or log in to the exam as early as possible.
  • Make sure all technology is working properly.
  • Make sure you have everything you need. Does your instructor allow books or notes?
  • Look over the entire test so you can plan your time wisely.
  • Read the directions carefully!
  • Do what you know first.
  • Take your time so you do not make careless mistakes.
H Jackson Brown Quote ("The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today") transposed on blurry road image
Photo by BK via Flickr.