You’re More Than Your Grades: Tips for Staying Well During Finals Season

Nathan Blanken
Nathan Blanken

It’s that time of year again. A time when college students across the country are camped out in libraries, surrounded by stacks of flashcards, empty coffee cups, and months worth of notes, otherwise known as finals season. 

I’m right there too – over the next week or so, I have three finals, a four-thousand-word essay, and multiple final projects to look forward to. Months of attending lectures, going to labs, completing homework, and studying all come down to an hour-long exam. Burnout is prevalent, and the stress of perceived failure can weigh heavily on students’ minds. However, this is my fourth semester in college so I do have a bit of experience preparing for finals. I also know that each student’s journey is unique and what works for one may not work for another. Despite this, what I do know is that one thing we can all benefit from, no matter our circumstances, is placing some extra attention on our well-being.

With this in mind, I want to share some general tips I’ve used for keeping spirits up and staying on top of the busyness: 

  • Visualize Your Tasks: I keep track of all of the work I need to do in a note on my phone. I give each task its own line and I put a little checkbox next to it so that when I complete the task, I can physically check it off and see that it’s complete. Having the checkbox next to the task is nice because, after a day of working, I can look and see all of the progress I made and feel good knowing that I got done what I needed to (or at least almost everything). 
  • Make Your Time Count: When I have time-sensitive assignments, I always put them on my calendar. I sync my calendar across devices and also change the color of my events to help differentiate between classes, clubs, or meetings I have. Being able to look at my calendar and easily see when assignments are due or what time I have to be in meetings encourages me to block off free time so that I can have set time to relax or take a nap.
  • Create a Dedicated Study Space: Another great strategy I use while preparing for finals is studying in dedicated spaces that my brain can categorize for work separate from spaces I use for relaxing or sleeping. By setting these hard boundaries, my brain knows when it needs to be engaged and when it can relax for a while. The library, the lounge near my apartment, and the café in the computer science building are the spaces that I strictly do work in, whereas my bed, my living room, and McKeldin Mall (my university’s quad area) are places I don’t work so my brain knows it can relax when I’m there. 
  • Stay Accountable: In addition to having dedicated spaces for work, I also like to spend my time studying with a friend to keep myself accountable, both in completing my work and taking breaks. When I work by myself, I find that I easily get distracted by my phone or my environment and end up being not as productive, or end up studying for too long without a break. By working with someone else, even if you are just sitting in silence, reviewing for different classes, you have a partner to help you stay on track and take care of yourself. 
  • Be Kind to Yourself: It can be easy to feel like your performance on an exam means everything. When things get overwhelming, remind yourself that your worth is not defined by your grades, GPA, or academic success. And remember to take care of yourself: set up designated study breaks, eat nutritious and filling meals, call loved ones, and get enough sleep each night. The finish line is in sight, and not only will you make it, but you can surpass it without sacrificing your well-being. 

While I utilize these tips most frequently during finals, they can be used at any time of the year to help you stay productive while also making mental health a priority. Remember: it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious around big exams. We all want to succeed and we all know the importance of trying our best. However, you are not defined by how you perform on an exam. You deserve to show yourself kindness and acceptance regardless of how this year’s finals go. You got this – we’re all cheering you on!