10 Ways to Survive Finals Week

By Olivia Kaiser on December 9, 2013

The snow falls in a light swirl covering the tree branches, rooftops, and sidewalks outside my window. A cup of steaming coffee sits on the table in my kitchen beckoning me with its intoxicating aroma. And my television is lit up with the movie of the day from ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas. It is the perfect day to lounge around my small apartment, perhaps bake some cookies and take a nap. But, like most college students the back of my mind is reeling with thoughts of studying and finals, and calculating how much time I have left to procrastinate.

Winter break is only a week or two away for most college students. For some that thought empowers them through the endless nights of studying, for others it only distracts them from the exam which will inevitably be set down in front of them for a two hour time frame.

Finals week and the week or two preceding can take its toll on college students. It brings with it stress, anxiety, sleepless nights, terrible food choices, and even nervous breakdowns (I’ve seen it happen). Of course to avoid this, college students should: “stop procrastinating,” “study as you go,” and “not wait until the night before to study.” And, no matter how many times professors, TA’s, parents, and advisors give their students these words of wisdom, the majority of them don’t follow the advice (shocking, I know).

Let’s be honest, most students enter the new semester with the right ideas: stay on top of readings, write papers well in advance, study as the class progresses–in other words, students go in telling themselves they will not procrastinate. However, soon the assigned 100 page reading due on Tuesday seems impossible with a nine page paper due the day before and a test the day after. Not to mention many college students maintain some sort of  job to either have some extra cash or to pay for their college education. It is inevitable for students to fall behind, and be stuck in the circle of doom, more commonly known as pulling all nighters.

We all do it at one point or another. Some more than others. So the following list isn’t a guide to fulfill the daunting and unrealistic task of staying ahead in your classes while maintaing a work and social life (1. that is too unrealistic, and 2. it would be a bit late in the semester for that), rather the list is a realistic way to survive through finals week with the nervous breakdown included.

1. Make a list

Make a list of everything you need to do, in the order you need to do it the week before finals begins (Dead week to some, Hell week to others). It can be as organized or as disorganized as you are, but the idea is to have everything you need to do written down, and in a place you will see it every day, whether that is in your planner, phone, hung up on your refrigerator, or wall, put it where ever you feel is best. Seeing what you need to do will help you plan out each day–what to study, what paper to write, and how long you have to sleep.

2. Take some time to separate yourself from the people around you

Chances are that the people you surround yourself with are going to be just as stressed or even more stressed than you are. So take the time to go on a walk (yes, walking from your apartment or dorm to the library can count), get some coffee in a place not harbored by many stress-crazed students, or simply go to a building on campus where you know a quiet spot will be.

3. Exercise

Remember that list you made in point number one? Well be sure to include time to exercise, low-stress of course. Go for a walk or jog, do yoga, ride the bike, try something new at the gym. You might be surprised at how refreshed and energized you will feel afterwards.

4. Spend a few minutes doing absolutely nothing

After sitting in the library (or wherever your study spot is) for hours and hours, eventually your brain is just going to feel like it is done working. When you feel this happening, don’t keep forcing yourself to look mindlessly through your notes. Instead, close your computer, your books, turn your phone face down, and for just a few minutes (no more than ten) relax. Sit with your eyes closed, get up and walk to stretch, meditate, whatever you need to do to take your mind off of that subject.


Many “healthy” people will tell you that if you drink a lot of water throughout the day you will be more energized in the end. This is probably true when you are going through a normal day in a normal week. However, finals week needs a little bit of a push. Coffee will become your best friend. Accept this now.

6. Eating habits

When finals week hits, it blows all of those healthy eating habits you have built up into oblivion. Making a good meal takes too long, and by the time you get back to your room it is too late and you are too tired to put an effort into making anything. So try to buy food that doesn’t take a whole lot of prep: fruits, vegetables, sandwich meat, pasta. You can make quick easy meals that will boost your energy levels too. Sure ordering a pizza or going on late night burger runs is great fun, just not every night.

7. Partake in the campus’ “de-stress” activities

Most university’s will offer a few de-stress activities for students to partake in while they are studying. Do them. They take your mind off of studying for a little while and make those happy feelings you thought were lost forever come back to life. Personally, I enjoy playing with the puppies that are brought into the library. But the massages, and free movies are great too.

8. If possible…sleep! 

After you finish the tasks on your list for the day, go home and sleep. Don’t worry about what is on tomorrow’s list just lay down, pass out, and don’t wake up until you hear your alarm.

9. Nervous Breakdown

If you have a nervous breakdown, just let it happen. If you need to cry because you haven’t been able to understand your professor all semester, thought you were above getting help, and now are realizing you screwed yourself over? It’s okay, cry, get it all out, and start studying again. You’ll feel better if you do.

10. Have something to look forward to

Have some sort of reward for yourself after finals are over. You deserve it. Go shopping, grab a drink (or two), burn your textbooks, do something crazy, or maybe just sleep, what ever you will look forward to, do.

And then, enjoy your time off and come back telling yourself you will be the best student ever.

I attend the University of Iowa, double majoring in Journalism and English. I enjoy reading the classics with a cup of coffee (hold the sugar, please!) and catching up on my fashion and gossip through magazines, like Cosmo and Vogue. I believe in leading a healthy and active lifestyle, with Track & Field being my favorite sport! I'm a small town girl with big city dreams!...Oh! and I love popcorn!

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